Kyle Wiltjer knows winning the 3-point shooting contest at the McDonald's All-American Game verified just how well he could shoot, especially for a 6-10 forward. However, the University of Kentucky signee had no idea he was the first future Wildcat ever to win that contest.
"I did not know that," said Wiltjer when told about it Tuesday night during a telephone interview after practice for Saturday's Nike Hoop Summit.
"I knew I could win it. I practiced with my trainer getting a lot of shots up, went in with an open mind and it was just an honor to be in it. It shows that I am a good shooter and be the 3-point champion at the McDonald's Game was a great honor," Wiltjer said.
Versatility is one of Wiltjer's strengths, who also drew praise for his rebounding and defense during the McDonald's game.
Scout.com likes Wiltjer's versatility and in his recruiting profile it says: "He has legitimate touch from the perimeter and range that extends past the 3-point stripe. Wiltjer has a variety of moves and can score inside. He won't overwhelm you with his speed or athleticism, but he's a smart player that plays to his strength and has an impressive all around game, especially on the offensive end."
Wiltjer, who led his Portland team to another state championship this year, knows his versatility — that also includes a hook shot — is his biggest strength.
"It makes me tougher to defend because they have to guard me out there and respect my shot. I just like to prove people wrong who say big men can't shoot," Wiltjer said.
Former 3-point winners include NBA players Mario Chalmers, Maurice Williams, Jason Kapono, Wayne Ellington, J.J. Redick and Chris Duhon.
"It is just an honor to even be on a list like that," Wiltjer said.
He also considers it to be playing in this international all-star game where three future UK teammates — Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Anthony Davis — will be playing for the U.S. team. They all also played in the McDonald's All-American Game and will join Wiltjer in the Jordan Brand Classic later this month.
"It's a big deal for me to play in this game because it will be my last game in Portland," Wiltjer, a Canadian, said. "I will get to play in front of family and friends and playing with the best players in the world can only make me better.
"All-star games like this can help make you better. You are playing with and against the best and also practicing against them. That drives you to play even better and really pushes you. We are going to have a very competitive team. We have a lot of great talent on our team. We are going out to win the game and I think we can win. But I won't feel any pressure. I am playing a game I love, so there's not any pressure."
However, he knows how good the competition will be, especially from his future Kentucky teammates.
"It was great getting to know them a little better (at the McDonald's All-American Game). I got to know them some on my official visit, but just hanging with them was fun. Our parents also got to know each other," Wiltjer said. "We are trying to form a good bond. It will be weird playing against them after playing with them (at McDonald's).
"Anthony is so versatile. He is such a presence with his wing span on both sides. Michael can just do a little bit of everything and is very, very good at it all. Teague runs the show. He's super athletic, quick and makes the game so much easier for everyone."
Wiltjer said it was "fun" watching UK play this year and he was hoping the Wildcats would win it all.
"It was too bad they lost. Now we most definitely will want to go farther next year. We will just go in, work as hard as we can and what happens happens," Wiltjer said. "I know for me, all parts of my game need to get better. There's no part of my game that is perfect. I need to get quicker and stronger for the next level.
"I just love the way he (John Calipari) coaches and the way he is hands-on with his players. His system is good for a player like me to use my versatility. I love the dribble-drive and the way he lets you get up and down the court because I like to do that."
Wiltjer will be in Kentucky in June to start summer classes. He has no idea who will be on Kentucky's roster or who may have left for the NBA.
"It's on them and is their decision. We will just play with who we have and I know we will have a good team," Wiltjer said.
KSR's Larry Vaught interviews Kyle Wiltjer
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