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

Report: Four-star center reclassifying to 2015; down to three

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An interesting recruiting development hit on Friday as Josh Gershon of reported that four-star center Jayce Johnson is reclassifying to the Class of 2015 and looking to join a program at semester break.

The 7-foot native of California is down to Cal, Colorado and Utah and Johnson is on an official visit to Utah this weekend after transferring to a charter school this week. As Gershon notes, only Cal has a scholarship to offer Johnson this season, but the family is willing to pay a semester at the other programs if it’s the right fit. Johnson would like to redshirt and train with his future college while playing against more mature players.

But if Johnson is persuaded not to redshirt, he could be an intriguing big man off the bench later in the season for a couple of teams looking to make a postseason appearance. As the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson is a talented prospect and he isn’t afraid to score with either hand. With some time to fill out, Johnson can turn into a talented Pac-12 player down the road.

VIDEO: Utah Valley’s Mark Pope dances, lip syncs with daughters

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New Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope made quite an impression on fans at the team’s Midnight Madness celebration last night. That’s because Pope did a dance and lip sync routine with his four daughters that turned out to be pretty impressive.

The former BYU assistant looks to be the leader in the clubhouse for best coach dance so far this preseason. We’ll see if any other coaches pull out elaborate routines at madness celebrations the next few weeks.