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By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s hard for Carol Wiltjer to not be around her son, Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. However, she knew when he came to UK to play for coach John Calipari that she would most often have to be content watching him play on TV with only an occasional trip from Portland, Ore., to Kentucky.
“We have really missed him a lot. All we had in reality was a day and a half at Christmas with him,” said Wiltjer’s mom during a rare week-long visit to Lexington when she got to she her son play twice. “We are a very close family. The two youngest kids are upset they couldn’t come with us, but we are just happy we got to come. We love Kentucky.”
Her husband, Greg, had made an earlier trip to Lexington this season on business while she stayed home with their daughter and son.
“I think that most people think you get the whole summer off and do not know the fact that he lives here year round. They get a little bit longer break in the spring, but it is hard. He is following his dream, though, here at Kentucky,” she said.
And what does the family like to do when they get together in Lexington?
“Eating is our favorite pastime. Just hanging out, talking, getting away for a few minutes, With Kentucky you never know when practice will be changed or not, so you have to stay pretty close to the gym,” she laughed and said.
She insists she does not worry about her oldest son being so far from home.
“I really don’t have anything to worry about with Kyle. He is pretty low key, laid back. He has got good moral values,” Carol Wiltjer said. “For basketball, he always works hard. He gets in there and earns his minutes. I really don’t have any worries.”
Well, maybe not as long as she avoids reading or listening to Kentucky basketball coverage.
“We have really stopped doing that. If you start getting into it, it is a viscous cycle,” she said. “When you are winning, everybody is happy. When you are losing or not playing up to what they think you should, it gets very hard for a mom to read that. We don’t read it at all. We try not to. We do get some articles sent to us by friends from here. But we try not to read that.”
She has no problems with how coach John Calipari treats her son even though the coach publicly criticized him earlier this year over his defense.
“I think that coach Cal has his best interests at heart and a lot of people outside the Kentucky community don’t realize that,” Carol Wiltjer said. “Yes, it is a one-and-done team more so than others, but he has really taken special interest in Kyle and I feel and has worked on what he needs and has given him the extra stuff that he should do. Then it is up to the player to decide if he wants to make the extra effort to get better and Kyle has stepped up to the plate and it is now showing. He is a late developer and he is going to have a lot of time to improve.
“How can you get better if you are the star? Going somewhere where people are better than you and practice day in, day out with people that are better than you, it pushes you. I think that is why he chose Kentucky.”
Her son has never been one to complain about playing time, shots, criticism or anything else at Kentucky.
“He complains about not getting enough sleep,” his mother joked. “But he is a shooter. When you are in a slump like he was at the beginning of the year, you don’t really think about it. You just keep shooting. You keep shooting and eventually get out of it.”
She likely won’t be able to make another return trip to Kentucky this year. Last year she got to see the team at the Final Four and is hoping maybe for another March trip.
“It is really difficult for us. We have 16-year-old girl, Ariana, who is 6-5 volleyball player. She has a lot going on. Plus his younger brother, Sam, is 12 and has basketball. It is really hard for us to get here,” Carol Wiltjer said.
Ariana is a star volleyball player who has already won a state championship. The sophomore suffered a severe concussion recently that has sidelined her.
“Concussions are really a serious thing. She has been out for a month now. She has a lot of good doctors helping her out,” Carol Wiltjer said. “Her and Kyle are really tight. Our dream is to move here some day. Volleyball here would be a step up for Ariana. Her national youth team coach knows a lot of people. Indiana. Cincinnati and here all have strong club teams. It would be good for her if we moved her. We’ll just have to see how that might work out.”