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Jeff Sheppard thinks Wiltjer made a mistake by transferring to Gonzaga


MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — He was a five-year player at Kentucky under coaches Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith, and Jeff Sheppard was part of two national championship teams and another team that lost in the national title game.

He believes junior to be Kyle Wiltjer has made a mistake by transferring from UK to Gonzaga over a lack of anticipated playing time this season because of coach John Calipari’s recruiting class that includes six McDonald’s All-Americans.

“I hate it. I actually think it is a mistake for Kyle to do it but each one has to make his own decisions,” said Sheppard, who spoke at the Ohio UK Convention here Saturday. “I was really hoping that he would stay and that he would even consider redshirting.”

That’s what Sheppard did in UK’s 1995-96 national championship season. It was his junior year but Pitino knew with UK’s talented roster of future NBA players that an extra year of eligibility could help both UK and the player — kind of like one might argue that a redshirt year at UK could have gone for Wiltjer.

“It is just a great ride at Kentucky,” Sheppard said. “I don’t think his NBA status is going to be helped playing 30 minutes for Gonzaga versus playing 10 minutes for Kentucky.”

Sheppard thinks UK will miss Wiltjer’s experience. He played on UK’s 2012 national championship team and was the Southeastern Conference sixth man of the year last season.

“We really, really need his experience. The experience that we had on the team minus Jarrod Polson is now gone. I just think it is a huge key for NCAA Tournament success is to have experience,” Sheppard said.

Having a player that made 90 3-pointers the last two seasons might have helped UK this year, too. Freshman James Young is a solid outside shooter and twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison both have 3-point range. But none is considered the pure 3-point shooter that Wiltjer has been.

“It changes the team without him and his shooting,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard, the 1998 Final Four MVP, admitted that Wiltjer is a “player kind of like me” in many ways.

“He doesn’t need to be the best player on the court. Last year we tried to make him the best player on the court and tried to make the offense go through him and that didn’t work,” Sheppard said. “The year before when he wasn’t the best player on the court and he could stretch the defense, he gave people fits. That’s what I wonder. Is he going to go to Gonzaga and be a featured guy? I don’t think his game is to be a featured guy.”

Instead, Sheppard thinks Wiltjer would be better suited to look at what another former UK player — Scott Padgett — did to reshape his career. Remember, Padgett was an academic casualty under Pitino and had to return home to Louisville for a semester and was a five-year player. He was also a key to UK’s 1998 national championship.

“Scott was a great shooter but he was gritty and strong and would fight you all the time. He did all the little things and then Scott had a long NBA career and is going to be a great coach one day. He found his niche and then worked to make himself even better,” Sheppard said.

So why does he think Wiltjer, who said he came to UK because of the competition he would face daily, left?

“Part of it is just going through tough times. These kids don’t want to go through tough times any more,” Sheppard said. “They leave (for the NBA) too early. They quit too early. They think it is always brighter on the other side. There are so many life lessons to learn going through adversity, going through the tough times. It is just a different game. We’ll see how it plays out, but I really think he is making a mistake and really hate it for him.”

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  1. Toicat

    As much as I admire Jeff Sheppard, I disagree a little bit with his assessment of Kyle Wiltjer’s decision to transfer.

    The part that I do agree with him on was the option for Kyle to redshirt this season. The Kentucky coaching staff may very well have helped him get into the physical shape that he was seeking (assuming that he still had NBA aspirations) after this season. Also, I agree that the team could have really benefited from his leadership and previous experience in tournament games.

    As for Kyle’s decision? Anyone would have to assume that he thought this over very very carefully and had spoken multiple times with his parents and the UK and Gonzaga coaching staffs. There had to be something that tipped the scales, and it would be pure speculation on anyone’s part to absolutely know what it was. Regardless, his decision came from the “heart” and that has to be his best best beacon.

    Always a Cat in my book!

  2. TrueBlueJohn

    I wish Kyle all the best. He is a fine young man. By the way, is anyone surprised that all charges have been dropped against Hairston of UNC?

  3. Andy

    Did anyone else what Jeff had to say at the UK convention in Franklin? Besides, his issue with the 1 and done which, I think he singles out Cal for, he dropped this bombshell below.

