It’s amazing how John Calipari uses different methods to motivate his players. When it came to motivating Ryan Harrow, Cal figured out that his point guard didn’t prefer the yelling, screaming approach. After all, Harrow had enough weight on his shoulders being the next UK point guard following Marquis Teague, Brandon Knight and John Wall. So Cal eased up. All of a sudden Harrow was one of the two most consistent players on Kentucky’s roster, the other being Nerlens Noel.
Kyle Wiltjer wasn’t treated with the same kid-gloves that Harrow had been. Cal went for the jugular with the sophomore. But with the stats that Wiltjer posted in his first two SEC contests, he deserved a chewing out from his coach. Against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, Wiltjer had a combined two points, three rebounds, one assist, three fouls and one turnover.
Calipari wasn’t happy with his forward’s defensive effort after the two point win at Vanderbilt and he sent a message for everyone to hear:
You play lower, you play tougher, you do anything you can to stay in the game,” Calipari said. “Or you accept it and you’re not playing. And we need Kyle in the game. Again, you can sit here and sugar-coat it, but you all watched it. They went at Kyle every possession I had him in the game. Every single possession.
So now I told him: ‘You don’t think anybody was watching the tape, right? No one watched that game? Don’t you think every team now is going to go right at you? Good luck.’ And I think he can do it, but he’s got to make his mind up that, ‘I’m not settling for this.
Wiltjer paid the price in the next game against Texas A&M. He sat the bench for the bulk of the game, seeing only 19 minutes of action. He watched as his team got embarrassed in front of their home crowd, unable to do anything about it. It was a taste that he and his fellow Wildcats did not relish.
Big Blue Nation was also concerned with Wiltjer. He was the hold-over from last year’s team that was supposed to make a difference. His perimeter game was supposed to stretch out the defense and allow Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress easier access to the basket. He was the one that was going to be the leader and show the young guys how it’s done in Lexington. He was supposed to be the one to show them what it means to be a Wildcat. But as the team struggled, Wiltjer became a focal point for the ire of some fans. And rightfully so in some situations.
But he finally showed why he was a five star recruit Tuesday night against Tennessee. He showed why he fit in so well with last year’s championship team. He showed why he can be almost impossible to guard. And most importantly, he showed his team what it means to perform in crunch time.