UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball player profile: Kyle Wiltjer says he's more versatile now

Kyle Wiltjer said he tries not to dwell on the fact that his classmates were all taken in the NBA Draft.
Kyle Wiltjer said he tries not to dwell on the fact that his classmates were all taken in the NBA Draft. Herald-Leader

If he gave it any thought, sophomore Kyle Wiltjer might consider himself the Macaulay Culkin of Kentucky's basketball team. He's home alone now after the rest of last season's heralded freshman class — Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague — departed for their NBA reward.

"I try not to look at it like that," Wiltjer said.

Wiltjer conceded that it was "pretty weird" being left behind in the college basketball version of the rapture. But, of course, he's not far-side-of-the-moon alone. A new heralded freshman class joins him this season as UK basketball's remarkably tight circle of life revolves.

Wiltjer said he has bonded — as sports parlance puts it — with a large number of new teammates.

"It's like I've known these guys longer than I have," he said, "and it's just pretty amazing."

In describing how Wiltjer's game can be blended into a Kentucky style built on speed and quickness, UK Coach John Calipari noted another player not considered especially fast. Not that he was making a direct comparison to Wiltjer, Calipari said, but Larry Bird thrived late in his career as a trailer.

So when asked how Wiltjer would fit into UK's high-speed style, Calipari said, "Perfectly.

"He'll be behind the ball all the time."

Wiltjer can inbound the ball, then act as a trailer as his teammates try to seize on any fast-break opportunity.

"If the ball comes back, it's coming back to his hands," Calipari said. "It's not there? Give it to him, and now we'll play through him."

Posting up smaller defenders and operating from the perimeter against bigger defenders gives Wiltjer options, the player said.

"I really think of myself as more versatile than a year ago," he said. "At the end of the year, I kind of showed what I can do, but in a limited role. I really feel I can broaden my role ... and do more stuff that I didn't do last year."

In part, Wiltjer honed his skills while working out for a few days this summer with candidates for Canada's national team. Other players included Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Steve Nash and ex-UK big man Jamaal Magloire. The players worked on drills in the morning, then scrimmaged in the afternoon.

"It wasn't a tryout," said Wiltjer, who hopes one day to play in the Olympics. "But it was putting your name out there."

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