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From the Pressbox: Early returns suggest Wiltjer's work will pay off

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How will Kyle Wiltjer handle an expanded role in his second season at UK? It didn't take long to get an answer to that one. Wiltjer scored 19 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots in the Cats' 72-69 win over Maryland - good enough to earn the sophomore forward recognition as SEC Player of the Week.

"I have done a lot of work this offseason, just working on my body, physically - quickness, strength - stuff like that and definitely honed in on my skills as well. You can't be too good at something so I just continue to work on my jump shot and playing out of that and getting able to play in the post which will be key this year, showing people that I am a really good post player as well," Wiltjer said earlier this fall.

Last year, Wiltjer was mostly a long-range shooting specialist but against Maryland, he showed his game is considerably more well rounded.

"The more I can do, it will make me harder to defend so, I am looking forward to this year to better my role, improve my game and show people what I can do. I am excited for this year," Wiltjer said.

If you listen to Mike Pratt on our UK radio network broadcasts, you often hear him talking about the importance of lower body strength to a big man's success in the lane. Coach Calipari had Wiltjer do offseason weightlifting sessions with the offensive and defensive linemen on the UK football team, to get him in the mindset of the kind of toughness he would need to compete in the paint as well as the perimeter. For Wiltjer, the training sessions were about building his lower body strength.

"Just a strong base. My legs. Leg strength is key. Just post up and be able to finish off the bumps against a stronger guy with more length. Just finishing over Nerlens has been a great way to practice," Wiltjer said. "We have had such great length the last few years and that has definitely made me a better player. It's a process. I need to continue to work on it and the more I work on it, the better I am going to be."

Even though he's only a sophomore, Wiltjer has logged more minutes at UK than any other Cat, which makes him a candidate to fill a leadership role. He says he's done that before and is willing to accept that challenge this winter. It's part of the attitude that's been passed down from his dad, a former professional player.

"Being professional even though you are a college player," Wiltjer said of his dad's advice. "Treat you body right, eat the right stuff, work with your coaches because they have our best interest even though it may be hard, keep pushing through it. He does a great job at keeping me humble and keep working on my game. They come in and look to experienced guys for where to go and stuff like that. I just kind of try to be there for them and anything they need I try to help them out."

As part of his plan to get ready for this season, Wiltjer worked out this summer with the Canadian national team and he hopes he'll be able to play in the 2016 Olympics.

"There were great workouts there, great coaches, we were able to work out twice in the morning. We went really hard and then at night, we went up against some of the best players. It was a great experience because it was the first time everyone had gotten together, all the talent and there are a lot of NBA guys up there and a lot of professional basketball players so, I was able to push myself to become a better player," explained Wiltjer, adding that his dad played for Canada's Olympic team and that motivates Kyle to do the same.

For now, Wiltjer is focused on helping Kentucky return to the Final Four and make a run at a second straight national title. But his message to his teammates is to avoid looking ahead.

"Staying in the moment," Wiltjer said of what he's telling them. "We knew we had a lot of potential but we took every game like it was going to be our last and continue to work hard even though we were a good team, we continued to rise and become a better team."

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