This team is missing something. We’ve talked a lot about that. Whether it’s leadership, passing, free throws, youth, missing layups, poor shooting, body language–whatever you want to blame it on–is beyond me. One thing we haven’t talked much about is what could have been with Kyle Wiltjer. The further this year progresses, the more I think that he would have been able to bring to this team. At times, watching these guys on offense is like watching a Max Smith led Kentucky football team attempt to drive 90 yards downfield. If ever there was a year in which it has looked like Cal really does just roll the ball at there and lets his guys play, now is that time. I think having a steady scorer like Kyle Wiltjer would have brought some stability to this truly erratic offense. Here are some reasons why:
Kyle Wiltjer, if he was anything, was a shooter. At times he was streaky, yes, but in the role that he would have had on this team, his three point percentages would have shot back up to where they were in the 11-12 season, in my opinion. At this point, James Young is not the deadeye three point threat that we believed him to be. That isn’t to say Young hasn’t been good, he is just a different player than I think Kentucky fans expected. Young is probably a different player than what Wiltjer expected as well. I think, like the rest of us, Kyle Wiltjer got caught up in the hype of this years team. He loved Lexington, loved the fans, loved his teammates, and I think enjoyed playing for Kentucky. He didn’t transfer because he wasn’t happy. He transferred because it appeared that there might not be a spot for him on this years team. I think he was wrong–and so were the rest of us who weren’t concerned when he left. Wiltjer, who would have hovered around the 40% mark or better from beyond the arc would have opened up the lane for Randle and the twins. Furthermore, Kentucky fans wouldn’t be subjected to the torture that is watching nearly each and every one of our players miss free throw after free throw. At 81% during both of his seasons at UK, it would have been a breath of fresh air to know that at least someone on the team has a chance to make both free throws.
Perhaps most importantly is the leadership Wiltjer would have brought. It’s true that Wiltjer wasn’t known for his take charge mentality–in fact that may have been a knock on him by some folks last year. The fact is, however, that Wiltjer would have been a junior on a team full of freshman. He has a national championship ring. He is a proven contributor which is necessary to be a leader on a team. Also, he would have had three years of playing for Coach Cal under his belt. At times, I think these young guys have a hard time knowing how to deal with Cal. For anyone who has ever played a sport, you know that it is inevitable for players to sometimes butt heads with their coach. Having an older guy like Wiltjer around to take cues from and to act as a liaison between the players and Cal I think would have been a valuable asset. In my view, this team desperately needs someone to take charge and to be honest, I’m not sure there is a single player on the squad that is capable of doing it. I firmly believe Wiltjer would have been that guy.
Look, I know talking about what might have been with Wiltjer is useless fodder at this point (this is a blog after all). I’m struggling to find answers just like you. Maybe Wiltjer would have been one of those answers and maybe he wouldn’t have been. There is more than enough time for Kentucky to turn things around–and I think they will. While this team certainly doesn’t resemble 11-12, I don’t think they’re any closer to looking like last year’s squad. They clearly have the talent and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before they make the jump from me to us. I do know that as a fan, I am struggling to relate to this team–perhaps because we all thought it would be so easy. One thing is certain: seeing Kyle Wiltjer out there would have made this transition a lot easier for everyone–the fans and the team.