Kyle Wiltjer took his time – and he had plenty of it on plane rides to China and Russia as part of Canada’s national development team – making a decision.
The 6-foot-10 forward weighed pluses and minuses for nearly four weeks before deciding to leave Kentucky and transfer to Gonzaga. Wiltjer will sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules and have two years of eligibility left.
“Those plane rides, for hours I was able to think about every possible scenario,” Wiltjer said in a phone interview from Lexington. “It was a very tough decision because I have a lot of ties (to Kentucky) and had great experiences there. I love everything they’ve done for me.
“But at the end of the day, I think (Gonzaga) is a little better fit.”
Wiltjer, who played on a national championship team but wasn’t able to earn consistent minutes in the Wildcats’ star-laden program, detailed several reasons for his decision.
“They’ve done a great job in the past with guys like (Kelly) Olynyk and (Robert) Sacre and others who have had a year to work on their bodies,” Wiltjer said. “I just want to work on my quickness, strength and all parts of my game. The main thing is just working on my diet and the little things.”
Wiltjer added “another reason is the style of play fits me well.”
Gonzaga recruited Wiltjer out of Portland’s Jesuit High when the McDonald’s All-American chose Kentucky. He was the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore after averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game. Coach John Calipari has brought in another impressive recruiting class with six McDonald’s All-Americans.
“I’m saddened that (Wiltjer) is leaving the program,” Calipari tweeted, “but if he thinks it’s in his best interests to go somewhere else, I support his decision.”
Wiltjer tweeted his thanks to BBN (Big Blue Nation), noting that he was facing a “make it or break it” moment in his basketball career.
Wiltjer played at the same high school as Brian Michaelson, who was promoted to assistant coach earlier this summer, replacing Ray Giacoletti. Michaelson was the point man in recruiting Wiltjer.
“He was huge in the process,” Wiltjer said. “He’s a guy I’ve known growing up and I guy I could talk to.”
Wiltjer played with Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos on Canada’s development team, which defeated the U.S. before finishing fourth recently at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia.
“He’s a fantastic player, but he was great at giving me my space,” said Wiltjer, whose father, Greg, played at North Idaho College and Oregon State. “He knew that I knew most everything (Gonzaga) had to offer (from a recruiting visit to GU last month).”