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By LARRY VAUGHT
Howard Kelsey, executive vice-president of Canada basketball, has known Kentucky sophomore Kyle Wiltjer from the time he was born because he was on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team with Greg Wiltjer that lost the bronze medal game by three points.
“We have been best friends and I have always known Kyle,” Kelsey, who watched the Canadian players work out last week, said. “His progression from his seventh grade year to 11th grade was unreal. I had a picture of him when he was just a young kid and then he walks in as an 11th-grader at 6-9 and shooting the ball deep. He’s special. He was the best shooting big man from the outside. He has very unique skills to offer, as Kentucky fans know. There are very few 6-11 players who can shoot as deep and well as he can.”
One concern about the UK freshman last year was that he didn’t have the strength to bang inside with older, stronger Southeastern Conference players.
“He has definitely gained weight,” Wiltjer’s father said. “He’s hovering around 240 pounds now. You can physically see the wider shoulders and he can still put on more weight, but he is stronger. I have been in the gym a little pushing on him a little bit and I can definitely tell he is stronger. And his shot is as accurate as ever. He’s ready for a big year.”
Kelsey said Wiltjer had no problems holding his own physically at the workouts despite playing against older players.
“Physically, he was fine, and he was playing against numerous NBA players,” Kelsey said. “He held up fine and looks to me like he just continues to get stronger. Naturally any kid 18 or 19 has some growing and maturing to do, but it’s clear he is getting stronger. He’s showing more tenacity on defense, too. He has a will to play solid defense.”
Kelsey said the competition Wiltjer faced in the workouts can only make him better, too.
“It definitely helps him. Playing against better physical specimens makes anybody get better,” Kelsey said. “There were some bona fide NBA players that are men he was going against, and doing fine. We are projecting our talent for 2016 and he did fine from my perspective.”
Other young players at the workouts included 609 Trey Lyles, a top 2013 recruit, and Anthony Bennett, who picked UNLV over Kentucky and Florida this year. Highly-touted Andrew Wiggins, a junior at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep and a big-time UK target, was invited but could not participate.