    “When a new coach comes into the university that you didn’t play for, it’s different. As crazy as it sounds, I can walk into the University of Louisville’s basketball offices and feel more comfortable there because Coach Pitino is there.”

    Jeff do me a favor, go vote for UL and get a tattoo on your back as well. UK will be fine. I am sorry you feel we have to recruit inferior players. Cal is playing the hand he was dealt. You deal with it and move on. Sure, I wish we could keep these guys three and four years every time, but that’s just not the way it is anymore.

  4. Wilbur

    I believe the reason why Kyle left Kentucky is that coach Cal probably layed down the facts on Kyle what he needed to improve on if he wanted playing time at Kentucky. Kyle was the same player when he left as the one that came to Kentucky in 2011. He was not willing to put in the work that he needed to do to get better. Quitting and running to Gonzaga is not going to solve his problems.

  5. MikeF

    The big thing that Kyle did not consider was that this year we have an inside game with Randle and Johnson, that perimeter shot is going to be a lot more open this year than it was last year when Noel and Cauley-Stein did not have good shooting percentages when their shots were not dunks. We needed a veteran shooter to balance the younger kids, however, Willis can also shoot and he gives us another very tall perimeter shooter with the absence of Kyle. Randle can also step outside from the clips I have viewed, i know Cal will want him 99% inside.

  6. Kokamo Joe

    Sometimes players have to do what is best for them. Neal Brown transferred from UK to Mass and took off from there. Had he sat on the end of the bench under Mumme, he may not now be the Offensive coach at Kentucky.

    The system that Shepard played under is different from the Calipari system. Players could mature and even redshirt under that system. Kyle’s playing time would be diminished next year. Calipari will reload in 2014-2015 and he would again be competing with great young players who would probably take the majority of playing time. If Kyle was ever going to become a major force, he had to leave UK. It is going to be extremely difficult for any UK players past the sophomore year to have a major role in UK basketball.

    If we begin to see good players, but not mega recruits began to play major minuets for UK as juniors it will mean that the pipe line of great recruits has slowed. None of us want that. Calipari……keep em coming.

  7. Kokamo Joe

    Mike: Do you think that Wills and the kid from Richmond can compete with the talent that Calipari is bringing in?

  8. Kokamo Joe

    I agree with almost every thing that you posted, especially the fact that Calipari must play with the hand that he is dealt. As you say, it is just not the old way anymore. We have the excitement of the best of the best for a year or so. All the while we read about how Calipari is on the hunt for the next reload. I like it. Personally, it think that it is likely that Kyle saw the handwriting on the wall and went where he could get playing time. My guess is that the only juniors that we will see on this team will be walk-ons and scholarship players from the state of Kentucky who play little, but realize that there are great life long benefits for having been on a UK roster.

    I cut Shepard a little slack about the UL comment. It is a different time and a different coach at UK now. Feeling more comfortable with a former coach and what is familiar to him, does not indicate that Shepard is not a UK first fan. And remember…Shepard was a Cat.

    1. larryvaught

      Will have lot more with Sheppard in the days ahead. He said a lot in his 40-minute talk, and left no doubt that he is a Cat through and through. Be a mistake to think other wise. And he is a Calipari fan, too

  9. TheColoradoWildcat


    Get your feelings off your shirt selves… k? He did NOT say that he was more comfortable at UofL because of UofL; rather because of the coach there that he played under at UK. Geez….

    I truly believe that some of our BBN fans are not the least bit happy unless they are critical of a writer, or can make negative comments about the team. Part of the “art” of reading is “reading.” And part of reading is “understanding” what was written. “Misinterpreting” what is on the page…that is not reading.

    Maybe if we read -sometimes more than once to fully comprehend what is being said- with an open mind, we would do better.

    I’ll get off my soap box now; just get tired of all the negative thinking.

  10. TheColoradoWildcat

    Did not mean to post that twice. Someone can delete one if possible.


  11. MikeF

    Kokomo, Yes, both can compete or Cal would not have them here, My point is, the more veterans, the better. Wiltjer won’t get too many open looks at Gonzaga, he may have less splinters, but his shot at a diamond ring will be seriously diminished. I wish him well, but wish he would have stayed. Wiltjer is no Patterson, but, what if Patterson would have stayed with the Brandon Knight team? Yes, Harrelson may have not have developed, but, we probably would have nine now.

