Kyle Wiltjer, a former Kentucky and Gonzaga forward that is currently a member of the Houston Rockets, went on a podcast called The Press with Darnay Tripp earlier this week and may have managed to find a way to piss off a former fanbase that, until today, still loved him as one of their own.
To recap: Wiltjer was a top 25 prospect coming out of high school and spent two seasons in Lexington, winning a national title in 2012 and getting bounced from the NIT in the first round in 2013, before transferring to Gonzaga. He redshirted one year and then made an Elite 8 and a Sweet 16 with the Zags in 2015 and 2016.
In Gonzaga’s first post-Wiltjer season, the Zags made it to the national title game, and Wiltjer made it to Phoenix for the games.
Back to the podcast, Wiltjer was asked to compare the two fanbases, and he said Gonzaga, not Kentucky, has the best fanbase in college hoops.
“That was probably the biggest surprise going to Gonzaga,” Wiltjer said, as transcribed CBS Sports’ Nordy Norlander. “I knew how crazy the Kentucky fan base was, and going to Gonzaga, I knew how great the system was. I knew how great it was going to be for my redshirt year. But I didn’t really know — I knew they were crazy out in the Northwest — I just didn’t know how crazy. This last year when I went to the Final Four, really showed me that, man, Gonzaga is like, in my opinion, the best fan base in the country, and I’m not exaggerating at all. The amount of love that they showed me, Domas (Sabonis) and seeing the support down there at the Final Four, it was pretty unbelievable. And to see that, it really shows a lot to the city, and the city should be proud of that because it was crazy.”
Wiltjer isn’t wrong.
Gonzaga fans are passionate, and for a school with an enrollment of less than 8,000 in a town with a population of roughly 200,000, there were an unbelievable number of Zag fans at the Final Four.
“It was just as crazy or maybe even crazier,” Wiltjer said when asked about the fanbase compared to Kentucky winning a title. “Winning the championship was like the craziest thing ever — that I thought. And then going to Gonzaga and seeing their fan base, and like, everywhere we go in Spokane, everyone going crazy for us. It’s obviously a little bit of smaller level, amount of people, but the support is just as crazy.”
To be clear, I think Wiltjer is wrong here. Big Blue Nation has always been massive, and the passion has only been intensified with their recent success and magnified by social media and the internet. Have Gonzaga fans ever trolled a referee’s business because they didn’t like a few calls he made?
That said, Wiltjer does have one thing right: Gonzaga’s fan base is bigger and more passionate than you probably realize, and they revere the players that have come through their program and helped build it up to what it is today.