Former Bucknell teammate says Nate Sestina could be media darling, fan favorite at Kentucky

“It is hard to replace a scorer like him, but they are bringing in a great player in Tyrese Maxey who has a great burst of energy and is now in the best shape of his life. That's just what Kentucky does,” 247 Sports recruiting analyst Evan Daniels on UK replacing Tyler Herro.

When it comes to Nate Sestina, any information from Matt O’Reilly is likely to be biased because the two became such good friends during their basketball careers at Bucknell University where they were on the team together for four years.

Now Sestina is coming to Kentucky as a graduate transfer and O’Reilly says the 6-9 Sestina is someone Kentucky fans are going to love.

“He is super family oriented and generated his values through his love for his family and God and that shows. He’ll do anything for you if he loves you and he has a pretty infectious attitude,” O’Reilly said. “He’s from a very small town (Emporium, Pa.) and that frequently shows, but that’s not a negative thing by any means.

“He’s very down to earth, values the important things in life, and is a really fun guy to be around. He used to be incredibly shy, but he’s grown a lot as an individual and his personality and warmth has become one of his strongest traits. Can’t say enough good things about the guy.

“If you’re looking for a media darling and fan favorite, Sesti is your guy! He’s warm, humble and definitely isn’t hard on the eyes. He will most definitely fill that role.”

O’Reilly is from California but knows plenty about Kentucky basketball because he played his senior season at Prolific Prep, a team that came to Kentucky to play in several basketball showcases while he was there.

“We played in a couple of tournaments, playing primarily at McCracken County High School. We were met with ridiculous hospitality — credit to Melanie Burkeen, a member of BBN, and the entire Burkeen family who welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like family,” O’Reilly said.

“One of my teammates and close friends Josh Jackson actually took an unofficial visit to Kentucky on one of our trips and I joined him. I have had a couple of close friends join BBN, like Skal Labissiere for example, and have seen the ways in which it can change your life.”

Sestina was redshirted his freshman year due to an injury and then played behind Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland for two years before averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season while shooting 53.6 percent from the field and 38 percent (41 of 108) from 3-point range. He scored in double figures in 27 of 31 games.

“What impressed me the most about Nate over his time at Bucknell has been his patience and his diligence. He has been steadily on his grind, working hard to achieve great things, yet he remained patient waiting for his time to showcase the hard work he put in,” O’Reilly said.

“He never got down or pouted playing behind two amazing players in Zach Thomas and Nana Foulland, just remained patient and worked and ultimately you can see the ways it worked out for him. Thats very rare in a guy as gifted and hard working as Nate is.”

That’s why Sestina’s teammate doesn’t say his decision to comet to Kentucky as much as a transfer from Bucknell as it is a “decision to set himself up for success” in the future.

“He didn’t choose to leave Bucknell. He loves the school and our teammates unconditionally and every player and coach that he’s been around in his time here understands that,” O’Reilly said. “He chose to take a chance on himself, knowing he’s given everything he had to Bucknell for four amazing years.

“It is always surprising to see someone go to Kentucky. However, he deserves it, and any real fan of Bucknell knows that!”

Kentucky’s roster again will be in flux. Reid Travis, last year’s graduate transfer, has graduated. Sophomore PJ Washington along with freshmen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have left for the NBA. Sophomore Jemarl Baker is transferring. Kentucky has five freshmen coming in along with Sestina to go with returning players Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery.

“Sesti has learned a lot from some incredible leaders here at Bucknell and is ready and able to take on that same role at Kentucky,” O’Reilly said.

Some wonder exactly how he will fit in at UK after playing in the Patriot League. Travis was a two-time all-conference selection at Stanford. Sestina was a second team all-conference pick last year.

O’Reilly says not to worry because Sestina will be just fine.

“I think that Nate provides coach Cal with a talent that is quite different from what Kentucky has seen recently. He is tall, unexpectedly strong and no doubt a front court player. However, his ability to really stretch the floor while also rebounding at an extremely high level will greatly benefit Kentucky, as coach Cal knows,” O’Reilly said.

“He will also be a huge addition in regards to experience and leadership. Seeing the ways in which Travis was a key for this year’s Kentucky team, Nate is a great fit to continue that trend. He is experienced, wants to win, loves his teammates and works extremely hard. His presence in a locker room full of young lottery talent is extremely valuable.”

Travis had to adjust to the enormous spotlight that is one Kentucky basketball daily. O’Reilly knows Sestina will have some of the same adjustments to make after playing at Bucknell and not being highly recruited out of high school.

“Coming from a tiny town, moving towards a small school in Bucknell, Nate had to make a number of adjustments. These adjustments will be far greater as he moves to Kentucky,” O’Reilly said. “However, Nate has matured steadily every year that I’ve known him, and he has the drive and support system to be successful regardless of the circumstance.”

