In a couple of oddly timed and oddly worded blog posts Monday, Kyle Wiltjer and John Calipari seemed to indicate the UK player would not return for his junior season at Kentucky.
Wiltjer — a 6-foot-10 forward — was not expected to start for the star-studded 2013-14 Wildcats, but he would have been a main contributor off the bench.
With Wiltjer gone, UK’s rotation next season will probably look something like this …
There’s obviously plenty of talent there (seven McDonald’s All-Americans), but the departure of Wiltjer would leave the Cats lacking in a couple of areas.
No. 1: Consistent three-point shooting. Wiltjer was a 43.2 percent shooter from long range as a freshman. With more talent around him, he didn’t have to work very hard to create shots and ended up with a lot more open looks as a result. After a drop-off in three-point production last season (36.7 percent), Wiltjer’s junior season was expected to be more like his freshman year. The influx of offensive talent should have given him more open opportunities from long range. It also would have given UK a reliable deep threat. If he leaves, Aaron Harrison will easily be the best and most consistent long-range shooter on the team. Harrison will also be hard-pressed to get as many open looks.
Earlier Monday, Calipari compared next season’s Wildcats to his first squad at UK — the 2009-10 team that featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Eric Bledsoe and the rest. Those Cats blew through the regular season before tripping up in the tournament when they couldn’t hit a three (but kept throwing them up anyway) against West Virginia.
No. 2: Veteran leadership. The UK roster has tons of talent (again, seven McDonald’s All-Americans), but there’s not much experience. Of the eight players expected to be at the top of the rotation, six are freshmen and two are sophomores. With Wiltjer out, the only player on the team who actually made a field goal during UK’s title season will be Sam Malone, who had six points on three field goals in 2011-12. Brian Long had two points and Jarrod Polson had one point — all on free throws.
That 2011-12 team was also young, but not as young as the 2013-14 Cats without Wiltjer. Sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb started and senior Darius Miller was UK’s “sixth starter,” in Calipari’s words. Senior Eloy Vargas was No. 8 in the rotation.
Miller, Jones and Lamb also had valuable NCAA Tournament experience — a trip to the Final Four for all three and another run to the Elite Eight for Miller.
The loss of Wiltjer would leave Jon Hood as the only UK player who has scored a point in an NCAA Tournament game. He had two points against East Tennessee State and three points against Wake Forest during the first two rounds of the 2010 tournament.
One more thing worth noting: Wiltjer played for the same AAU program as top UK recruiting target Stanley Johnson, one of the best players in the class of 2014. Johnson reacted to Monday’s news on Twitter with a simple, “So Kyle left UK!?”