Kyle Wiltjer proved to be a reliable source of three-point shooting off of the bench for the Cats in 2012. The freshman sharpshooter saw action in all of UK’s 40 games, averaging 5 ppg in 11.6 minutes per game. Wiltjer drained a total of 35 3-pointers in 85 attempts (43% from behind-the-arc), and in the NCAA tournament, he provided a spark off the bench with three-point shots in four consecutive wins over Iowa State, Indiana, Baylor, and Louisville.
In his sophomore season, Wiltjer will have a much more expanded role as the only returning player who logged significant minutes in the Cats’ National Championship run last spring. We know he can come into a game and knock down a three or two, but is he ready to play a critical role as possibly a starter? Wiltjer’s minutes are going to go way up this year and his three-point shooting will be relied upon much more heavily. Doron Lamb and Darius Miller by themselves combined for 132 three-point shots last season. It will not be an easy task for Wiltjer, transfer Julius Mays, and other incoming players to match that production from outside.
As typically the seventh man off of Kentucky’s bench in 2012, Wiltjer was not a focal point of UK’s offense. He benefited from having so much talent around him and the opposition did not concentrate on him defensively as much as they probably should have. Being on the court with four NBA Draft picks opened up scoring opportunities for Wiltjer as a freshman, but this coming year he’ll need to adjust to being a primary point of the offense. He’ll likely have to work much harder to free himself away from opponents to find an open shot and his game will be scouted and picked apart much more by opposing coaches. The challenges start well before a single game is even played for Wiltjer, as he’ll have plenty of competition for minutes with the incoming star-studded recruiting class.
Confidence will be crucial for Wiltjer, who got better and better on both ends of the floor a year ago. A poor performance at this weekend’s Adidas Nations Camp is not something to be overly concerned about, because the Kyle Witjer we all know and love is not one to keep his head down. The kid always seems to be happy and having fun with his teammates, and doesn’t seem like the type to get frustrated. If Kyle Wiltjer becomes the player that we all hope and believe he can be this season, he won’t just be a guy to come in and preserve a lead with a bucket or two anymore. Now Wiltjer will be relied upon to score buckets in bunches, and in critical moments. Wiltjer scored 24 points (a career-high) against Loyola last season. This year he’ll be asked to put up double figures against teams such as Maryland, Duke, Notre Dame, Florida, and Missouri. The 2012-13 season is filled with new challenges for Wiltjer, and if they are met, not only will the sophomore be one step closer to joining his National Champion teammates in the NBA, but he may get himself a second ring with a new group of teammates.