News quickly broke Monday that Kyle Wiltjer was considering forgoing his senior year at Gonzaga. Many people immediately dismissed the idea, as Wiltjer previously told the press he would stay. However, local and national media outlets confirmed he was considering his options, including ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman.
Wiltjer is currently not listed as a draft prospect on any mock NBA Draft boards. He has everything to gain by staying at Gonzaga, including improving his draft stock and helping the Zags have another deep NCAA Tournament run. So why leave Gonzaga?
Money. While the NBA pays out some of the largest amounts of money to drafted players, there is serious money to be made in Europe. Average players in Europe can make between $65,000 and $100,000 a year on a starting salary. With Wiltjer’s offensive skill set, he could easily make that if he were to play in Europe.
An inside source close to the situation told me that Wiltjer is inspired by the money that former Gonzaga players have made playing overseas, including former Memphis transfer Drew Barham. It is important to note that this statement has not been confirmed by other sources and should be taken with extreme caution.
Another element is the influence of Kyle’s father, Greg. Not only has he mentored Kyle, but he played professional basketball as well. While he was drafted in the second round of the NBA draft, he never got the opportunity to play an NBA game. He played professional basketball in Europe for several years, so he is very familiar with the experience and has likely shared those experiences with Kyle at some point in time.
Believe it or not, players want to play. Wiltjer would likely get more playing time playing overseas. Even if he were to stay his senior year and be a first round pick, the chances of him having as much playing time in the NBA as he would overseas are slim.
While Wiltjer would be a redshirt senior next year, it is important to note that he already has his bachelor’s degree. He is currently working on his masters of business administration. In Kelly Olynyk’s breakout year at Gonzaga, he already had his degree and was working on his masters. For Kyle, he knows that he can play now and finish his masters at any time if he wants to. There is a limited window to play professionally.
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There are unconfirmed reports that all of Wiltjer’s stuff is emptied out from his campus living space and that his car has not been seen for several days on campus. Again, these reports should be taken with extreme caution since they are not yet confirmed or denied by other sources. However, it is surprising that Wiltjer is backtracking off of his original comments about staying at GU for his senior year.
As a lifelong Gonzaga fan, I hope he stays. I hope I am wrong about him leaving. His contributions to next year’s team could put Gonzaga into a position to have another deep NCAA Tournament run. An early exit would severely diminish those chances.
Wiltjer has until April 25 to declare for the NBA Draft.