    1. larryvaught

      MikeF, I am with you. Plus, Kyle’s 3-point shooting could have been huge in some games

  12. Andy

    @ Colorado…Yes i did. Thank You. Maybe Jeff is the one who seems to be all over the map. He comes out talking about the culture of 1 and done and then himself quotes
    ” Heck, if I was good enough to play for six or seven months at Kentucky and get a multi-million dollar contact, I’d have left to” The rule sucks and Jeff too would have taken advantage of it.

    How about he criticize the NBA and the NCAA for allowing this? I fully understand what he said. No misinterpreting here. Maybe he should not project his feelings onto everybody else as the “general fan’s thoughts”.

  13. Larry Pup

    I don’t want to stir the fire, but I sort of agree with Andy. The comment Sheppard made concerning UofL and Pitino would have been better left unsaid, particularly when said to a bunch of hard nosed UK fans who are quite happy with our current coach. I also think Wiltjer made a huge mistake that only time will tell. I think he should have rode for the brand until the end, giving his all as a team player not and individualist. If he don’t improve his overall game, and toughness, he will never make it in the NBA period. That is not the end of the world. Many don’t make it. His best shot for the next level was at UK in my view. I may be all wet here.

  14. RJ

    With all due respect to everyone on this board, Kyle made the decision that he feld was in his own best self interest. He is(was) in a better positon than anyone to evalualte his options. It would have certainly been better for the Cats if he had stayed. But, you can’t get the attention of the pros by riding the pines. I hate to see him go, but I wish him every success. I’m hoping he meets up with the Cats in future on the court.

  15. JimHarris

    Jeff is right about the 10 minutes at UK would do him as much good NBA-wise as 30 minutes at Gonzaga. But Jeff played under a different coach, one who wasn’t quite so caught up in the game of counting how many frosh make it to the NBA from his team. I don’t know how important this is to Cal’s recruiting, probably very much so, but it just isn’t a good scene for guys who aren’t that talented or ready.

  16. Andy

    Kyle had 2 years to get in shape and made no strides in his fitness. For a guy his size, he should have not been pushed around so much. He understood his playing time was not given and he decided to take a path that assured him more playing time.

  17. Kokomo Joe

    I would love to see these two Kentucky boys make good at UK. I would love to see then with major playing time as juniors and starters as seniors. I cannot see Calipari shifting away from his system and that system means bringing in fresh talent each year and starting over. As I have posted before, if one or both of these young men assumes starting roles, then one or both of future big time recruits will have to ride the pines.

    I look forward to watching these two. Will their skill and work ethic cause Calipari to back off and reduced his one and done recruits by a couple during their last two years at UK. Will they take any playing time from this year’s freshmen this year? Will the talented super freshmen respect the less talented Kentucky boys? Will one or both transfer like Kyle did?

    Finally, yes I would love to have some of our players, and I mean contributing players hang around and develop leadership and be a dominate part of our team. Personally I don’t like the one and done system. But it is the one that we have and Calipari has and often does emphasize the fact that his goal is to get players in and send them to the money in as few years as possible. Of course, that PR helps bring these great players.
    Like it or not, Calipari’s unique system is bringing winning basketball to Kentucky and we all want to win. Given the choice of Calipari’s system and the old system of Smith, Sutton and Gillispie, I will take Calipari every day and twice on Sunday. I very much doubt that Calipari will change his system. I just don’t see the opportunity for many kids to play beyond their junior years.

  18. UKFMLY

    I for one believe we will miss Kyle. I am a huge Cal fan but I also believe that we would have not won #8 without Darius Miller. When the rubber hit the road at crunch time of big games Cal called on Darius and Doron more often than MKG and AD. The reason for that was simple! ! EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, AND EXPERIENCE. Doron was devastated after losing in the final four, Darius has a will to win in the final minutes and wanted to prove that to the BBN. Whether the young guys can develop that since of urgency is yet to be seen but I am of the camp that #9 will not be next year(sorry just my opinion) if we don’t develop a true go to guy on offense at crunch time of big games. I was hoping that hunger and pride would help Kyle be that guy not from a create your own aspect but from a we have to guard this guy so others have opportunities stand point.

