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Big Zag on Campus 

Kyle Wiltjer is getting preseason accolades unheard of at Gonzaga — and he's ready to live up to the hype

click to enlarge Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer is a preseason Player of the Year candidate.
  • Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer is a preseason Player of the Year candidate.

Kyle Wiltjer doesn't talk much trash on the basketball court and doesn't do a whole lot to draw attention to himself, besides playing the game with an inordinate amount of skill.

Do not, however, mistake Wiltjer for someone afraid to speak his mind. Last year, before he ever played a game at Gonzaga, Wiltjer — who played on Kentucky's 2012 national champions – said the Bulldogs could win it all in 2015.

Gonzaga lost in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, but Wiltjer tells the Inlander he believes he can go out as a national champion this season as a senior.

INLANDER:For the second straight year, do you truly believe Gonzaga has a shot at the national title?

WILTJER: I feel we have an even better chance. We have a really good team, and we also learned from our mistakes last year.

The West Coast Conference doesn't always get a lot of respect from the national media, so were you surprised when CBS Sports named you the National Preseason Player of the Year?

Yeah, a little bit. It's an honor. It's definitely cool to see, because I've been working really hard.

How close did you come to turning pro after last season?

Not very close. I was just doing my due diligence, seeing if there was any opportunity. Just making sure I wasn't passing up on any good opportunities.

What did NBA people tell you about your prospects for the 2015 draft?

I would probably be in the second round, but nothing is guaranteed in the second round, so I just wanted to come back and work on my game and hopefully get to the Final Four. I think the NBA draft will take care of itself.

Did you consider turning pro overseas?

A little bit. My main goal is to play in the NBA, but definitely there are good opportunities over there.

The crowds, talent and notoriety are often much greater at SEC schools like Kentucky than in the WCC. Did you ever find it difficult to get up for games last season?

No, not at all. All our home games are crazy. It's sold out every game. Then when we go on the road, everyone wants to beat us, so every game is a challenge, and every game the fans are out watching us. It's been amazing. It's definitely exceeded my expectations, because the fan support is unbelievable.

As a McDonald's All-American and a top-25 national recruit out of Jesuit High School in Portland, what schools were the finalists in the recruiting battle for you?

Gonzaga, Kentucky, Texas, Cal and North Carolina.

Why did you pick Kentucky?

I just really wanted to win a national championship, and I wanted to really challenge myself, see where I stood against some of the best players in the nation.

Why did you transfer? After all, you were the SEC Sixth Man of the Year as a sophomore at Kentucky.

I really wanted to either redshirt at Kentucky or transfer and redshirt to work on my game. Gonzaga has a really good program for redshirt players, and [Gonzaga's offensive] system, it's a little better fit for my game: I can play inside and out. They really develop their players, so that was big for me. ♦

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