Kyle Wiltjer is a sophomore who played less than 12 minutes per game last season, but in Lexington, where the roster turns over as rapidly as a bingo wheel, the 6'9" Portland native is the closest thing the Wildcats have to a seasoned veteran. "The freshmen have all these questions," says Wiltjer. "Some of them are simple things that they don't know, like defensive schemes, and you have to be patient with them. It makes me feel like I've been here longer than I have."
Kentucky is again one of the nation's most talented teams, led by the usual collection of impressive freshmen such as 6'10" center Nerlens Noel, swingman Alex Poythress and guard Archie Goodwin. Two transfers, guards Ryan Harrow (N.C. State) and Julius Mays (Wright State), will also play major roles. But it is a stunningly green group, the only major-conference squad (out of 72 teams) without a returning player who has started a game.
"We've got a brand-new team," says coach John Calipari. "Hopefully in a month you'll watch us and say, 'Man, they really got better.' And in another month you'll say, 'Man, they've got a chance.' And in another month you'll say, 'Man, they're right there.' That's our hope."
That hope hinges on the development of Wiltjer, who averaged 5.0 points as the seventh man on last season's national champs. He was used primarily to spread the floor (43.2% from three); this year he will have to expand his skill set. "I've always had a post game, but last year I wasn't asked to focus on it," Wiltjer says. "In the off-season I worked on my body, got my legs stronger, and I feel more athletic. I feel like my post game is a weapon I can use."
Despite being a top 25 recruit, Wiltjer got little attention last season. Now he'll use his shooting ability and mix in an occasional drive when he isn't down low. He'll also be an on-floor leader until his teammates get up to speed. Or at least that's the plan. As Calipari says, check back in a month.
ROUND OF 32
ROUND OF 64
Projected Starting Five
COACH John Calipari (4th season)
2011--12 RECORD 38--2
SEC 16--0 (1st)
WHAT'S BACK Minutes: 7.0% Points: 6.6% Rebounds: 5.9%
*2010--11 N.C. State stats
‚Ä†High school stats
7 YEARS in a row that a Calipari team has ranked among the top 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency, which he accomplished despite coaching eight one-and-done players over those seven seasons.
KYLE WILTJER Primarily a jump shooter as a reserve on the 2012 title team, the 6'9" forward will have a varied offensive role this year.