Kyle Wiltjer announced his intention to transfer from Kentucky in an open letter to Big Blue Nation earlier today.
Wiltjer, a standout high school player when he was recruited by John Calipari, will have to take a season off in compliance with the NCAA’s rules on transferring schools, but he will have two years of eligibility remaining after his redshirt season.
“I want to find a situation that will help me [develop physically] as well as play a more significant role," Wiltjer said.
While many schools will line up to bring the stretch 4 into their program, there may be no team more suited to Wiltjer's wants and needs than Gonzaga.
Here are five reasons why Gonzaga is the ultimate landing spot for the Kentucky transfer.
Kyle Wiltjer recently competed with the Canadian Men’s National Team's developmental roster in China.
In fact, John Calipari referenced Wiltjer's experience with this team as an impetus for his decision to transfer.
“After playing with Canada, Kyle feels like he could have a more prominent role in another program than he might have with us next season,” said Calipari.
Gonzaga is renowned for its ability to recruit and feature some of Canada's best players. Players such as Robert Sacre (drafted by the Lakers), Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos have been key players for Gonzaga in the past few years.
Olynyk became the first Canadian to make first-team All-American honors just a season ago, and Kevin Pangos, who played with Wiltjer in China this summer, will feature in the offense in the next two years.
Pangos did have a chance to spend time with, and play alongside, Wiltjer this summer. The two appear to have developed a friendship in their time with the Canadian national team, as evidenced by this post to Vine.
Gonzaga’s experience in helping Canadian basketball players feature their skill set en route to the NBA draft will give them an advantage in bringing Wiltjer to Spokane.
Wiltjer made his primary goal clear in his open letter to BBN.
“During this next year, I will be working on my body so that I am able to compete the way I know I can.”
John Calipari made it clear that he thinks that Wiltjer's potential is directly tied to his ability to grow stronger.
"In my mind, Kyle is going to be a professional player as soon as his body begins to change. He has a mentality, a skill set and the length to be a pro, but the maturity of his body has not caught up with the rest of his game yet. He knows that and he’s working on that."
The best example of a successful redshirt season is that of Kelly Olynyk. The Canadian big man went from benchwarmer to All-American in just one season.
What made this possible for Olynyk was the transformation of his body. He became noticeably stronger, and a player that was once afraid of the lane was now banging around in the paint.
In just one season in the program, Przemek Karnowski has also seen dramatic change in his frame. The Polish big man became more capable of running the floor, and his strength became more apparent as he lost weight.
There may be no better example of recent success in transforming big men than what Gonzaga has been able to accomplish, and if Wiltjer is serious in wanting to prepare his body for the next level, he should strongly consider a relocation to Spokane.
Gonzaga was very close to securing Wiltjer’s commitment early in the recruiting season.
Wiltjer, however, blew up over the summer recruiting period and began fielding offers from the likes of Kentucky.
Gonzaga’s loss in 2010 could prove to be its victory in 2013.
After having played a role on the 2012 national championship Wildcats squad, Wiltjer has accomplished his main goal.
To move to the next level, though, Wiltjer needs a place where he can thrive. Kentucky’s loaded roster was not going to provide the minutes Wiltjer would need to prove himself to NBA scouts.
Wiltjer would become a key player in Gonzaga’s game plan should he transfer, but this added responsibility would come without the pressure to win a championship each season.
In Lexington, a season is not successful if it does not end with the team cutting down the nets, and a player is not a great unless he leads a team to that goal.
In Spokane, however, Wiltjer would not feel the immense amount of pressure to perform that he currently does from BBN.
Kevin Pangos and Co. will look to continue their success from a season ago.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation just a season ago, Gonzaga returns many of the pieces that made it successful this past year.
With guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and centers Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower coming back, as well as the addition of wings Gerard Coleman and Angel Nunez via transfer, Gonzaga has a roster that will be competitive for the foreseeable future.
With Gonzaga's history of tournament appearances and conference championships, as well as a very well-respected coaching staff, Wiltjer could be certain that he would not be entering a losing situation.
While Gonzaga has not enjoyed the success that Kentucky has recently, neither has the majority of the country.
A transfer to the Zags is hardly a step down in ability to make it to the Final Four.
After having struck out with two top transfer targets this offseason, Mike Moser and Josh Davis, bringing Wiltjer into the fray is almost a necessity.
The graduation of Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk’s decision to enter the NBA draft has left Gonzaga’s frontcourt reeling.
While Wiltjer will not be able to play immediately, he will provide another body in practice and will contribute to the long-term success of the program’s frontcourt.
Furthermore, Gonzaga could use Wiltjer’s versatility in the same way that it was able to capture lightning in a bottle with Kelly Olynyk.