Kyle Wiltjer Transfer Situation Shows John Calipari, UK Still Ahead of Curve

C.J. MooreCollege Basketball National Lead WriterJuly 1, 2013

Feb 23, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) passes the ball against the Missouri Tigers in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Missouri 90-83. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The best salesman in college basketball has figured out a new angle to work.

John Calipari has convinced Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer, who had been given his release to transfer, to consider staying at Kentucky. Wiltjer’s father, Greg, told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune that his son is debating either sitting out next season as a transfer at another school, playing at Kentucky in 2013-14 or sitting next season out as a redshirt at UK.

"Kyle is still a Kentucky Wildcat," Greg told Eggers. "He loves being a Kentucky Wildcat. He's not 100 percent committed to transferring."

This is not usually how transfers are handled. They’re breakups.

Once that release is granted, the message is: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Calipari’s message: Let’s do what’s best for the player.

Calipari has allowed Wiltjer to be more like an NBA free agent than a college transfer. He can explore other options, and if he feels like the best option is to return to UK, that’s a possibility. There is no rule against a university allowing a player to return after he has been granted his release.

What Wiltjer wants is playing time. That’s why it made sense that he transfer. Kentucky’s incoming recruiting class is so stacked that it was clear Wiltjer’s role would diminish next season, as his father explained to Eggers.  

Kyle has a great relationship with Calipari, but he's not a stereotypical Calipari player. If he were at Duke or some other place, they'd be running him off screens, but that's not the Kentucky system. And now he has all these thoroughbreds coming in. Kyle's biggest challenge is his body. He needs to get stronger and quicker, to get help with nutrition, strength and agility.

This sounds like it was read straight from Calipari’s website when he offered up his explanation for why Wiltjer was transferring.

Calipari ended that explanation hoping that Wiltjer would return to UK.

Wiltjer wrote a letter to Big Blue Nation letting them know that he will “always bleed blue.”

Noticing a trend here? Calipari is in control of the message.

The perception could be that Kentucky does not care about program players, that Calipari will recruit over you in a heartbeat.

Instead, the message is framed that Calipari will bend over backward to make sure his players receive the best opportunity to do what is best for them.

The program that makes the most sense for Wiltjer appears to be Gonzaga. Eggers reported that Wiltjer visited Spokane last Wednesday and Thursday. Josh Newman of ZagsBlog reported on Friday, citing multiple sources, that all signs were pointing to Wiltjer signing with Gonzaga.

Wiltjer’s father said his son would not make a decision until after the World University Games, which end July 16

Dad is convinced if his son stays at Kentucky, redshirting is what is best. Wiltjer would become the equivalent of a 2014 recruit for Calipari.

"The biggest time in Kyle's career lies in the 14 to 16 months ahead," Greg told Eggers. "I'd 100 percent like him to devote the next year to working on his body, but it's his decision. He feels vested in Kentucky. It has been his life the last two years. And Kyle is a very competitive kid. He is always trying to prove people wrong."

It sounds like Calipari’s pitch is sinking in.

This isn’t a breakup. Kentucky and Wiltjer are on a break. And unlike most relationships that are put on hold, this one will have a happy ending.

And Calipari will end up looking good either way.