HSH 1-on-1: Kentucky signee Kyle Wiltjer
Words. Lucas Shapiro
With the NCAA’s early signing period in full effect, Kentucky is once again making headlines. For the third straight year, John Calipari has lined up the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation — his 2011 haul includes Michael Gilchrist (St. Patrick, NJ), Marquis Teague (Pike, IN), Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter School, IL) and Kyle Wiltjer (Jesuit, OR).
As a 6-9, 220-pound forward coming out of the Northwest with a wide-ranging offensive skill set, Wiltjer has naturally drawn some comparisons to Kyle Singler and Luke Jackson, but a closer look at his game reveals more accurate comparisons. We talked with the reigning Elite 24 co-MVP about those comparisons, Canadian basketball, and his hobbies off the court:
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HighSchoolHoop: How was your summer?
Kyle Wiltjer: I had a great summer. I definitely improved as a player and that helped me have the opportunity to play in some cool events, like the FIBA Games in San Antonio.
HSH: What was your favorite event?
KW: For AAU, I would say the Nike Peach Jam was my favorite. It’s the best of the best competing against each other. Overall, I would say playing for Team Canada was the best, though. It was a unique experience playing against some of the world teams and I had never done that before.
HSH: You live in Oregon, but you were still able to play for Team Canada. Could you explain the connection?
KW: Well, my dad was born as a Canadian citizen. Because of him I was able to get dual citizenship and that’s what allowed me to play for Canada. I did it because my dad had done it and my older sister plays on the Senior Women’s National Team. I figured since my family had done it, I would do it too.
HSH: Canada has been producing a lot of D-1 players recently. What current Canadian high school basketball players should people watch out for?
KW: The obvious one would have to be my point guard, Myck Kabongo (Findlay Prep, NV). He’s a fast point guard who goes to Findlay Prep. I respect his game a lot because he knows how to find you the ball. He made the game much easier for me because I could get the ball where I felt most comfortable. Kevin Pangos (WF Herman, Ontario), who just signed with Gonzaga, would be another one. He’s a very skilled point guard. Kevin Thomas (Christian Faith Center, Ontario) also can play. There’s also that 7-4 guy named Sim Bhullar (Kiski, Ontario), who is a year younger than me and is definitely a kid to watch out for.
HSH: What are some of the differences between playing international basketball and AAU?
KW: The international play is a lot more team-oriented. I mean, you are playing against teams that have practiced together since they were young which definitely makes a difference. Guys are also a lot bigger. AAU is a lot freer. You don’t have to worry about remembering plays or anything like that.
HSH: Your AAU team, the Drew Gooden Soldiers, is stacked with high-major talent. How did your team come together?
KW: Well it started with their talented, local core of Jabari Brown (Oakland, CA), Josiah Turner (Sacramento, CA) and Kiwi Gardner (Westwind Prep, CA). I got invited to play and then Nick Johnson (Findlay Prep, NV) jumped aboard. It happened really fast.
HSH: How does your role on your AAU team differ from your role on your high school team?
KW: On my AAU team, I’m more of a wing player. I shoot a lot of outside shots. When I play on my high school team, I play primarily in the post since I am the tallest player on my team. There aren’t many other guys that can guard me on the block. In both settings, I expose mismatches and play wherever my coach wants me to play.
HSH: If you could give some of the local high school basketball fans a preview of what to expect from your team, what would you say?
KW: Our team is looking solid. We are returning three starters from last year’s state championship team. The thing I like about our school is that our coach really emphasizes defense. Every year, even if we don’t have talent like the year before, we seem to get the job done because of our system and how hard guys work.
HSH: How would you describe your game to someone who has never seen you play before?
KW: I’m a versatile post player who can step out and shoot. I can dribble. If there is a smaller defender on me, I can take them down on the block. My main thing is being versatile.
HSH: What player comparisons do you draw the most?
KW: I’ve heard a bunch of different ones. On the block, I’ve heard people say I play like Kevin McHale. I get Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu comparisons too since both are tall players that can shoot.
HSH: Going back to the subject of summer events, how did you like playing in the Elite 24? Were there any guys that impressed you?
KW: That was a really fun game. I knew a lot of the guys. I thought I played really well in it. It’s good to see how you stack up against the best talent in the nation. I was actually really impressed with my teammates Jabari Brown and Nick Johnson. Another guy that caught my eye was Deuce Bello (Westchester, NC). His athleticism is off the charts.
HSH: As of right now, who has been the hardest player you’ve ever had to guard?
KW: Either Josh Smith (UCLA) or DaJuan Coleman (Jamesville-DeWitt, NY). They are both a lot bigger than me and very physical.
HSH: What made you decide to announce your college decision at halftime of the Elite 24?
KW: Well, I didn’t know I was going to do it until a couple of nights before. I told my coach that I was ready to commit and he knew someone who was working at the game. They said that announcing at halftime would be cool and it ended up being a good idea.
HSH: What was it that attracted you to the Kentucky program?
KW: I wanted to surround myself with the best talent and anyone could agree that I did that. Coach Calipari is known for getting guys to where they want to get. Those are the two main things that I based my decision on.
HSH: What do you think of your future teammates?
KW: I’ve played with Michael Gilchrist at one camp. Other than him, I’ve played against all of the others. The one thing I love about our class is that we all have our different styles of play and think that we will work well together.
HSH: What are some of your hobbies outside of basketball?
KW: Outside of basketball, I’m just relaxing and enjoying my senior year. I’ve been hanging out with friends or going to the movies. But basketball is my life; I’m always watching NBA games at night and working out in the gym when I get the chance.
HSH: Have you caught any good movies lately?
KW: I saw Inception earlier in the summer. That was a great movie. Half of us were confused as to what was going on. It was crazy. (laughs)
HSH: What kind of sneakers are you wearing?
KW: I wear the Nike Hyperfuse. Those are very comfortable. For basketball, I always go with Jordans. I like the retro Jordan 6’s and 7’s a lot.
HSH: Who are some sleepers on the West Coast to watch out for?
KW: A point guard on our AAU team named Dominic Artis (Salesian, CA) is definitely a sleeper. He was a great player for us off of the bench. Kiwi Gardner played well against some of the toughest competition in the nation but still didn’t get any love on the national level. He’s just a fun guy to watch play too.