Rob Dauster, one of the few writers at Sports Illustrated who hasn’t formerly worked for the NY Times, recently took a look at the upcoming college basketball season and put together a list of ten potential breakout players. Because these are “breakout” players, no freshmen were included, regardless of hype. No Noels, Poythresses, WCSs, or Goodwins made the list. So you figure that hurts Kentucky’s chances to get a player on the list, right? Not so.
The Bluegrass has a bevy of breakout ballers, as both UK and Louisville have a potential sophomore star next season. First, the bad news:
Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear is one of the guys that everyone is expecting to have a big year in 2012-13. After battling a shoulder injury for much of his freshman campaign, the former top 30 recruit rebounded and put together a couple of impressive performances once he returned — 13 points in his debut against West Virginia, nine points in 14 minutes in the Final Four against Kentucky. Blackshear could end up being the difference between Louisville having a good year and Louisville being a national title favorite. The Cardinals are tough defensively, they have perimeter playmakers (Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Luke Hancock) and they have talent and size up front (Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, Montrezl Harrell). What they don’t have is a consistent, big-time scorer on the perimeter, a guy that can ensure the floor is spread with his ability to shoot. That’s Blackshear when he’s at his best.
From the one game I saw him play, Blackshear did look like a pretty freakish athlete. If I recall correctly, he had at least one put-back slam over our front line coming out of freakin’ nowhere. That’s hard to do. Having him on the floor and healthy is certainly a boon to the Cards’ chances. That said, give me Poythress any day.
Now, the good news:
Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky: Wiltjer was the forgotten man in Kentucky’s 2011 recruiting class, likely because he, as “only” a consensus top 25 recruit, was the black sheep of John Calipari’s freshmen. Wiltjer also doesn’t exactly fit the mold of the typical Coach Cal recruit. He’s a baby-faced power forward whose athleticism is rivaled by some of the writers covering the Wildcats and whose forte is his ability to shoot the ball. He’s the epitome of a face-up four playing for a team that produces physical freaks like John Wall, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. His value lies in the fact that he may end up being far and away the best shooter on that UK roster next season. Think about how much room there will be to penetrate if an opponent’s four cannot leave Wiltjer and the center has to try to find a way to keep Nerlens Noel from receiving a lob.
I’ll go on record as saying my athleticism does not rival Kyle Wiltjer’s. But his improvement on defense through the course of last season is going to let him see the floor a lot during this next season. We’re all familiar with his ability to score, especially from outside 15 feet. Watching him trail on a break and set up on the wing for a three is a beautiful, beautiful thing. And with so many good slashers and post players on the roster next year, Dauster is exactly right in thinking that Kyle’s sweet-shooting will open up lanes on lanes.
Kyle’s future is in his hands now. We got solid minutes from him last year as a seventh-man, and he executed his role in a great way. But now he’s looking at playing a much bigger part, on a much different team. The result, as Sports Illustrated so noted, could be a phenomenal year for our favorite WBA sophomore. Here’s to hoping Kyle gives us plenty of reasons to throw up 3-goggles this year.