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kyle wiltjer

By LARRY VAUGHT

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale says Kentucky might even be missing Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred to Gonzaga. He likely would have been UK’s best 3-point shooter.

“He would be spreading the defense and would have been a plus off the bench. I didn’t think they would miss him, either, when he left, but now I do think they miss him and he would have been a major factor in a lot of games,” Vitale said. “(James) Young is their best 3-point shooter, and even he’s streaky.

“But Kentucky is going to be fine. The Harrison are going to be good. They just have to get in a rhythm and flow. They seem out of sync now. The team’s offensive efficiency is not good. But don’t panic. Kentucky is too talented to stay down. They just need that one big win and if they beat Louisville, watch out. Just tell UK fans to stay patient because the good times are coming back.”

* * *

So what do you think? Could Wiltjer be helping this team?

By LARRY VAUGHT

With all the hype about John Calipari’s team, I asked Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy what it thought was the most underrated part of the team going into the season.

“I think it is the veteran core. I have heard a lot of people try to make the case that when Kyle Wiltjer decided to transfer to Gonzaga that this team now lacked leadership. I like Kyle and like his talent, but he wasn’t going to be a leader on this team,” DeCourcy said.  “I think having Jarrod Polson, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein back is big.

“I like Jon Hood as a presence. He is a good kid. You are talking about him being a leader even though he is not playing, and that’s what role Kyle would have had. Jon can do that. He has been on every one of Cal’s teams at Kentucky. He knows what to tell the freshmen to do on and off the court. How much will they listen to him? No more or less than they would have Kyle. Kyle would not have been a big factor with this team.

“I think the real leadership has to come from Willie and Alex if he has mastered his position, and I think he will. I think Alex in terms of on court direction and do what I am doing, he can do that from a leadership standpoint. Kentucky is bringing back more people than they are being given credit for this year because of the failure of last year. Willie and Alex are both (NBA draft) first-round talent. The idea that because Kentucky failed last year they don’t have talent is ludicrous. Last year they just did not have a point guard, had chemistry issues and then had a major injury (to Nerlens Noel).”

By LARRY VAUGHT

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.”

Kyle Wiltjer puts up a hook shot against Radford. (Ben Kleppinger photo)

Kyle Wiltjer puts up a hook shot against Radford. (Ben Kleppinger photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

CBS Sports and ESPN have confirmed that Kentucky junior forward Kyle Wiltjer is transferring to Gonzaga, the school many thought he might choose when both Wiltjer and UK coach John Calipari released statements previously that he was considering a transfer.

There has been no official announcement from UK yet, but it gets Wiltjer back to a program he knows well on the west coast and one that has used players with similar skills to star in its system.

Wiltjer was the SEC Sixth Man of the Year and has made 90 3-pointers the last two seasons. However, the former McDonald’s All-American figured to be no more than a potential role player off the bench behind Julius Randle, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and maybe even Marcus Lee this year.

This lets him transfer, work to improve  his strength and quickness, and then have a chance to play far more minutes as a junior.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) celebrates after a three in the second half. (Clay Jackson/cjackson@amnews.com)

Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) celebrates after a three in the second half. (Clay Jackson/cjackson@amnews.com)

Apparently the announcement that Kyle Wiltjer is transferring from the University of Kentucky might have been a little premature.

Wiltjer’s father, Greg Wiltjer, told the Portland Tribune’s Kerry Eggars that Kyle has three options, and only one of them involves transferring. Greg Wiltjer said Kyle could remain at UK on the roster, he could redshirt at UK to develop his skills, or he could transfer.

“Kyle is still a Kentucky Wildcat,” Greg says of Kyle, the former Jesuit High standout who played the past two seasons for John Calipari. “He loves being a Kentucky Wildcat. He’s not 100 percent committed to transferring.”

Eggards said the Wiltjers visited Gonzaga on Wednesday and Thursday.

Kyle is in Toronto, training with the Canadian developmental team that will participate in the World University Games next week at Kazan, Russia.

Eggars said Kyle won’t make a decision until after the World University Games. Greg says he’ll support any decision, but told Eggars he hopes if Kyle returns to UK he redshirts. Greg Wiltjer also said UK coach John Calipari has approved that option.

“The biggest time in Kyle’s career lies in the 14 to 16 months ahead,” Greg told Eggars. “I’d 100 percent like him to devote the next year to working on his body, but it’s his decision. He feels vested in Kentucky. It has been his life the last two years. And Kyle is a very competitive kid. He is always trying to prove people wrong.”

