Kentucky Basketball Recruiting Spotlight: Kyle Wiltjer

Vitals

Name: Kyle Wiltjer
Position: PF/SF
Measurables: 6'9", 225 lbs
High School: Jesuit (Portland, OR)
AAU: Drew Gooden Soldiers
Recruiting Rankings: 5*/22nd (Rivals), 5*/22nd (Scout), 5*/18th (ESPNU)
Accolades: McDonald's A-A, Nike Hoop Summit Participant, Jordan Brand Classic Participant, Powerade JamFest 3-Pt Contest Winner, Gatorade Oregon POY, Canada U-18 Bronze Medal Winner

Recruitment Overview

Offers: California, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, Texas, Wake Forest
Committed: 8/28/10
Profiles: Rivals | KSR-Scout | Jerry Tipton | Larry Vaught | Chicago Now | A Sea of Blue

Kyle Wiltjer, who committed on August 28, 2010, was the fourth (and what turned out to be final) member of an absolutely stacked recruiting class. His commitment cemented Kentucky's place atop the 2011 recruiting rankings, the third year in a row the Wildcats have held the pole position. Although Wiltjer is a touch less heralded than the other three players in Kentucky's 2011 recruiting class (Anthony Davis, Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist), he's no slouch. It's easy to forget that Wiltjer has 5 stars of his own next to his name, and was a participant in all three major post-season all-star games.

Wiltjer is the second straight player Calipari plucked from the Pacific Northwest, following the commitment of 2010's Terrence Jones. His commitment was a bit of a surprise to the recruiting junkies. Wiltjer comes from a strong bloodline that happens to be Canadian; his father, Greg, played a year at Oregon State and for Team Canada in the Olympics. While Wiltjer fils had been drawing national attention, it was widely assumed he would stay in the Northwest, either attending Gonzaga or California. His unexpected commitment to Kentucky came as a shock; he had never even visited Lexington.

Wiltjer cited elite competition, NCAA tournament runs, and NBA potential as his primary reasons for selecting Kentucky. On all three counts, you can thank one John Calipari for making Kentucky so appealing. While Wiltjer isn't coming in with nearly the accolades of his counterparts, he'll be squarely in the mix for playing time and the chance to eventually accomplish all three of his goals. Welcome to the Bluegrass, Kyle.

Strengths

Wiltjer's biggest strength, and the trait that will mostly determine how much playing time he gets next year, is his ability to spot up and knock down three-pointers. Wiltjer is a tall, tall tree, and will likely spend most of his collegiate career as a combo-forward in a 3/4-hybrid role. He'll naturally be as tall or taller than most defenders he faces, and will have no problem shooting over his man. In the near-term, he will be counted on to find his spot on the floor and knock down open shots.

Furthermore, Wiltjer is a gifted scorer. The most noticeable trait in his game is the running hook (called a skyhook by some, but not quite Abdul-Jabbar-esque yet), which is borderline indefensible (check out the 0:05 mark of the McDonald's practice video for evidence). Post play is fundamental, and Wiltjer understands footwork, ball faking, and positioning. Judging from his highlight reels, he also knows how to dunk the ball. Finally, he can run the floor well for a big man, and should partake in his fair share of fast break opportunities.

He also looks to have the intangibles factor down. He comes off very well-spoken in interviews and understands the deferential role he is often asked to play given his skillset and athleticism. Maximizing talent sounds like a fancy buzzword, but it describes Wiltjer well. He compares himself favorably to Hedo Turkoglu, an apt, telling, and also humble statement.

Oh, and he appears to be clutch as well, as he knocked down the game-winning shot in the Powerade JamFest three-point contest on his very last ball.

Weaknesses

The immediate concern is strength. Wiltjer is a beanstalk, even thinner than fellow recruit Anthony Davis and without the broad shoulders that indicates future bulk. Because of this, he'll struggle on the defensive end, especially fighting for position or working his way through cuts and screens. In the long-term, his average athleticism will also be a challenge. Because he's so fundamentally sound, the athleticism factor may be overblown, but there will just be sometimes where he'll struggle to compete against the Tyrus Thomases (re: beasts) of the world.

A great example of this is his play in the post-season all-star games. While Wiltjer is often cited as an above average passer and rebounder, he was primarily relegated to scoring mode in the games and struggled to put the ball in the bucket efficiently. While he will be asked to score in college, he will need to refine the other aspects of his game in order to fully succeed.

It's no question that Wiltjer will be fine as a scoring opportunist, but he will need to develop his defensive skills in order to earn playing time. John Calipari is an avid preacher of smothering defense, and Wiltjer will struggle to earn major minutes if he can't defend his spot on the court. While he will initially struggle with big bodied 4's, he can make a living by effectively utilizing his length to disrupt passing lanes and drive attempts. In the long-run, I expect he'll take the same "focus on fundamentals" approach to become a capable defender.

Kentucky Expectations

It's strange to tell any five star recruit that they're a luxury and not a necessity going into the year, but that's exactly what Wiltjer is. Because of the unexpected return of Terrence Jones, Kentucky already has five players that expect minutes that the 3/4 positions (Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Michael Gilchrist, and Eloy Vargas). Kentucky lacks a true 5, so Davis and Vargas will garner the lion's share of their minutes at the center position. However, that still leaves Wiltjer will limited minutes to make an impact.

But I wouldn't pigeonhole Wiltjer into a freshman Stacey Poole role, either. What Wiltjer can provide is an instant impact scoring threat off the bench, and he would look really nice paired with a defensive-minded Eloy Vargas roaming the paint, or an athletic Michael Gilchrist tagging the more offensively-skilled forward on the opposing team. That would alleviate the burden of Wiltjer on the defensive end and allow him to do what he does best: score.

In the longer-term, Wiltjer start as a really effective role player with the potential to develop into a star later on in his Kentucky career. Two comparisons that come to mind are Tayshaun Prince and Darius Miller, both lanky forwards that contributed as freshmen and went on to have successful collegiate careers. I don't quite expect Wiltjer to hit the 20 mpg mark that Prince and Miller did during their freshman years, but 10-15 efficient minutes isn't out of the question, particularly if Wiltjer is the marksman everyone thinks he is. Ready, aim, fire.

Video Evidence

McDonald's All-American Practices + Game (April 2011)

3-Point Contest Finals at Powerade JamFest (April 2011)

Jesuit vs. DeMatha (Mikael Hopkins) (December 2010)

Drew Gooden Soldiers AAU Mixtape (Summer 2010)

Previous Spotlights

Anthony Davis
Marquis Teague
Michael Gilchrist

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