Fran Fraschilla of ESPN released an article two days ago in which he predicted eight breakout college basketball stars for 2012-2013. Instead of clamoring over the highly touted recruits who will be invading campuses across the country over the summer, Fraschilla instead chose to focus on returning players.
“It’s always nice when a player who hasn’t had instant success waits his turn then takes advantage of an opportunity to become a star. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey combined for three total starts in their Kansas Jayhawks career prior to this season. Both played behind future NBA first-round picks Cole Aldrich, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, and while they certainly improved by playing against those guys in practice, few knew what those younger players were capable of.”
Though Fraschilla’s list of eight probable breakout players for next season did not include Kyle Wiltjer of Kentucky, Wiltjer’s situation last season seams comparable to Robinson and Withey’s. Wiltjer played limited minutes off the bench behind big name stars such as Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Darius Miller. Wiltjer found himself in more of a role player scenario, relied upon mostly for the threat of his outside shooting. Wiltjer was inserted into games mainly to stretch defenses out and keep them honest, opening up holes on the inside for his teammates.
Wiltjer’s minutes were limited in part due to the talented players ahead of him in the rotation, but also in part due to his lack of quickness on defense. As the season progressed, Wiltjer improved defensively and proved to no longer be as big of a liability as he once was at the beginning of the season. Still, Wiltjer never broke into a role this past season where he received a significant number of minutes during games.
With the departure of essentially six Kentucky starters (Darius Miller played starter minutes), and a 4-man recruiting class (as of now) along with the addition or Ryan Harrow coming in for Kentucky next season, Wiltjer will likely find himself in an expanded role. Without Doron Lamb’s consistent outside shooting, having Wiltjer’s smooth shooting ability on the perimeter will be crucial for Kentucky’s success. Calipari has had his best success at Kentucky when he has outside shooting threats such as Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller. Wiltjer seems the most likely to fill that void for next year’s team.
Could Kyle Wiltjer end up being a breakout performer in the 2012-2013 season? Many have made the assertion that Wiltjer could in fact be one of the top 3 offensive options for Kentucky heading into next season. The opportunity certainly appears to be available to him, especially if he can continue to improve on his quickness and defensive skill set over the summer.