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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.”