Kentucky’s so loaded, a star recruit is hardly needed
John Calipari has more future NBA lottery picks in his starting lineup than most high-major coaches can rack up in a decade. “Spoil of riches” is an understatement.
Against an overmatched St. John’s team on Thursday night, two of those stars, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis, led Kentucky to a dominating 81-59 victory, in front of a packed house at Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Davis was two blocks shy of Kentucky’s first triple-double in 23 years, with 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 blocks, and Jones added 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The truly incredible realization you should have had by now about this Kentucky team is not about who plays the majority of the minutes, but what talent they have stored away on the bench.
For all but a few meaningful minutes of Kentucky’s dissection of St. John’s, Kyle Wiltjer rode the pine.
But Kyle Wiltjer isn’t some wide-eyed walk-on or low-level recruit that just wanted the chance to wear “Kentucky” across his chest.
The kid can play.
Wiltjer is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound Canadian-born forward by way of Portland, Ore., and the son of 1984 NBA draft pick Greg Wiltjer.
Kyle is perhaps the most under-publicized piece of Kentucky’s impressive 2011 crop, despite being a consensus top 25 prospect, nationally. He is a standout shooter, smooth passer, and, had he gone to most any other program in the country, would be a starter.
Buried behind the talent that he is at Kentucky, though, Wiltjer has been subject to Calipari’s “water faucet” schedule of minutes.
Calipari has turned it on for a flood of minutes, including 28 versus Penn State and 22 vs. Radford, or almost entirely cut his minutes off, giving just three versus Kansas, 11 versus Old Dominion, and 12, including a significant amount of garbage time versus St. John’s.
As skilled as Wiltjer is, it’s difficult to justify giving him more minutes, based on anything other than the offensive ability he showed in high school.
“It’ll be hard if he rebounds the ball and defends. Then I’ll have him on the court,” Calipari told the Herald-Leader. “If he doesn’t come up with the ball and he does not defend, he won’t be on the court as much as I want him on the court.”
His strong 14 points in the opener against Marist and another 19 against Penn State have been counterbalanced by a performance where he was knocked around on the block defensively against Old Dominion and a 1/4 outing from the field against Portland.
“Just go in the game and be in the right spot, defensively,” Wiltjer said of his role after the win over Penn State. “Don’t even worry about offense.”
And he might be right.
The offense will come naturally. What he gives up in athleticism at the college level, he makes up for with craftiness and shooting ability.
With Jones, Davis, Doron Lamb, and others who can create space with their athleticism, Wiltjer brings a contrast that could help to make Kentucky more multidimensional.
But if there is one truth, it’s that Kentucky isn’t lacking in the offensive department. If Wiltjer becomes a liability on the defensive end, he won’t see significant minutes.
Scary to think, though.
The guy who gets cheered like a walk-on by the crowd when he enters the game at Rupp Arena is (not so) secretly a prized national prospect.