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Because he wants to focus on his senior season and helping Louisville Christian Academy win a state championship, offensive lineman John Young has decided to make his college choice on April 29.

“I have visited all the schools I want to see,” the 6-6, 285-pound Young said. “I have never been close to committing to any school. I never wanted to rush. I wanted to take all my visits so I could make an informed decision. I haven’t exactly made my final decision. I just put a deadline on it to get it done. I have found a couple of schools with great academics, great football, great coaching staff. So I’ve got an idea about what I want to do.”
Young is a four-star recruit ranked among the nation’s top 25 offensive tackles and one of the top five players in Kentucky. His final six schools are Kentucky, Louisville, Purdue, Ohio State, Georgia and Michigan.
Young says he has “always been a Kentucky fan” and has watched UK football his whole life, including going to games. His father is a former Louisville cheerleader, his mother went to Western Kentucky and his 21-year-old sister, Sarah, goes to Louisville.

“I have got a lot of phone calls from fans, people that have been important in my life,” Young said. “I love all the supporters. Fans of all the teams have been very gracious. The final decision will be mine but my parents and sister have been a big part of this process. I would never go where my family didn’t want me going.”

Young says his sister is “really important” in his life. That’s why she’s been a vital part of his recruiting process and has gone on a couple of official visits with him.

“I am seriously listening to her. She has always been someone I can talk to about stuff I might not be comfortable talking to my parents about,” the offensive lineman said. “She’s a huge part of this process. She’s not a big sports person but she knows football. Having her around is such a great asset for me. I love having her around. She is leaving me alone and not pushing any one school. She’s just there to help.”

Most recruiting analysts consider Young a lock for Kentucky. But he says new Louisville coach Scott Satterfield has impressed him.

“I have hit it off with the new coaching staff. I was not a huge fan of the old one (Bobby Petrino),” Young said. “They have talked to me a lot and I think they can turn the program around.”

He says he is “comfortable” around Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and his staff — and notes again that he’s always been a Kentucky fan.

“They have a good track record of in-state players getting on the field, too,” Young said.

Young won’t have a flashy ceremony to announce his college choice on Monday.

“I am just going to do it on social media. I am not a real showy guy, so that will be enough for me,” Young said.

* * *

It was an April exhibition match but it still was significant that Kentucky beat Tennessee in four sets last week in Lexington.

Kentucky went through Southeastern Conference play unbeaten last year to claim a second straight SEC volleyball title. Tennessee was second last year and will have a senior-dominated team next season.

Kentucky won the first two sets, dropped the third set and then put away the Vols in set four.

“I definitely think when we saw Tennessee was coming it lit a fire but at the same time wins in the spring are a little less important because we have been focused on individual development,” sophomore Madison Lilley said. “ Obviously we want to win and we saw improvements on things we have been trying to improve since the fall, so that was good to see and the win was exciting.

“Obviously Tennessee is really good and will be really good next year.  It excited us to compete against them and it was nice to win just to show we could.”

Lilley, an all-SEC setter, said it was not hard for the Cats to get motivated for an April match.

“It is more just a grind. We have been talking all spring about embracing the grind and just doing it together,” Lilley said.

Kentucky played four exhibition matches and she said having the final one at home helped to “rally the troops and got a fire underneath us.” She had 40 assists in the win.

“We have had a really good spring and wanted to show everybody what we have been working on, so that kept us motivated,” Lilley said.

* * *

Kentucky signee Emma King had 21 points, five rebounds,  three assists and one blocked shot despite playing just half the game to help the East beat the West 165-99 in the KABC All-Star Game.

King missed only two shots from the field and was named game co-MVP along with Ashlee Harris of Sacred Heart for the West.

The next day she was named to the Kentucky team that will play Indiana in the all-star series in June along with her Lincoln County teammate Kaitlyn Wilks. It's the first time Lincoln has had a player named to the Kentucky all-star team that will face Indiana twice in June.

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Quote of the Week 1: “Don’t give me that crap. When I was sitting there at SEC Media Days a year ago, not one person was talking about us. Everybody's like, now you lose these guys, you're going to take a step back,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on SiriusXM about Kentucky taking a step back next season due to losing key contributors off a 10-3 team.

Quote of the Week 2: "It's tough, got to grind and make the most of your opportunities. Wish he would have stayed but best of luck wherever he ends up,” former UK player Derek Willis on Jemarl Baker's decision to transfer from Kentucky after two seasons.

Quote of the Week 3: “It is hard to replace a scorer like him, but they are bringing in a great player in Tyrese Maxey who has a great burst of energy and is now in the best shape of his life. That's just what Kentucky does,” 247 Sports recruiting analyst Evan Daniels on UK replacing Tyler Herro.