Kentucky Basketball: Will Young Wildcats Miss Kyle Wiltjer's Experience?

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Kentucky Basketball: Will Young Wildcats Miss Kyle Wiltjer's Experience?
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Wiltjer made the decision to leave Kentucky on Monday (via ukathletics.com).

But, really, head coach John Calipari made it for him in the last year. 

This is the situation that Calipari has created. It's pretty remarkable that Wiltjer is the first guy whom the coach would have preferred to stick around but who decided to transfer instead. 

Calipari recruits talent over need—as in he doesn't need all the paper stars he signed in the latest recruiting class, which included six McDonald's All-Americans, but he doesn't let what he already has stand in his way of bringing in talent. 

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's a credit to Calipari that he has retained important role players, even if those role guys considered themselves starters upon coming to Kentucky and had to accept coming off the bench. 

That's proof Calipari's always recruiting. He was even recruiting Wiltjer as he walked out the door.

"Whatever Kyle chooses—and I still hope he ends up back with us—I wish him and his family the best of luck," Calipari wrote on his blog

Throwaway line? Possibly. Or maybe Calipari is so confident in his recruiting abilities that he believes he can bring back a guy who has already decided to leave. 

It makes sense for Wiltjer to go elsewhere, because Wiltjer has the talent to be a really good college player in the right program. Kentucky was not that program for him, because it's not likely he was ever going to get the minutes. 

The easy reaction to Wiltjer leaving is to say that Calipari loses a needed veteran presence. Calipari would not have won his first title without great talents like Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He also would not have won without guys who had been through some battles like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The difference between those guys and Wiltjer is that they played. Had Wiltjer stuck around, there's a good possibility he would have been the third-string power forward behind Julius Randle and Marcus Lee. If he played the 3-spot instead, he also may have been a third string behind Alex Poythress and James Young. 

How much of a veteran presence can a benchwarmer be? 

Where Calipari will miss Wiltjer is in situational settings, similar to how he was used as a freshman. If someone goes zone against the 'Cats, Wiltjer would be an asset. He's the best shooter on the team. That's a skill that will be missed. 

Wiltjer also could have been a good role model for the younger guys. But again, it's hard to convince a freshman to "watch how this guy does things" when this guy is barely getting any run. 

That's not a diss to Wiltjer's game. That's a compliment to the talent Calipari has recruited. 

Wiltjer is a program guy who needed time to develop. He'll get that elsewhere. And the Wildcats will have to settle for Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein to be their "veteran" influences. They're only sophomores but so were Jones and Lamb. 

Losing Wiltjer is not the end of UK's title chances. Does it hurt? Possibly. But Calipari can learn to live with Wiltjers leaving as long as he recruits like he recruits. That's a risk he's probably willing to take. 

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