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Q&A with Kyle Wiltjer: 'We're striving for the best'

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Forward Kyle Wiltjer comes to UK as a five-star forward from Portand, Ore. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Forward Kyle Wiltjer comes to UK as a five-star forward from Portand, Ore. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Instead of the usual preseason feature story on one of the Kentucky men's basketball players, I have decided to give you my interview transcript with freshman Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer is a 6-foot-9 forward from Portland, Ore., with a strong inside-outside game and a refreshing perspective on the game of basketball and what it takes to succeed. Enjoy:

Cat Scratches: How's the adjustment going from Portland, Ore., to Lexington, Ky.?
Kyle Wiltjer: It's a big adjustment. First of all, I haven't even touched my sweatshirts since I've been here it's been so hot. Portland is cooler, not as humid. And then the college atmosphere is a lot different, just managing your own time, you don't have your parents telling you what to do, you just have to work on your own, get in the gym, you don't have a set schedule. It's just a great atmosphere and I'm loving it so far.

CS: How is it to have Terrence (Jones), who's also from Portland, on the team?
KW: It's good having a familiar face to where I'm from. It's great having that guy back. He's been to the Final Four last year, along with Doron (Lamb) and all those guys coming back. It's great to have a few people who have been there done that. It helps us have a little experience.

CS: You're part of a recruiting class that everyone had as No. 1 in the country. What kind of pressure does that put on you guys?
KW: We don't look at it as pressure at all. We just look at it as motivation to get better and be in the gym and we want to show ourselves. That's what fuels us to get better every day.

In that four-member class you have three players ranked in the top five and you're at No. 22 (according to That's hardly chump-change, but everybody is talking about the top three (ranked players). What do you need to do to show them, 'Hey, I have some game too'?
KW: I mean I like the game that I have because I'm just kind of flying under the radar and working on my game. While they're talking about other guys I'm just working hard. I just want to show them my versatility and do what's right for the team. Whatever Coach Cal needs, I want to show him I can do that. I want to win, so I want to do what's best for the team.

Do you see yourself sort of playing with a chip on your shoulder?
KW: Just showing who I am and what I can do. I mean, a lot of people probably haven't really seen that much of my game because I've been on the West Coast. So, (I want to) build a name for myself and build up my reputation here.

You started to do that at the McDonald's All-American Game when you won the 3-point contest. I think that opened a lot of people's eyes because you're not a guard. What did that, do you think, show people?
KW: It probably just showed them my versatility a little bit, that I was for real, that I can shoot. I've worked on my shot a lot and I feel like if you have a good shot it kind of plays into your hands. People have to respect it, run out to you; you can pump fake, dribble-drive, just a variety of things. Then I try to balance it out with my post game. It just makes me tougher to defend if I can do a lot more things than just one.

CS: Two years ago, Calipari's first year here, that recruiting class' legacy is kind of that they rejuvenated the program, then last year's recruiting class' was leading Kentucky back to the Final Four for the first time in 13 years. What do you want your class' legacy to be?
KW: We're striving for the best. When you're a competitive player you always strive for the best. In college basketball, the national championship is the best. So, we're definitely striving for that. We want to be known, not only as basketball players, but good guys. We go to class, we want to build names for each other and work hard.

CS: How important is that? That it's more than just basketball...
KW: It's extremely important just being well-rounded. I mean, my parents have taught me that my whole life. Being well-rounded, individual, humble, it's really big in life.

CS: What's your biggest strength in your game?
KW: Probably my shot. Like I said, it just helps me do a lot more things. Also my post moves. I have a lot of post moves. Even if the guy is bigger or stronger I feel like I can get my post moves off because of how skilled I am.

CS: You committed to Kentucky before ever stepping foot on campus. Obviously everybody's recruiting process is different; some people it's this, some people it's that. What was it that you were looking for most in a school?
KW: I had a small group of friends and family that I talked with a lot before I made my decision. We decided that it was going to be based on basketball, so, I had visited most of the schools I wanted to, and I knew Kentucky had an amazing campus. I chose the program because it had a great recruiting class, how comfortable I felt with the coaches and the level of play here. I wanted to surround myself with the best players so I can be better. You can play against good teams and everything, but if you're going against the best every day in practice you're going to get so much better.

CS: I think your first time here was Big Blue Madness. What was that like, and what would have happened if you were like, 'This doesn't feel right'?
KW: It was crazy. Just being around that kind of atmosphere where the fans were so crazy about us and they care so much. It just showed me how great college basketball is. When I went to Big Blue Madness I wanted to be out there playing. I didn't want to have to wait a year. But the year went be fast and I'm glad to be here. We only have a month left and I'm sure that will go by fast. We just can't wait for the season and we're working hard to get there.

CS: Who do you like to compare your game to?
KW: Not necessarily one player. I just try to look at a bunch of players and get different skills from each one of them. I mean, I watch Kevin Love a lot, because I got to work out with him. He's a skilled guy from my area, the way he can rebound and defend, all that kind of stuff. I watch Dirk (Nowitzki), the way he can shoot. Just a little bit from everyone because the more you can do the better.

CS: What part of your game do you think needs the most work right now?
KW: I'm just working on becoming quicker and stronger because the college game is such a higher level. I've been working hard in the weight room just to become a better defender, rebounder, everything like that.

CS: Everybody's always talking about this freshman class being a bunch of gym rats, lifting weights, putting up shots; what is it about you guys?
KW: I don't know, I think it's just ingrained in us. We've been around the game so long now, we want to get better. Being that good class, like I said, it doesn't put pressure on us, it's motivation. That's why we're in the gym getting better because we want to be that big class. We want to be at the top. That's why we're working so hard.

How much does it help you all that you've played together a lot already - the McDonald's game, Jordan Brand, Nike Hoop Summit, all those games - you know their style of play a little bit, don't you?
KW: It helps us a lot coming in. We knew each other coming in and then coming into the summer sessions we got to meet all the older guys and they really brought us in. So it really helped on team chemistry and getting to know each other on and off the court.

CS: What have the older guys taught you all, not only about college basketball, but college basketball at Kentucky?
KW: Just working hard. You're Kentucky basketball so everybody wants to beat you. Just play with a chip on your shoulder every game and try to represent Kentucky well.

CS: Do you think you're ready for that?
KW: Yeah most definitely. I love the game and I love being in the spotlight so I mean I just can't wait for it.

So now this year at Big Blue Madness you'll be able to play, how's that going to be?
KW: It's going to be awesome and to be in front of all those people playing the game I love, there's nothing better than that.

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We'll be cheering for you!

Love your style....Kevin, Dirk, we'll take that...I think you are going to be right up there with other Kentucky Basketball Greats....your attitude, skill set and willingness to better yourself, Fans of UK Basketball are blessed to have young men like you and your team mates...Best for you all, Larry...Coach Cal, you are going to have your best Basketball Season ever in your career, get ready...Wins, Teaching, Fun and Family.

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  • Larry Clemons: Love your style....Kevin, Dirk, we'll take that...I think you are going to be right up there with other Kentucky Basketball read more
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