Wiltjer ready for expanded role

Kyle Wiltjer came to UK last year knowing he'd have a limited role as a freshman. The sacrifice paid off with a national championship ring. Now he's ready for an expanded role.

When Kentucky coach John Calipari talks about sacrificing for the betterment of the team, nobody understands that message better than Kyle Wiltjer.

The highly-recruited Oregon prospect came to UK last year knowing he would not receive as much playing time as some of the other players on the Wildcats' star-studded roster.

As expected, Wiltjer averaged less than 12 minutes per game during the season and saw that number cut in half during the NCAA Tournament, putting up only 11 shots during the Cats' six-game run to the national championship.

And if he had a chance to do it all over again, he wouldn't change a thing.

"Last year was amazing," Wiltjer said. "It was a great opportunity to win a national championship. I expect to have a bigger role this season, but if it helps us get back and win again, I'll do whatever coach wants me to do."

During his annual media day address, Calipari said he envisioned the versatile 6-foot-10 Wiltjer as a Dirk Nowitzki-type player to point guard Ryan Harrow's Steve Nash, harkening back to the NBA duo's productive time with the Dallas Mavericks.

"I told them they need to start working out together," Calipari said. "They need to be in practice early together. They need to be after practice together, kind of doing what (Dirk) Nowitzki and Steve Nash did, where they did their workouts together and they got real comfortable with each other on the court, especially in a late game. You're talking about two guys that are going to have their hands on the ball a lot."

Asked about the Nowitzki comparison, Wiltjer said: "It's an honor to be considered like someone of that caliber, but I like to define my own game and be as versatile as possible."

Fans saw only a glimpse of Wiltjer's total skillset a year ago. He was primarily used as a 3-point specialist off the bench, taking exactly half of his 162 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and hitting at a 43-percent clip. He had a season-high 24 points against Loyola in which he hit three of six from long range.

But he's also known to possess some nifty post moves – "old-man basketball," as some of his teammates affectionately refer to them – all part of a repertoire he didn't get to show last season due to the presence of Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller.

"So far in practices, I've done a lot more posting up and scoring in the post, something I didn't utilize as much last year," said Wiltjer, who averaged 5.0 points and 1.8 rebounds per game as a freshman. "Hopefully I can show my versatility more this year, get in the post and bang a little bit more."

Asked if he'll be bringing back the baby hook shot that Calipari lauded a year ago, Wiltjer said: "It's always been part of the arsenal. You'll definitely see more of that because it's an effective way to score over bigger and longer defenders."

Wiltjer also expects to benefit from some added muscle and better conditioning after a year in the strength program under Rock Oliver.

"I did a lot of work on my body," he said. "I'm bigger and stronger and quicker this year… I just can't wait to get out there and show it."

With a retooled roster that includes four freshmen and two transfers, Wiltjer knows he has also assumed the position as a team leader for 2012-13. While Harrow and Mays have significant college experience at N.C. State and Wright State, respectively, Wiltjer will be the most experienced Wildcat in terms of minutes played at UK.

"I'm trying to lead," he said. "As one of the guys who has some experience and has been around awhile, I know coach is expecting that out of me."

And one of the messages he'll have for his teammates?

"It's a new year," he said. "We don't want to spend too much time thinking about last year because we have to go out work hard if we want to do it again.

"Guys have to put the team above themselves."

If the off-season has been any indication, the Cats are well on their way to following his lead.

"We've already done a great job of coming together off the court," Wiltjer said. "… I didn't think a team could be as close as last year's team, and we're already just as close or maybe even closer, which is a big surprise to me because of all of the fun we had last year.

"I miss those guys, but this is a great group of guys as well. When you have a group of guys who get along off the court and work as hard as this team does on it, it's good to see."

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