Kyle Wiltjer has been to the summit of college basketball. During a decorated college career in which he won a national championship on perhaps one of the greatest teams of all time, he would go on to help Gonzaga reach the Elite 8 and Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons. Along the way he picked up an SEC Sixth Man of the Year Award, was twice named to the All-WCC First Team, and earned a spot as a Second Team All-American. Oh, he even made a SportsCenter Top 10. No big deal.
It feels inappropriate to reduce Wiltjer's collegiate accomplishments to a single paragraph, as he's earned a place in a very small fraternity of NCAA success. But, Wiltjer has his sights set on another goal--becoming part of the 1% of NCAA men's basketball players to make it to the NBA.
With that goal in mind, Wiltjer set out for the city of broad shoulders after signing with Priority Sports following the end of his college career. "It's been awesome," said Wiltjer about his time in Chicago, "I've been here for over a month now, just getting workouts in, getting in shape, and working on my game a lot. It's been awesome to be around some really good players. I'm glad I signed with a good agency."
Wiltjer was a prolific scorer during his time at Gonzaga (Remember that time he casually dropped 45 on Pacific? That was fun), and he's always had a sweet stroke, but he's focused on continuing to improve as a basketball player. "One thing I've been really working on, even in just a pickup situation, is being a better rebounder. Playing with a guy like Domas Sabonis, who's one of the best rebounders I've been around, he's been able to teach me a lot. That's one thing I can really bring to the next level as a four-man, is to rebound the basketball. I've also been working on my ballhandling and moving my feet."
After receiving an invitation to the NBA Combine earlier in May, Wiltjer seized the opportunity to showcase the full extent of his game and
sneaky explosive athleticism (hello 35.5 inch vert!) in front of NBA teams. When asked how he felt about his Combine performance, Wiltjer replied, "I thought I did really well. I competed out there and rebounded the ball well, which impressed some people. Especially in limited playing time as everyone played equally. I was just happy that some of my shots went in." Modesty may have to be a trait NBA teams note when they scout Wiltjer, as his combine performance did not go unnoticed by league observers.
Kyle Wiltjer is getting buckets at the NBA Draft Combine.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) May 12, 2016
Underrated. Huge and can really shoot/play on offense. Will make the league https://t.co/RKBGaswGyx— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) May 13, 2016
While the Combine and pre-draft process allow prospects the opportunity to showcase their strengths, it also provides them a chance to dispel some misconceptions about their game. "The notion that I'm a defensive liability is something that I've had to disprove everyday," stated Wiltjer. "I think I've done a good job of proving myself at the Combine. I was getting rebounds, steals, that's something I can continue to show."
At the time of our interview, Wiltjer had just arrived in Brooklyn to do a workout for the Nets, his first in a long line of teams that will take him around the country. After Brooklyn comes workouts for the Celtics, 76ers, Mavericks, Spurs, Rockets, Lakers, Blazers, and Bobcats with more possibly on the way.
The Gonzaga connection in Boston necessitated a phone call with Kelly Olynyk. "I'm going to Boston in a couple of days so I talked to Kelly. He just told me to go into every workout and do my best, and that's all you can ask for. That's pretty much been a common theme when I've talked to guys." Olynyk isn't the only Zag keeping tabs on Wiltjer, as he's kept in touch with all the Gonzaga coaches throughout the draft process. "I pretty much talk to all of them. They're always interested in what I'm doing. I talk to B-Mike (Brian Michaelson) the most, but they're all encouraging me and just tell me to keep going."
There's a lot of uncertainty for NBA hopefuls as they go through the draft process. Questions such as draft position and where the best fit lies can swirl in the periphery, but Wiltjer is choosing to stay focused on the task at hand. "I have 10 plus workouts, some teams really like me, but I don't know if that means they're going to draft me. This will be a big month for me, and I can't get too distracted with that since I still have so much ahead of me right now. I'm just trying to get in front of as many teams as possible, and show them what I can do. I'm just worried about working hard right now."