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Versatile Kyle Wiltjer could be Kentucky’s most surprising player next season


With speculation about Kentucky’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 nation’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 McDonald’s All-American Game.

Kentucky coach John Calipari recently made it clear he has big expectations for Wiltjer and is excited about his versatility.

“You can trail him in the break. If he takes it out and trails and you throw it back to him, he shoots 3’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,” Calipari said.

But that’s not all. Wiltjer has another aspect to his game few have.

“He does that running hook, too,” Calipari said. “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?”

Wait. There’s more to his offensive game.

“He is a great passer,” the UK coach said.

He’s not worried about those who wonder if Wiltjer could be a defensive liability.

“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,” Calipari said. “What he does, we just have to figure out where he plugs into the whole scheme of things.

“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.”

And as good as his classmates are, he could still turn out to be the biggest surprise on UK’s team next season.

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  1. wildcat69

    This incoming class might be my all time favorite before the end of next season! There is so much upside for all of these kids, including the “elite” players of this class! I love the fact that these kids want to work and to be the absolute best teammates they can be…and this includes last years players as well! GO BIG BLUE!!!

  2. TrueBlueJohn

    This has to be the most fun BBN has had in years. Cal just keeps bringing in the talent, and as long as he is here, we will always be in the mix for a championship. I think the blend of veterans and newcomers wil bode well for us this year. I am excited to see what Davis, Teague, Gilchrist and Wiltjer bring to the table. Just keep in mind, recruiting season is not over yet.

  3. bigbluefans4uk.com

    Let’s think about this.

    I am going back to the mid 60s. Those who can chart their fandom back to the 40s and 50s can add to this.

    The class of Dampier/Riley
    The class of Casey, Issel, and Pratt
    The class of the super kittens, Grevey, Guyette, Flynn, Conner, ……
    The Class of Robey, Phillips, Givens, Lee
    The class of Turpin/Bowie/and others

    and the mantra goes on and on

    This class stacks up very well against those legendary classes in UK history that Coaches Rupp, Hall, and Pitino have provided.

    Let this group show it on the court the way their predecessors did, then we can compare and contrast.

  4. Jan in Indiana

    HALLELIAH!!!!! This just keeps getting better all the time.
    Maybe I had better start stocking up on nitro glycerin right now, sounds like this next season is going to be EXCITING!!!!!!

    TrueBlueJohn, you are so right this is FUN!!!

  5. Jim Braun

    Cal is our hero. Just a month more than two years ago, we were barely better than an NIT team with a loser at the helm. Now we are celebrating the seasons before they start. Let me just rain on the parade a little and point out that this great team is yet only great on paper – as compared to say, the 96 team. Recall the summer before that great year we were all absolutely sure of a championship. There was little doubt after we saw Anderson in pick up games. If we have an Achilles heel it is the unknown, aka experience. But enough of that stuff, – let’s party on.


    This guy is the extra ace in the deck…he’s truly a skilled basketball play and every team needs to have several in order to be successful. He reminds me of Kevin McHale with his wide array of shots. If we can get a solid 10 to 15 lbs of muscle on him and introduce him to the heavy hitting bag over the summer for meanness, he’s going to be a load. Put him in the deep corner along with Miller out front and Lamb pulling the trigger in the other corner and we really have a “ring of fire” power. While he isn’t as athletic as Davis ( who is?), he adds a whole different set of problems for teams like North Carolina. He’ll be able to draw one of their bigs outside since they will not be able to leave him out there shooting 3s. He’s “Mr. Smooth” and I think the concealed weapon that most people are overlooking. I admit to drinking the cool aid when it comes to him, but I’m in love with his “old school” game and can hardly wait to see him do his thing-go get em Kyle!

  7. Suziecat2

    Jim is right, there are some unknowns such as team chemistry. Meshing all this talent, personalities, and egos into a great basketball team will be a challenge. But, I have faith, Coach Cal can and WILL get the job done!

  8. WildcatRick

    What a difference in fortunes for UK and its fans. Its a good problem to have when a player as good as Wiltjer is almost an afterthought to some.

    Kyle is a GREAT player and will do wondrous things at UK. He will quickly be a fan favorite.

    Good stuff, Larry!!

  9. TrueBlueJohn

    Cal has already proven to be a genius at getting kida to play together, and this year he is going to have the best weapon. The seat beside of him. He will have enough depth to sit kids if they are not producing. Pitino was a master at this, and so is Cal.

