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-foot-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 come to Kentucky was 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 (who declared for the NBA draft Monday but didn’t hire an agent) 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 frontcourt 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 on 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 toward 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.”