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By LARRY VAUGHT
With speculation about KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2011-12 basketball season already running rampant, my guess is that many of us are not giving incoming freshman Kyle Wiltjer enough credit and figuring how big his contributions could be.
Kentucky returns Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Incoming freshmen Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis are among the nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top 10 recruits.
But the 6-9 Wiltjer, a top 20 player, also has rare skills for for a 6-9 player. Remember, he won the 3-point shooting contest at the McDonaldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s All-American Game.
Kentucky coach John Calipari recently made it clear he has big expectations for Wiltjer and is excited about his versatility.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can trail him in the break. If he takes it out and trails and you throw it back to him, he shoots 3Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s. You stretch out their defense. You run more pick-and-pops. It doesn’t need to be a pick-and-roll, it can just be a pick-and-pop. You throw it back and he will make a 3,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
But thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not all. Wiltjer has another aspect to his game few have.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He does that running hook, too,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So now we are doing the dribble-drive and the starting point is nine, 10 feet, square up and hit the running hook. How do you defend that?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Wait. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more to his offensive game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is a great passer,Ã¢â‚¬Â the UK coach said.
HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not worried about those who wonder if Wiltjer could be a defensive liability.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you have a bunch of guys blocking shots, you can beat them on the dribble and two guys come out of nowhere. I remember the team we had two years ago. We had two guys blocking balls. We would look around like holy cow,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What he does, we just have to figure out where he plugs into the whole scheme of things.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But I will tell you this. He is talented and he is skilled. He is a great player. He is a great kid, hard worker.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And as good as his classmates are, he could still turn out to be the biggest surprise on UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s team next season.