SEC Vanderbilt Kentucky Basketball

Kyle Wiltjer leaving Kentucky, will explore transfer options


Looks like you can add one more defection off last season’s Kentucky team. Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-10 junior-to-be, is leaving the program.

He’s the third player to leave the program since the end of a disappointing season for the Wildcats, going 21-12 and being upset by Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

This transfer, however, is much more significant than point guard Ryan Harrow, who left the team and headed to Georgia State to be closer to his ailing father. Archie Goodwin announced his intentions to enter this year’s NBA Draft earlier in the year.

Last season, Wiltjer, a Portland, Ore. native, averaged 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, shooting 36.7 percent from three-point range. His point total doubled from his freshman year to his sophomore year, when he averaged five points per game as a key reserve on the Wildcats’ national championship team.

The most intriguing thing about this case is that in a statement made by Calipari on his website, it sounds as if the door is totally open for him to return to the team.

“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,” Calipari said. “I would love for him to go through this process and return to us, but I will support him and help him in any way I can.”

Wiltjer released a letter to fans on the Kentucky athletics website, expressing his gratitude for the school, program and fanbase but expressing a need to “play a more significant role” on the court.

“Heading into college my dream was to win a National Championship and compete with and play against the best players in the country,” Wiltjer said in the letter. “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.”

This is a only surprising move because of the lateness of it. Most school’s are already well into the first summer school session and — though I believe it will not be hard for Wiltjer to find a school where he can play a solid role as a tall shooter with good rebounding ability — it might be difficult for Wiltjer to have his pick of school’s with an open scholarship.

By most accounts, Wiltjer would’ve been buried on the bench next season with all the talent that is landing in Lexington this summer, and as a result, his stats may have regressed to that of his freshman year, or less. But he’ll have his pick of suitors coming after his talents.

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.