  10. Jackie

    I’m excited about this kid and also wonder if he’s not underrated because of the other players in the class…he IS the Water Fountain who won the McDonald’s 3-point shooting contest! UK has never had a recruit that won the 3-point competition before (so I’ve heard).

    On the team chemistry issue, normally I worry about that a lot but not with this class. I follow most of them on Twitter and they seem to be close already. They are close with each other and very excited about coming to UK, but they also communicate with the guys we have coming back. I see that as a big plus because they are all getting to know each other already.

  11. King Ghidora

    MaxPreps moved Kyle up to number 12 on their list recently. That gives UK 2 of the top 3, 3 of the top 10 and 4 of the top 12. That’s incredible.


    1. gmoyers

      Did not know that King. Thanks for letting me know about Kyle’s ranking with MaxPreps

  12. UKFMLY

    I believe I said it first. When I listed my starting 5 I also said he was me preseason WoW player. Based on a lot of the things said in this article.



    1. gmoyers

      Wiltjer could well turn out to be a huge, huge steal

  13. coldspringmike

    Been saying this before the kid even signed with us. Had the good fortune to see him as a junior while I was on a business trip to the north-west. Comes from a basketball family, can shoot the lights out and is a very, very smart player who gets all others involved. Did back flips when he picked the Cats.

  14. dan simon

    As hard as it was to believe actually saw some comments downplaying Kyle because of his performance in the jordan classic. Certain these folks were the ones who had the same low opinion of Mash when he played in allstar games- some kids just need to have structure around them to show their real worth- sure feel Kyle is in that mode.

  15. gmoyers

    Good memory Dan.
    And Coldspringmike, have heard others say those kind of good things as well

  16. Karen Sprinkle

    I’m not sure you can take a lot away from all-star games. Most of those games seem to be more about what jaw-dropping play you can make than playing team basketball. I’ve loved what I’ve read about all of our incoming freshman thus far.

  17. Matt Slone

    I have been guilty of looking past this kid a little bit also. So sorry, didn’t mean to. I would like to point out that (if memory serves me) he was the last one to join this recruiting bunch. Competition for playing time didn’t intimidate this kid at all!! Speaks volumes for this kids work ethic and character to compete!!! Thanks for the reminder Larry. I know “I” had this coming!! Go Big Blue!!!

    1. gmoyers

      Don’t worry Matt. We have all been doing that

  18. King Ghidora

    Mostly we get to see if a kid has super speed or jumping ability or the ability to hit open shots Karen. Big men rarely get to do much other than rebound because no one throws them the ball much. It gets shot before it gets to them. But we certainly see defense when it’s played and players who know to do the right thing even when the rest of their team isn’t. That’s the impression I got from Kyle. Plus when someone actually gave him the ball he could drain a shot from anywhere.

    I have to be honest that the player that impressed me more than any other in the all star games was Rivers. That kid is super fast. But he was like a black hole for basketballs if you know what I mean. The Cats have real talent coming in. That’s very obvious. Add that to the talent they already have and they are easily a top 5 team and better. They should be ranked #1 but the lack of experience will hurt them in the early polls. Still they have the talent to do great things. It will be like the level of talent of the Wall and Cousins team only with talent more geared to the dribble drive. If you remember how the offense worked last year with Josh pulling the defense out to the top of the key so the slashers could drive imagine the same thing but with players who can shoot the lights out having the ball where Harrellson did.

    This team should be the best yet at UK for Cal. Whether that works out is yet to be seen. Egos are always a problem on a team with so much talent. Last year everyone knew their role and they knew they were going to get to play. This coming year won’t be like that. There will be pressure to perform. Some kids don’t do well under that kind of strain.

    I have faith that Cal can make them gel as a team. We lived through a decade where it just didn’t happen that way. Only the less talented teams gelled during that time and those teams did great. But the teams with talent were all about turmoil as you all remember. We’ve already seen how a really great coach makes a difference. Now we get to see how much difference. Even Joe B. had problems with egos because he had teams loaded with talent too. Some of his teams were scary good. Once in a while he had discipline problems because he kept players on a tight leash. But he managed to win it all like that. I expect to see the same out of Cal at one point or another. It’s a heck of a lot of fun whether they win it all or not though. At least we get to see kids having fun and developing into great players and playing exciting basketball.

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