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Zags may get second chance at Wiltjer

Mon., June 24, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

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University of Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer is transferring to find a “significant” role elsewhere.

The 6-foot-10 Wiltjer, who played on the Canadian development national team earlier this month with Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos, posted a letter on Kentucky’s athletic department website Monday, saying he will seek a situation to help him “compete the way I know I can. … wherever that may be.”

Gonzaga could be one of many schools high on Wiltjer’s list. The Bulldogs recruited Wiltjer during his decorated career at Portland’s Jesuit High, where he was teammates with ex-Zag Mike Hart. Brian Michaelson, who is expected to be promoted to a GU assistant coaching position replacing Ray Giacoletti, is also a Jesuit product.

The 6-foot-10, 239-pound Wiltjer, a 2011 McDonald’s All-American, made 10 starts in 73 career games at Kentucky. He earned SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors after averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds as a sophomore.

The Wildcats have put together another top recruiting class with eight incoming freshmen, including six McDonald’s All-Americans.

Wiltjer announced in April he would return to Kentucky for his junior season. Wiltjer said Monday he has some “new and adjusted goals” after fulfilling dreams of winning a national championship with the Wildcats as a freshman and playing against some of the nation’s best players.

Kentucky coach John Calipari expressed disappointment over Wiltjer’s decision to leave but wished him luck on his website. He said Wiltjer has the mentality, skills and length to play professionally but needs to develop physically.

Wiltjer would have to sit out one year under NCAA transfer rules and then have two seasons of eligibility. Wiltjer’s father, Greg, played at North Idaho College before transferring to Oregon State. He played for Canada in the 1984 Olympics.

Gonzaga has been searching for front-court players with Elias Harris’ graduation and Kelly Olynyk bypassing his senior season for the NBA Draft. Forward Sam Dower, expected to start next season alongside center Przemek Karnowski, will be a senior.

Olynyk’s and Wiltjer’s college careers have some similarities. Olynyk saw sparse playing time on talented rosters in his first two years but he used a redshirt year to build up his body and had a breakout junior season.

“During this next year, I will be working on my body so that I am able to compete the way I know I can,” Wiltjer said.

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