You can read Eggars’ complete story at http://portlandtribune.com/pt/12-sports/155720-the-lastest-on-jack-ramsay-lamarcus-aldridge-kyle-wiltjer-travis-green-and-more

By LARRY VAUGHT

There could be a lot of things to worry about with Kentucky basketball for next season, especially with expectations being so high.

Will the pending transfer of Kyle Wiltjer be costly to UK because of his 3-point shooting? How much will UK miss his experience? How will the Cats blend together? Can Alex Poythress become the dominant player many expect? How much will Willie Cauley-Stein improve? Could Julius Randle be the nation’s best freshman?

But there’s one thing not to worry about — twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison along with James Young are going to be part of the team. No, they have not been on campus full-time like freshmen Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Randle, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins. However, there’s no reason to panic or over analyze what is wrong.

“The school year was longer for them. But the other thing is, they had some things to finish up academically,” UK coach John Calipari said earlier this week. “They’ll be fine and be here. But I’m excited about those three. I wish they would have been here for the eight-week (summer school session), but it’s happened before with Nerlens (Noel) and some other guys we’ve had (in previous years). They’ve had things to finish up, but they’re fine.”

Believe him.

Not every high school finishes the school year at the same time. That’s part of the problem with the trio. But there’s no reason to worry about their eligibility like Florida is having to do — and has admitted — with McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker right now. All three are going to be cleared to play and all three are going to play huge roles.

Each just has to finish a few things and various UK sources tell me they will all be part of next year’s team.

“If anyone remotely thinks those three will not be part of the team, they are very wrong,” one UK source said. “Everybody’s situation is different, but they are all going to be here and are all going to be fine.”

Kentucky needs all three players, too, because they will dramatically impact the Wildcats’ national championship season. Andrew Harrison is being counted on to be the next John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. He’s going to be Calipari’s point guard and will bring toughness and court savvy to the point that UK lacked last year.

Aaron Harrison and Young will need to be the outside shooting threats, especially with Wiltjer’s decision to apparently transfer. Both can do more than just shoot, but both will have to be able to hit outside shots open driving lanes for Andrew Harrison and give Poythress, Randle, Johnson and Cauley-Stein room to maneuver inside.

The Harrisons and Young probably wish they could have been on campus all summer. They have a bond with UK’s other freshmen from the postseason all-star games and have made it clear they want to be part of a special season at UK. And they will be — even if they are a bit later getting to campus than their freshmen teammates.

By LARRY VAUGHT

What is your favorite Kyle Wiltjer memory?

Mine is a bit different. It involves his parents, Greg and Carol, and how supportive they were of him and Kentucky basketball in general.

I remember the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans. It was the day after UK beat Louisville in the national semifinals when I saw Wiltjer’s parents. I told them I knew how excited they must be even though Kyle didn’t get to play a lot in the victory.

But they let me know immediately that all that mattered to them, or Kyle, was that Kentucky won and had a chance to win a national championship. I never forgot that because not all parents are that way, especially on a street in New Orleans where they were not being quoted.

But the Wiltjers were terrific folks and I will miss having Kyle around. Many media members did not consider him a “great interview” because he didn’t give funny, flashy answers. Instead, he answered honestly and I always enjoyed spending time with him.

But what about you? What is your favorite Wiltjer memory or what will you remember most about him?

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kyle Wiltjer sounds like he’s going to transfer from Kentucky — but really doesn’t want to.

Wiltjer, who was a reserve on UK’s 2012 national championship team and the Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year last season, said in April he was returning to UK for his junior season even though coach John Calipari was bringing in a class loaded with numbers and talent.

He averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Wiltjer was second on the team with 55 3-pointers last season and made 90 over his two-year Kentucky career. He was expected to be UK’s top 3-point shooter this season.
Calipari was on the Southeastern Conference coaches’ teleconference Monday morning but made no mention of Wiljter’s plans. Instead, he broke the news on his own website, coachcal.com.

Wiltjer has played with the Canadian National Team this summer and made a trip to China for exhibition games that just ended.

“After playing with Canada, Kyle feels like he could have a more prominent role in another program than he might have with us next season,” Calipari wrote. “He expressed to me that that’s the kind of situation he wants to be in for his last two years of eligibility. For his future, he may be right.”