    Always have been and always will be a Big Kyle fan! !

  19. Andy

    Not every player becomes a 1 and done. We have AP and WCS returning realizing they had more to develop as players in addition to the new members and lets not forget Polson as well.

  20. Kokamo Joe

    Last year was the first year that UK did not have experienced players who were hold overs from previous coaches. To put it bluntly last year was a failure of both the team and the coach. OK, so we don’t cry over spilled milk. We have 6 McDonald All American freshmen to go with our two sophomores. There will be no upper class leadership unless it comes from the sophomores and since they demonstrated little leadership last year, I must conclude that the leadership must come from the freshmen and coaches.

    I disagree with Shepard. I think that talent can produce wins and that leadership can come from youngsters. UK can win the national title with what they have next year.
    But that is not guaranteed. Last year we learned that Calipari’s system does not always work. But now it must win without older players. We may never have contributing players older than sophomores. The more I listen to Calipari the more I believe that that is the case.

  21. Kokamo Joe


    I think that we will have some of the freshmen come back for their sophomore seasons. IMO if they have not developed to the point that they are draft bait, then I think that they will be recruited over and either sit on the bench or transfer. I don’t see many sitting on the bench.

    Now, what I want and hope for and what I get is likely to be two different things. Who would not like to see Jones back last year or Cauley-Stein hang around for his junior year. But look what Cauley-Stein sees coming down the track. Johnson this year and Towns next year. I see that as the position for every sophomore that does not leave early. So far, there are no Calipari recruited contributing players who have reached the junior year.

    But what about Polson. The kid was a walk on. He is talented, but most of us would not put him in the same class as a typical UK player, especially with the kind that Calipari is bringing in. He was not a factor in his first two years. Last year he had to play. This year he will be back on the bench, and if he is not UK will be in big trouble.

    Personally, and this is just an opinion, I think that Calipari likes to have a bit of Kentucky flavor on his team. He gets it with walk ons and scholarship players who will not likely play much. That is and was Polson. He is a great ambassador for UK basketball, a scholar, and he has graduated, but he was never meant to be an important cog in the UK machine. Necessity forced the situation.

  22. King Ghidora

    I disagree that the offense didn’t work well when it was ran through Kyle. I thought he did great on offense. It was his defense that was lacking. Whether he can fix that or not remains to be seen. Foot speed is something your born with for the most part. I also think it was the other teams that made Kyle the main player. Since no one else was consistently scoring the Cats tried to go to a great shooter in Kyle except it turns out Kyle wasn’t so great at shooting when he was tightly guarded. I don’t hold that against him but he was more Cameron Mills than Kevin Grevey. Kevin could shoot with two guys in his face. Mills had to be wide open but he made a big contribution.

    I also disagree about Jeff being the best talent on the floor. He’s selling himself short too. He could jump like crazy and he could fly down the lane and score long after people expected him to land. He was great at taking off from the free throw line and making layups over defenders who had long since came back to earth. He could shoot outside and he could play defense. Yes the Cats had Nazr too and he was a great player along with Padgett. But Jeff was the real talent on that team IMO. Nazr was very good and he made it in the NBA a long time. He’s still playing in fact. But he had size and you certainly can’t coach that. He has muscle and foot speed too. He’s a decent pro who’s had a great career.

    I really think Jeff might wish he had played his cards differently. He should have been drafted. He didn’t show up for the combine and it hurt him badly. He wasn’t even drafted. People just didn’t expect him to have the kind of talent he had. But he was a high flying guard with a good handle and a great shot. He was definitely NBA material. He could have been on the level of Nash IMO. But he blew it if you ask me. Trust me those bad decisions can haunt you. Maybe now he wants to claim his way was the right way. I don’t know. I just know he’s said some hurtful things lately and I have to wonder why. Since he won’t say why I’m left to speculate and these things are what I wonder about.

    I really wish he hadn’t said some of the things he did. Being close to Pitino is one thing. I can’t fault him for that. But feeling better at UL???? Is he a Wildcat or not? And calling Cal “the enemy”????????? I don’t care if he was joking as he claims. He had to know the media would run with that and ignore any joke aspect of it.

    Foul on the play IMO.

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