LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Reaction to the announcement of Kyle Wiltjer’s apparent decision to transfer has been mixed, ranging from, “Why would he want to leave Kentucky?” to, “What took him so long?”
Both questions are viable, with room for debate on either side. And if he does indeed leave Lexington in his rear-view mirror, as the message that appears between the lines of his open letter to the Big Blue Nation would indicate, he’ll join a list of dozens who started their respective careers in Kentucky blue, only to finish elsewhere.
Wiltjer, should he land at a Division I school, will have to sit a year, and will spend the months practicing with his new teammates and presumably lifting weights – a nod toward his self-evaluation that he needs to get stronger (which he does).
Fans who assumed all along that Wiltjer would leave figured that he would get one look at his new UK teammates in action and deduce that his role would shrink back to what it was during his freshman season, when he came off the bench occasionally to toss in a triple, while Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and others carried the Cats to an NCAA championship.
Kentucky more than ever needed Wiltjer’s shooting prowess last year but, like his teammates, he struggled through prolonged shooting slumps, and couldn’t guard or rebound consistently enough to force John Calipari to leave him on the floor.
And now, with an army of high school All-Americans parading through the doors at the Joe Craft Center, Wiltjer likely could see some form of handwriting on the gymnasium wall – and it’s not exactly written in Big Blue ink.
He is wise in seeking another program if, as he indicated, he wants to play a more prominent role – read, “more minutes.” He likely won’t get them here – not this season, and not next year, playing alongside the future batch of Calipari recruits, whoever they may be. But what he would get, if he were to remain a Wildcat, is better – especially if he redshirted this season.
It would be the same year he’ll have to miss if/when he transfers. Only, he would spend each day in practice banging with a half-dozen future NBA players, instead of running around and through a roster full of new teammates who likely aren’t quite as good. If Wiltjer’s goal is that lottery ticket known as the NBA Draft’s first round (and why wouldn’t it be?), he would be far better served by staying in Lexington.
But we don’t walk in his Nikes, even though virtually all of us who played team sports at any level know what it’s like to sit on the bench, staring longingly at our teammates out on the floor, wishing we could be good enough to relegate the likes of us to the sideline. Most of us eventually got playing time by hanging in there, working and growing. But our NBA clock wasn’t ticking. At least, mine wasn’t.
So you can’t blame Wiltjer for wanting it all – a chance to get better AND play significant minutes, even if it means no longer being a part of the winningest program in the history of D-1 basketball.
But he should know this: For whatever reason, among the dozens of players who have left UK and attempted to resume their respective careers at other schools, precious few have found success.
Below is a list, borrowed from Jon Scott’s excellent bigbluehistory.net web site, of players who have transferred away from UK in the past 25 years. There are 39 of them, and only a handful made it “big” – although, in fairness, the list includes some who were never destined for that in the first place. They just wanted to play more basketball than they ever were going to play at UK.
Some had just reason to leave. This portion of the list begins after the 1988-89 season, when LeRon Ellis, Chris Mills, Eric Manuel and Sean Sutton left during the NCAA scandal that rocked the program and resulted in Rick Pitino’s hiring.
Ellis landed at Syracuse and eventually in the NBA for three seasons and, after that, overseas. Mills left for Arizona, where he was named Pac-12 player of the year in 1993. He went on to spend 11 solid seasons in the league.
Manuel was banned from playing in the NCAA for refusing to tell the truth about his role in the academic fraud portion of the scandal that landed Kentucky on probation. Manuel was deemed to have cheated on his ACT test, but wouldn’t admit it. He eventually helped Oklahoma City College to a pair of NAIA championships and played overseas.
Sutton followed his father, Eddie, to Oklahoma State, where as the Cowboys’ point guard he led OSU to back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, in 1991 and ‘92.
Others who left for a variety of reasons were Roderick Rhodes, who played briefly in the NBA after finishing at Southern Cal; Derrick Jasper, who moved on to UNLV after fleeing the Billy Gillispie-led Wildcats; and Michael Bradley, the seven-footer whose father insisted Michael was the next coming of Larry Bird. When Tubby Smith insisted otherwise, saying Bradley would play in the low post with his back to the basket, Bradley transferred to Villanova.
In his one season with the Philadelphia-based Wildcats, Bradley averaged 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds and then left for the NBA. He played for five different teams from 2001-06, before heading overseas.
Wiltjer may prosper, wherever he lands. From the looks of messages on social media sites, UK fans wish him nothing but the best, regardless of the reason for his decision. But a look at the long list of names who have walked this path and failed to find much success will indicate the odds are stacked against him.
BASKETBALL WILDCATS WHO HAVE TRANSFERRED DURING THE LAST 25 YEARS (source: bigbluehistory.net)
LeRon Ellis 1988-89 6-10 C Syracuse
Eric Manuel 1988-89 6-6 G Hiwassee Junior College (TN)
Chris Mills 1988-89 6-7 F Arizona
Sean Sutton 1988-89 6-1 G Oklahoma State
Todd Bearup 1990-91 6-5 G Brigham Young
Jody Thompson 1990-91 6-5 G Pikeville
Carlos Toomer 1991-92 6-4 G St. Louis
Aminu Timberlake 1992-93 6-9 F Southern Illinois
Rodrick Rhodes 1994-95 6-6 F Southern California
Jason Lathrem 1995-96 6-5 F Belmont College
Oliver Simmons 1996-97 6-8 F Florida State
Myron Anthony 1998-99 6-7 F Texas Christian
Desmond Allison 1999-00 6-5 F/G Martin Methodist College
Michael Bradley 1999-00 6-10 C Villanova
Ryan Hogan 1999-00 6-3 G Iowa
Nate Knight 1999-00 6-8 F Brigham Young
Jason Parker 2000-01 6-8 F-C South Carolina
Rashaad Carruth 2001-02 6-3 G Oklahoma
Adam Chiles 2001-02 6-1 G Vincennes Junior College
Cory Sears 2001-02 6-6 F Union College
Marvin Stone 2001-02 6-10 F-C Louisville
Bernard Cote 2003-04 6-9 F Northwestern
Shagari Alleyne 2005-06 7-3 C Manhattan
Rekalin Sims 2005-06 6-8 F Fresno State
Adam Williams 2005-06 6-4 G Marshall
Mark Coury 2007-08 6-9 F Cornell
Derrick Jasper 2007-08 6-6 G UNLV
Alex Legion 2007-08 6-4 G Illinois
Morakinyo Williams 2007-08 6-11 C Duquesne
Adam Delph 2008-09 6-1 G Asbury College
Kevin Galloway 2008-09 6-6 F Texas Southern
Mark Halsell 2008-09 5-11 G Park University
Matthew Pilgrim 2008-09 6-8 F Oklahoma State
Landon Slone 2008-09 6-3 G Pikeville
A. J. Stewart 2008-09 6-7 F Texas State - San Marcos
Donald Williams 2008-09 6-3 G Mississippi Gulf Coast CC
Darnell Dodson 2009-10 6-7 F Southern Mississippi
Stacey Poole 2010-11 6-4 F Georgia Tech
Ryan Harrow 2012-13 6-2 G Georgia State