If that sounds a big cold-hearted from Calipari, it didn’t seem to bother Wiltjer — just as the coach’s prodding the last two seasons for him to improve his defense, add weight and get tougher didn’t. Wiljter’s father, Greg, is a former professional player and helped instill an attitude in his son that let him accept constructive criticism in a realistic way.

While Wiltjer didn’t officially say he’s transferring, his letter to the Big Blue Nation at the same website. Wiltjer wrote:

“Heading into college my dream was to win a National Championship and compete with and play against the best players in the country. Without a doubt, I accomplished both of these goals in my two years at Kentucky. Now as I head into my junior year, I recognize that my new and adjusted goals require me to make some very difficult upcoming decisions. Coach Cal has been everything I expected him to be, as I have felt very comfortable talking with him about my situation. I cannot stress enough how supportive Coach has been during this period. He is more than a coach to me, and for that I am forever grateful.

“During this next year, I will be working on my body so that I am able to compete the way I know I can. I want to find a situation that will help me do this as well as play a more significant role, wherever that may be. Even though I might physically leave Lexington, I will never forget the support and kindness that everyone has shown my family and me. It is difficult to put into words how hard it is to possibly leave BBN, yet I am confident that whatever I choose, I will give it my all. Regardless, I will always bleed blue and will never forget these amazing last two years at Kentucky.”

That’s a classy way to go out — and what anyone who knows Wiltjer would expect. He was never one to pout or complain. He was never one to heap praise on himself. He just played basketball and understood his role.

Kentucky returns Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Cats add Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson. That’s a lot of talent — and competition for playing time with Wiltjer

But don’t forget Wiltjer was part of the recruiting class with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague, all McDonald’s All-Americans and all first-round NBA draft picks after their freshmen season. Wiltjer was also a McDonald’s All-American.

“I felt like over the next few years he was going to develop into the player I know he will eventually become,” Calipari said in his statement. “Unfortunately, that may happen somewhere else.”

If, or when, Wiltjer transfers, he’ll have to sit out a year. What about just redshirting at Kentucky and then playing his final two years for the Cats? There was no mention of that, but remember Jeff Sheppard. He was a reserve on UK’s 1996  national title team, redshirted in 1997 when UK lost in the title game and then was Final Four MVP in 1998 when UK won the title again.

But with Calipari going public with the news on coachcal.com — he didn’t even let his go-to media guy, ESPN’s Andy Katz, break the news — it seems unlikely that Wiltjer will return.

“No one should feel that they have to leave after a year or they’ve failed,” Calipari wrote on his website. “Many will leave after a year, but that’s their path. Others will stay four years, but that’s their path. Kyle’s choice to explore options at another school disappoints me, but it’s his decision at the end of the day, and I fully support his decision. .

“Anytime a player doesn’t feel like he can achieve those dreams with us, I feel like we’ve failed him, not that he’s failed us. I told Kyle I’ll play whatever part he wants in his transfer, whether that’s being involved and calling other schools on his behalf or not being involved in any way. He expressed to me that he needs my help and advice, which I will give. Whatever Kyle chooses — and I still hope he ends up back with us — I wish him and his family the best of luck.”

Kyle Wiltjer in the win over Radford. (Victoria Graff photo)

Kyle Wiltjer in the win over Radford. (Victoria Graff photo)

By Gary Moyers

Kyle Wiltjer has informed Coach John Calipari of his intention to possibly transfer to another school, according to a post on coachcal.com

Calipari said in his post that Wiltjer informed him of his decision just before he left on a trip to play in China.

“After playing with Canada, Kyle feels like he could have a more prominent role in another program than he might have with us next season. He expressed to me that that’s the kind of situation he wants to be in for his last two years of eligibility. For his future, he may be right.”

An excerpt from Wiltjer’s letter addressed to Big Blue Nation and posted on UKathletics.com  indicates he may transfer:

During this next year, I will be working on my body so that I am able to compete the way I know I can.  I want to find a situation that will help me do this as well as play a more significant role, wherever that may be. Even though I might physically leave Lexington, I will never forget the support and kindness that everyone has shown my family and me.  It is difficult to put into words how hard it is to possibly leave BBN, yet I am confident that whatever I choose, I will give it my all. Regardless, I will always bleed blue and will never forget these amazing last two years at Kentucky.

