Last season Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats in free throw shooting with 55 3-pointers. Wiltjer was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and was also SEC 6th man of the year in 2013 and a significant bench player for the 2012 National Title team. Saying he played a huge role in the Cat’s success (or even lack thereof) is a huge overstatement, but to say he had no role in his two years at Kentucky wouldn’t be true either.
Personally, I was always a Wiltjer fan. Sure he wasn’t the toughest on defense, but nothing made me happier than throwing three-goggles after he dropped one from downtown. I also found his and Jarrod Polson’s “WBA” (aka White Boy Academy) videos hysterical.
To the real question: How does Wiltjer’s transfer affect UK?
I don’t think Wiltjer’s transfer will make too much on an impact on this upcoming season. The biggest loss, aside from his 3-pointers, would be a leadership aspect. Wiltjer was the only returning player with minutes from the 2012 National Championship game. Sure we have returning guys in Hood, Polson, Malone, and Long from that title season, and sophomores in WCS and Poythress, but they sat the title game (and most of the tournament) out and the sophomores have yet to play a tournament game (in the real tournament that is). The incoming freshman could have learned from Wiltjer’s tournament and game experiences, from one McDAA to another.
As for recruiting: I don’t think his transfer will affect UK TOO much. When you take a look at this season’s roster the projected starters are Cauley-Stein, HarrisonX2, Poythress and Randle. There are also three freshmen that could rotate in before Wiltjer (Johnson, Young and Lee); best-case scenario: Wiltjer is still a 6th man as a junior. Then you look at size: Kyle is listed as a 6’10” PF/C. You have WCS at 7 foot at center, as well as Dakari Johnson (also listed as 7 foot) at the same position. At F you have Marcus Lee listed at 6’10” also, Julius Randle at 6’9” and Derek Willis at the same height. The odds are stacked against Wiltjer. Many said Wiltjer never fit the system which is somewhat arguable and I won’t get into it, but you can tell he doesn’t shine as bright as many of his teammates.
The only direct recruiting impact I see Wiltjer making on UK that is negative would be the guys wanting to transfer in (like Julius Mays) that weren’t recruited by Cal may not be reluctant to transfer for fear of “not fitting the system” as well. Not necessarily affecting recruiting, but UK hasn’t recruited too many strong 3-point shooters in recent years either. Overall, I don’t put too much emphasis on Wiltjer leaving in the fate of our recruiting.
In the letter Kyle and Coach Cal wrote to the BBN it was evident that Wiltjer still loved UK saying,
“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.”
Wiltjer had nothing but positives to say about Kentucky and said he simply had “new goals” and wanted to work on his body. In Calipari’s letter he made it evident that he didn’t want to lose Wiltjer, but would support him in his decisions and be of any assistance he could. This shows how much the players love to be here, and how supportive their coach is; if anything those letters are a testament to the family aspect of UK.
I don’t think Wiltjer leaving will have a positive affect on recruiting, however. This will free up a roster spot that will likely be filled by an upperclassman transfer before the season starts. Regardless if a player or two transfers out of the program, at a place like Kentucky with the tradition, facilities, and fan base, as well as the coaching staff and talent constantly coming in I don’t think we will be short of superstars anytime soon but I don’t think a transfer will help anything.
Overall, I think that Wiltjer’s loss does affect our team in the leadership and experience aspect (and 3 point shooting), but I do not think it will necessarily make a lasting positive or negative impact on recruiting. Like Calipari, I wish Wiltjer the best wherever he ends up (my guess is Gonzaga), enjoy your title ring and keep the goggles up, man.