With the greatest group of freshmen in the history of college basketball on its way to Rupp Arena — at least that’s what the pundits are calling Kentucky’s signing class — there’s probably not a lot of Wildcat fans wringing their hands over the possible departure of junior-to-be Kyle Wiltjer. After all, if Wiltjer couldn’t crack the Cats’ starting lineup last year, how many minutes would he get this coming season?
Wiltjer — who it was learned yesterday is considering a transfer from UK – did average 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last year. He also averaged 23 minutes per contest. That was good enough to win him the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
John Calipari made it clear on his website in announcing the news that while he will support Wiltjer in any way he can, “I still hope he ends up back with us.”
Kentucky fans should hope for the same.
Calipari has done a remarkable job of rebuilding an NBA-raided program year after year in the Commonwealth. He had an Elite Eight run, a Final Four team, and a national champion before last year’s disappointing NIT finish. That’s a pretty good batting average considering the degree of difficulty in starting from scratch every year.
Ah, but there’s the rub.
Two years ago — when Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans — Calipari only had to start from near scratch. The 2011-12 team had sophomore Terrence Jones and senior Darius Miller among its six top contributors. And Miller’s leadership was viewed by many as the glue that helped hold such a young team together.
During his final season, Miller averaged a Wiltjer-like 26 minutes with 9.9 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but they were solid contributions on a team that featured a number of higher-profile stars. And again, leadership can’t be quantified and listed on a stat sheet.
If Wiltjer does leave UK, does that mean the Wildcats can’t win it all in 2013-14? Of course not. There are no guarantees that he would provide for Kentucky’s next team what Miller provided for the 2011-12 Big Blue squad.
But we’d sure like Kentucky’s chances better if Wiltjer stuck around.