(Photo from Vaughtsviews.com)
If you compare the tape from the beginning of the year versus the tape from Kentucky’s 57-44 win over Georgia you will see a completely different Kyle Wiltjer. The freshman from Portland, Oregon has undoubtedly improved his game. He’s not afraid to make mistakes, he’s more dependable defensively, and more assertive shooting the three. For this team to reach its ultimate goal of winning a national championship, Wiltjer has to consistently give the Wildcats quality minutes off of the bench. If the Georgia game was any indication of the type of effort he’s going to give, he’s ready to contribute for the long haul.
Here’s the most telling stat in Wiltjer’s development over the last couple of games: he made two of his three three-point attempts last night; he’s three-of-six from three over the last two games, and six-of-12 over his last four games. Compare this with the fact that Wiltjer only took 15 threes in his first ten games and you will see a player gaining confidence and becoming more comfortable in his role. Sometime fans forget that when Coach Calipari receives these highly-regarded recruits, the players are coming from a high school system in which they are the number one offensive option. It takes some time to learn how to play with other good players, which could explain the early struggles of Wiltjer, as well as Marquis Teague.
After this season most of the players on the current roster will head to the NBA and Wiltjer will have a bigger responsibility on next year’s team. Making up for the amount of scoring leaving will be the biggest responsibility. Wiltjer can be an outstanding collegiate player; a big man with shooting capability will always be a nightmare for defenses. Among a new class of freshman and an entirely new team dynamic, he will provide stability and familiarity like Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb did for the current team. He can eventually be a three-point specialist of sorts, even in the NBA. Think Luke Babbitt of Nevada as far as collegiate production and NBA draft position with a better professional career.
A confident and contributing Kyle Wiltjer is something that Kentucky fans weren’t expecting to see heading to the end of SEC play, but that’s what we have, and it should be cause for some excitement now, and for the future. Credit to Wiltjer for responding to criticism and starting to be the guy we thought he could be. The Wildcats are hitting on all cylinders in my eyes because they find a way to win tough games in crunch time. All championship teams have to do prove they can win every type of game because you will see every type of game in the NCAA tournament. We saw how effective Miller and Wiltjer can be off the bench last night. We knew the former SEC tournament MVP could do it, but now Wiltjer is starting to emerge too. This could get scary.