Thank You, Kyle Wiltjer

By MIKE MARSEE, marsee@amnews.com

By just about any Kentucky fan’s standard, last season was a failure. By John Calipari’s standard, not so much.

The Kentucky coach said he was disappointed that the Wildcats didn’t have a better year — they finished 21-12 and lost in the first round of the NIT one year after winning a national championship — but he said that wasn’t the only measure of success for him or the players.

Calipari said all of Kentucky’s players got something out of last season — even those who didn’t play as well as expected. He talked about what he and the players took from the season Monday during his remarks to children and their family members at his satellite camp at Boyle County High School.

“In a lot of ways, it was really rewarding for me. We were disappointed. We finished second in the SEC, we were disappointed. The three (SEC) teams that went to the NCAA tournament, we were 3-1 against those teams,” Calipari said. “And you never use injuries as an excuse or any of that. Here’s what’s disappointing: We didn’t even get to the tournament; we played our way out of it.”

“But this is a players-first program. We had a 3.4 grade-point average as a team last year. Twelve out of 13 guys had a B average. Two had a 4.0. Aside from that, players benefitted from last season. We talk about players first, that’s what this is supposed to be about.

“Did we benefit from this, our staff? No. But did Nerlens (Noel) benefit from this past season? He may get drafted (number) one. He did all right. How ’bout Archie (Goodwin)? We would have like to have him come back, but we’re going to support him. Looks like he’s going to be a first-rounder, maybe a second-rounder; he’s going to get drafted.

“How ’bout Willie (Cauley-Stein)? No one knew who Willie was. He benefitted. How ’bout Alex (Poythress)? Oh, yeah, he benefitted. The benefit was you saw signs and he saw signs of where he can go, but knowing he’s got to change the path he’s on to get where he’s trying to go.

“How ’bout Kyle Wiltjer? Sixth man of the year. By the end of the year, though, what happened to him? What did every team do to him defensively? They went at him on defense, and he knew, ‘I’ve got to change my body.’ He benefitted. How ’bout Julius Mays? No one knew who Julius Mays was. Julius is going to get a contract to play in Europe.

“You may say, ‘Well, what about Jon Hood?’ Jon Hood benefitted. How ’bout Jarrod Polson? Did he benefit? Yes, he benefitted. Ryan Harrow. You may say, ‘Well, he didn’t benefit.’ Yeah, he did. In a lot of ways, he benefitted in that (he realized), ‘I’m not made for this.’ So now, that season got him to where he can go to have success.

“What I mean to say, again, when you’re about players first, it’s got to be that way, your principles, your core values, even when it doesn’t go good for me, it’s got to be about those guys first. We graduated 10 of our last 10 players in four years. Ten players who have used up their eligibility have graduated. Ten out of 10. We’ve had 17 draft picks? We just helped create 17 millionaires. Isn’t that nice. Wouldn’t you like to have that lottery ticket?

“Now, 10 out of 10 have graduated, 17 have gone on to pro careers. Some have done both: Darius Miller, Josh Harrellson. They stayed the (entire) time and they became pros. We call it a success rate. People have this graduation rate. OK, we graduate our kids, but it’s more than that.”

Calipari said he’s excited about the team he’ll put on the floor next season, but he said the incoming players will also need some work.

“This team we have coming in, with the players we have returning, we should be good. They will decide how good we’ll be,” he said. “And every one of those players, they need us in different ways. Some need us to be right on top of them, some need us to just teach. Some need us to encourage, some need us to bring them back to show we have no fear of coaching them as a player. They all need us in different ways.

“So I’m excited about the opportunities we have. I’m really excited about where this program is, what it stands for, what it stands for around the country, not just in the commonwealth. We’re about players first. We drive them. They don’t always like us, they’re not always happy with us, it doesn’t mean I’m trying to be everybody’s buddy, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about helping them reach their dreams. When we help them reach their dreams, they drag us to where we’re trying to go.

“Do we want to win national titles? Absolutely. And if we win a national title, I’m ecstatic. But you know what would disappoint me? If we won a national title and not one player was drafted. That would disappoint me.

“And you say, ‘Well, why?’ I should benefit from that, you should benefit from it, the school should benefit, the state should benefit, but those young people shouldn’t benefit? If you’re about them, it’s about, yeah, we want to do all this, but not at the expense of our young people. We’re here to help them reach their dreams.”

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