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Killeya-Jones' Improvement No Surprise To His Personal Skill Development Coach

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Gilbert Abraham believes in UK sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones and says there is a lot more to his game that UK fans have yet to see. Gilbert Abraham believes in UK sophomore Sacha Killeya-Jones and says there is a lot more to his game that UK fans have yet to see.

By LARRY VAUGHT

For about five years Gilbert Abraham has worked with Sacha Killeya-Jones to improve his basketball skills and understanding of the game.

That’s why it was no surprise to Abraham that Killeya-Jones quickly showed Kentucky fans more early in his sophomore season than he did his first year with the Cats when he was never a factor for coach John Calipari the last few months of the season.

“He’s a great kid and a really skilled player,” said Abraham. “He’s really curious, inquisitive about the game and improving. He’s definitely a hard worker and has learned that the higher the level you go, the more the meaning of hard work gets redefined. What was hard work at 15 is different at 18. But he’s a stand-up kid who wants to put in the work to be great.”

Abraham is primarily a skill development coach. He’s worked closely with NBA players such as Raymond Felton, Kendall Marshall, Justin Jackson and Marvin Williams along with college players like Chase Jeter of Arizona and Killeya-Jones.

He tailors training routines for specific players and their needs. He spends time on passing, ballhandling and basketball IQ with some emphasis on changing a player’s body if needed.

“Sacha has been a part of a lot of the work I have done with professional players. Sacha himself is exceptionally skilled. A lot now is just letting his body catch up physically so he can show you all he can do,” Abraham said.

Abraham was doing pre-draft training for several clients when Killeya-Jones was home in North Carolina after the 2016-17 season ended.

“A lot of players take a break after their season ends. He didn’t,” Abraham said. “I am glad he is starting to get a chance to do a little more at Kentucky. The biggest thing I talked with him about was just carving out a niche. On any team, you have to see what the team needs from you. Maybe what everybody else is not willing to do but you can do.

“Then you know if you do that, the coach cannot not play you. For him, it’s rebounding and being a defensive presence. Doing that then leads to chances to do other things. You do one thing exceptionally well like rebound or play defense, then it opens all those other things.”

Through seven games, Killeya-Jones is averaging 4.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He’s third on the team with eight blocked shots. He’s also shooting 48.1 percent from the field and has shown he can hit the open 15-foot shot.

Killeya-Jones’ play has also had one other benefit — it seems to have inspired freshman Nick Richards. When Killeya-Jones outplayed him and got more playing time, Richards responded with his best two games at UK in the last two games.

“You just knew at some point Sacha would get an opportunity. Hopefully this does not sound arrogant, but I believed in him so I am not surprised he has played well,” Abraham said.

“But what you have seen is nothing yet compared to what he is capable of doing. He can still do a lot more and he wants to accomplish a lot more. He is a confident kid because he has put in the work. He’s got meaningful minutes at the end of close games for the first time at UK. That’s what happens when you get comfortable and do what the coach wants and needs.”

Abraham believes Killeya-Jones’ versatility for a 6-10 player is what makes him different.

“He shoots it, rebounds, passes well. Probably one of his best things would be as a pick-and-pop player because he can score both inside and outside. Not every player his size can do that,” Abraham said.

“Last year he was young and was just so excited. He was just flying around. Now he has settled in and is doing what he should be. He is just playing free and you are seeing a lot more of his athleticism.”

Killeya-Jones was a McDonald’s All-American and consensus top 25 player nationally. He was the state player of the year in Virginia as a senior and won a state high school championship. He also won two AAU national championships. Kansas, North Carolina and Florida were three of the schools who pursued him the hardest after he de-committed from Virginia along with Kentucky.

Calipari also likes to remind anyone who will listen that Killeya-Jones was a 17-year-old freshman last season playing against older players.

“He’s getting better and better. I mean, you have to understand, he was one of the youngest freshmen in the country a year ago,” Calipari said recently.

Teammates agree with Abraham’s assessment of Killeya-Jones’ work ethic.

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“In practices, he’s been working his butt off,” freshman Kevin Knox, the team’s leading scorer, said. “Hitting that mid-range shot, he’s hitting that consistently now in practice. Rebounding his butt off, playing hard, playing with energy on the defensive end, blocking shots and, like Cal said, you do it in practice it’s going to translate to the game.”

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