The Big Blue Lowdown

Insight, Analysis and Expertise on All Things Kentucky Basketball


Wiltjer Decision: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Kyle Wiltjer’s family made it official last Friday: the UK big man will transfer to Gonzaga, sit out the upcoming season and finish out his collegiate career in Spokane.

While the announcement surprised no one, we can now "officially" speculate how this will effect Kentucky in 2013-2014.

The GOOD. That a double digit scorer—a former McDonald’s All-American who was a part of the 2012 national team—even considered transferring can be viewed as a pretty good overall sign of the talent level at Kentucky. The depth and athleticism that forced Wiltjer’s hand will be on full display this coming season, in what expects to be a fast and high-flying unit. 

Kentucky’s roster next year, though young, will be stacked with NBA talent. There is some veteran punch in the post (Cauley-Stein, Poythress) and, at least in spirit if not in minutes played, a couple elder statesmen on the bench (Polson, Hood). But make no mistake, the Cats will be driven by a group of “high ceiling” freshmen, some of whom will not be in Lexington long. 

Though a deadeye shooter and a versatile scorer, Wiltjer lacks speed, quickness and agility. His departure, coupled with the long, rangy athletic prototype of the incoming class, signals a commitment from Calipari to get this team back to an up and down pace of action. In short, Wiltjer was not a fit for Cal’s dribble drive and having him around may have only complicated the rotation.

Additionally, even when scoring points Wiltjer was a defensive liability who gave up a fair share of eas buckets. So taking him off that end of the floor is an addition, not a subtraction, for next year's club.

The BAD. Despite all of the above, the Cats lose a player who has seen every opposing gym in the SEC. He would have been the only player on the roster who had logged any significant minutes in the NCAA tourney. And he was a known commodity in college hoops, bringing name cache and some continuity from the past couple seasons (not that those things are in short shrift at UK).

There has been much debate in recent years about which is a superior formula for NCAA success: great talent with limited experience or good talent with great experience. What no one disputes is that having great talent and significant experience is best of all. In Calipari’s four years at Kentucky, his two Final Four teams had that mix. His two teams that failed to reach the milestone were less experienced. Coincidence?

Beyond the experience factor, Wiltjer’s transfer also takes away a long range shooting threat and potential zone busting option for Cal. Poythress and one or two of the incoming pups (Young or Harrison, most likely) will need to fill that void.

The UGLY. Perhaps the Wiltjer transfer was inevitable, but it reveals a not-often publicized dark side to the Calipari talent trains that currently roll through Rupp Arena every year. Depending on how you calculate the numbers, Kentucky has seen a rapid increase in the number of players “forced out” of the program in the past four seasons.

Darnell Dodson, Stacey Poole, Matt Pilgrim, Kevin Galloway, Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiltjer are all fairly high profile recruits who transferred from UK after realizing they would lose minutes to incoming freshmen. Add to that the early NBA departures of Deandre Liggins and Archie Goodwin, and we see a pattern in the Calipari system where highly touted recruits must put up immediate, elite production, or else face a loss of playing time to the next great freshman class.

It is not hard to understand why this is happening.

Calipari’s incredible recruiting track record is dependent on selling the next crop of one and done pros on coming to the school, logging big minutes from the start and then departing for NBA riches after one season, two at most. If Calipari cant keep the early entrant draft picks flowing through, he can’t guarantee more minutes to the next great class, and therefore cannot replace them with fresh blue chip studs. And the system breaks down.

Meanwhile, players who require more development time become inconvenient obstacles to the talent tidal wave and, more often than not, make the decision to get out of Dodge and look for better opportunities elsewhere. 

The reality is that Cal only plays the best players, and will put the player on the floor who gives him the best chance to win. Nothing wrong with that. But looking at it from a cynical point of view, it is hard not to see this type of constant churn and “only as good as your last deed” personnel management as a reflection of the increasing “professionalization” of the program.

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Kentucky freshman Charles Matthews is transferring, the school announced. Former ESPN 100 prospect. - via @ESPN App…
1. This loss means nothing. UK lost a game on the road in bizarre circumstances vs a very good team. If anything,...
Time to put Texas A&M to bed and get tuned up for a high seed in the big dance.
Epic collapse by UK tonight. Still something not right with this team.
Tough loss over the weekend, but the Cats showed heart...they'll be back.

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