It is an interesting time in the college basketball world. For the most part, teams have turned the page on 2013 recruiting and have started focusing on the future. AAU season is heating up, college camps are taking place, and 2014 recruits are visiting campuses all across the country. It’s rare that a top player becomes available this late but that is precisely what has happened with Portland native Kyle Wiltjer. It has been announced that he will reevaluate his decision to attend Kentucky and see what other programs can offer. It is truly an unusual and confusing situation that really could go one of many different ways.
One way this saga could go is with Wiltjer transferring to Gonzaga. The Bulldogs recruited him hard, really hard, when he was in high school, and their success over the past 15-20 years is hard to ignore. Furthermore seeing Kelly Olynyk’s meteoric rise from redshirting to potential NBA lottery pick has to carry a lot of weight for a student athlete who will have to redshirt next season if he transfers. Gonzaga also has space for Wiltjer and really the match looks on paper like a natural fit. West Coast Convo’s Josh Horton wrote about where Gonzaga fits in this recruiting process earlier here.
Other potential landing spots seem to be the usual suspects in the North West (the geographical area, not Kim and Kanye’s baby) including Washington, Oregon and Oregon State. All of these schools offe
r the exposure and competitive conference scheduling of a of a BCS conference. Seattle, Euguene and Corvallis are all relatively close to home for Wiltjer and this may be a big deciding factor for him.
Another option for Wiltjer is a return to Kentucky. This may seem unlikely, but Coach Cal has made comments suggesting that he would like to see Wiltjer return. If Calipari helps Wiltjer go through this process and Wiltjer concludes that no school can offer what Kentucky can, then he may very well stay in Lexington.
The dark horse in all of this is the University of Portland. When all this news broke, ESPN listed Gonzaga, Stanford, Texas, Oregon, Oregon State, and Portland as interested. There are hurdles here. The biggest being that when you think “Winning Tradition”, “University of Portland Basketball” isn’t the first thing that pops into your head. If Portland can’t convince Wiltjer that he will be competing on a national stage, like the NCAA tournament, Portland seems like even more of a long shot. In addition Portland doesn’t currently have a scholarship for Wiltjer, so he would most likely have to walk-on during his redshirt season like Malcolm Armstead did at Witchita State before leading them to a Final Four.
Despite all of this, Portland does have a few assets that can work in their favor. First off is the opportunity to play in Portland. The Blazer-fanatical city hasn’t had a great college team ever really and he will without a doubt the most well known player on Portland’s roster. The opportunity to play in front of family and friends has been a factor for other recruits in years past and what better place than up on the Bluff in the Chiles Center.
Additionally Wiltjer has the opportunity to be a player that the coaching staff can design plays around. He could really show off the skills that he has when being “The Man”. Coach Calipari lists Wiltjer’s time with the Canadian Developmental Team, and his success as the main man during the Four Nations tournament in China as an eye opening experience for Wiltjer. In Portland, Wiltjer could again experience this go to role that he enjoyed so much in China.
Odds on favorite to land Wiltjer at this point is Gonzaga. His familiarity with the staff and with the players, as well as Olynyk’s success after a redshirt year, make it hard to see him landing anywhere else. But crazier things have happened. No matter where he ends up, he will have a major impact in 2014.