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Monday, June 24, 2013
Kyle Wiltjer might leave Kentucky -- maybe

By Eamonn Brennan

Kyle Wiltjer
Kyle Wiltjer shouldn't be lacking options on schools if the forward decides to leave Kentucky.
Here's what we know: Yes, Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer is considering a transfer. No, he's not totally sure if he's going to actually transfer. Yes, he announced the possibility in an open letter to fans on UK's website Monday evening. No, he did not definitively announce his transfer. Yes, coach John Calipari has already weighed in with his support on his personal home page. No, this is not an elaborate joke. Yes, you read that headline correctly.

Confused yet? Join the club.

At 5:26 p.m. ET Monday night, Wiltjer posted his "Letter to BBN [Big Blue Nation]" on UKAthletics.com. He thanked his coach, teammates and fans, and reflected on his accomplishments in two years in Lexington. And then he wrote the following:
During this next year, I will be working on my body so that I am able to compete the way I know I can. I want to find a situation that will help me do this as well as play a more significant role, wherever that may be. Even though I might physically leave Lexington, I will never forget the support and kindness that everyone has shown my family and me. It is difficult to put into words how hard it is to possibly leave BBN, yet I am confident that whatever I choose, I will give it my all. Regardless, I will always bleed blue and will never forget these amazing last two years at Kentucky.

All of which sounds like the young man's mind is made up ... save the words "might" and "possibly," which imply the opposite. Meanwhile, after discussing Wiltjer's strengths, weaknesses and accomplishments as a player to date, Calipari's typically thoughtful blog post on the matter makes clear how much he'd like to see the rangy Canadian back in UK blue by the time fall rolls around:
Kyle’s choice to explore options at another school disappoints me, but it’s his decision at the end of the day, and I fully support his decision. I would love for him to go through this process and return to us, but I will support him and help him in any way I can. He’s a terrific young man, a great student, a tremendous basketball player and an excellent teammate. If he does choose to go somewhere else, that school will be very lucky.

He's also sure to let UK fans know that Wiltjer's decision wouldn't impact the school's Academic Progress Rate ...
I want our fans to know if Kyle does indeed leave, his academics are high enough that his transfer will not hurt our university. We all need to understand that he’s leaving on his own terms. We all want him back, but it’s not what we want; it’s what he wants, and that’s OK.

... before finishing with this:
The end goal – the only true goal – is success: reaching your dreams. Anytime a player doesn’t feel like he can achieve those dreams with us, I feel like we’ve failed him, not that he’s failed us.

I told Kyle I’ll play whatever part he wants in his transfer, whether that’s being involved and calling other schools on his behalf or not being involved in any way. He expressed to me that he needs my help and advice, which I will give. Whatever Kyle chooses – and I still hope he ends up back with us – I wish him and his family the best of luck.

It's hard to overstate how unusual this is. In college sports, transfers are almost always handled as 100 percent closed-door affairs. That is especially true of a player's initial decision to transfer. The scramble of recruitment that ensues after that first decision is made is frequently open to the public, not unlike a high school recruitment. But that doesn't happen until the player has absolutely decided to leave, and the school he's leaving has issued its perfunctory statement wishing the player the best of luck with his future.

This is not that. It's strange, and it comes with its fair share of questions. Why announce before Wiltjer leaves, in case he comes back? Is there any reason to parse these statements for subtext indicating some perceived difference in the likelihood of his return? Just how small is that chance, anyway?

This is also, in its own way, refreshing. Rather than dumping the news with a stern statement and nothing more, Calipari has allowed Wiltjer to pre-emptively address his desires in an open letter to Kentucky fans, and followed it up with about as supportive a missive as any coach could probably ever muster for a player who has decided to transfer. Calipari's backing means everything for the public perception of UK players; what he says resonates with UK fans in a lasting way.

You could also argue that pre-empting the news undercuts the wave of rumor and innuendo sure to spring up as soon as the rumblings -- heard third-hand and distorted by the massive game of telephone that is modern Internet fandom -- began to creep outward from Lexington in the weeks to come. The announcement also gave Calipari a chance to lay out more of his recruiting and development philosophy, which is on some serious "I am the nucleus" next-level stuff at this point. In this case, maybe transparency is a win-win?

It's pretty confusing stuff, unusual in both tone and execution, and really only one thing is for sure:

Whatever Wiltjer decides, there are going to be plenty of teams interested, and many more fans waiting anxiously to see what happens next.