Kyle Wiltjer is a 25 year old 208cm forward from Canada that is playing his first season in Europe with Olympiacos S.F.P. Pireus (Greece-A1). Last season as a rookie he played with the Houston Rockets (NBA) playing 15 games averaging 1.1ppg, He played also at Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League) playing 31 games averaging 20.7ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 47.4%, 3PT: 38.8%, FT: 85.1%. He started his career at Kentucky(NCAA) in 2011 and played two seasons playing 73 games and winning the 2012 NCAA tournament. He then finished his NCAA career at Gonzaga (NCAA) in 2016 playing 36 games averaging 20.4ppg, 6.3rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 52.6%, 3PT: 43.7%, FT: 85.7%. He spoke to German Hoops about basketball.
Kyle thanks for talking to German Hoops. You next play Brose Bamberg in the Euroleague. In the first game in Bamberg, you suffered a tough 67-65 loss and could have won the game with a Brian Roberts shot. You played three good quarters, but Bamberg kept you to 7 points in the fourth points. Why did the game end up so close at the end?
It was a tough game for us as Bamberg played really well. We just came up short which was too bad as we want to win every game.
You had 11 points in 10 minutes. How happy were you with your break out game in Europe?
I was very happy I could break out in this game. Seeing shots go in is a good feeling. I just have to shoot my open shots and be confident.
Was this your first time to Germany? What dealings have you had with the country Germany and have you had friends playing here in the past?
It was my first time in Germany. Bamberg is a great city. I have a close friend playing in Bamberg with Augustine Rubit. He has shared his experiences that he has had playing in Germany.
It has been a rough going for you as your still getting used to many new things in Europe. What has been the biggest challenge with the style and play for you in Europe?
The style of play has been a lot different than what I have been used to. There is a lot more execution here and we have a very defense orientated club focusing a lot on defense.
You played with many well known schools Kentucky and Gonzaga and in the NBA. But explain what it has been like playing with one of Europe´s top teams Olympiacos S.F.P. Pireus (Greece-A1). What has really stood out playing for this traditional Greek team?
It has been amazing playing for this organization. It is one of the best teams in Greece and it is incredible to see the kind of fan support we have. Playing at this level in the Euroleague is awesome.
Olympiacos S.F.P. Pireus (Greece-A1) has been playing very well in the Greek league as expected, but also played superb in the Euroleague. What has been the biggest strength of the team that has allowed them to play so well so far?
The biggest strength has been defense. We always make it tough on opponents and we are very unselfish and share the ball.
Your on a stacked roster with a lot of talent. How is it different for you playing on a roster like this than it is for being on an NBA team? Is it more challenging with Olympiacos S.F.P. Pireus (Greece-A1) simply because of the vast amount of talent and overall versatility?
It´s different and similar to an NBA team. Both leagues are the top in their countries so it´s very challenging as there are very many good players as well as good players on the other teams so it has been helping me become better.
The team is stacked with so many big man. How confident are you that you won´t get lost in the shuffle. What is your role now and do you see it increasing?
I am very confident that I bring something to the team with my outside shooting and I really see myself being able to score at the position four. I feel if I continue to work on my defensive rebounding, it will lead to more minutes.
I could mention the Jamel Mcclean´s, Kim Tille´s or Hollis Thompson´s as guys that challenge you each day in practice, but what has it been like competing daily with 2 time Euroleague and Greek legend Georgis Printezis. What has been the most key element on the court that you have soaked up from his game?
Playing against Printezis daily has been awesome as he knows the Greek and Euroleague system well. Learning the offense and playing against everyone else on the team who know the Euroleague for many years is good and I´m benefiting being able to learn from each.
Let´s talk about your game. You’re a very versatile forward that can shoot the ball at a high rate. What NBA player was your role model as a kid and to what player now or then would you compare your game to?
I really looked up to Kevin Love as he grew up from where I am from. Another guy that I look up to is Ryan Anderson who was with me last year with the Houston Rockets. Both are big guys that can shoot the ball. I compare myself to them and try to play like them.
Your a guy that can score and rebound at ease, but what do you feel is still a hidden strength today in your game that doesn´t get noticed right away on the court?
I can get the offense moving and am a guy that can share the basketball and make good passes. My scoring and rebounding also helps the team.
You started the season with the Toronto Raptors (NBA), played also at Raptors 905 Missisauga (NBA G League). Why did you decide to make your debut in Europe? Did your great G-league season last season without any real NBA reward kind of lead you in the direction of trying something new?
The Euroleague is one of the best leagues in the world and I knew there was a lot of good talent so I wanted to challenge myself and play somewhere new. I thought it would be a great opportunity to play with Olympiakos.
After a great NCAA career you didn´t get drafted, but still fought your way into the NBA. Do you feel like your NBA career would have been different had you been drafted or is the whole NBA draft process a little too overblown with so much talent around the world?
The NBA Draft process is very interesting as there is so much NBA talent. Even if you don´t get drafted like I did, I just wanted to prove people wrong and play really hard. It shows that the crème of the crop will rise no matter if your drafted or not and just continue to work hard.
You had a very strong season with the t Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League) playing 31 games averaging 20.7ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 47.4%, 3PT: 38.8%, FT: 85.1%. Did last season´s brief NBA run give you a lot of heartache? With your undeniable talent does a season like last season give you some doubt about your game and make you work even harder?
Last year was great as I was really able to work on my game with the Vipers. The experience made me work even harder because I didn´t play much with the Rockets. No matter at what level your on, you can always get better and it continued to make me work on my game.
What kind of feedback did you get from the Houston Rocket about your season there and why you didn´t get more of an opportunity?
I got feed back in that I should get quicker and stronger which I am still working on now. Last years team was really good which was a reason why I didn´t play. Working hard on my game was my biggest focus last off season coming into this season.
Who was the toughest player that you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
Anthony Davis who was on my team when I first played at Kentucky. He was a really tough player. I played against him every day and it helped me get better.
You have played with many amazing players, but where does James Harden rack up? What is your most memorable Harden story that you can tell?
He is a really good player and one of the best in the world. His ability to run the pick and roll is amazing and just seeing him hit a buzzer beater last year was a lot of fun. Him helping lead us to the playoffs was a great story.
You played NBA Summer League the last two summers and would imagine that will continue down the road. How far do you honestly feel are you from the NBA? Is it just a phone call away or is there something to your game you know you still have to add?
Just like in the Euroleague, there are so many players that can get to the NBA. We are just a phone call away and it´s all about timing and finding the right fit. There is always things that you can work on to get better. I need to get quicker, stronger and work on my shot even more.
You played at Kentucky(NCAA) and Gonzaga(NCAA), but already won the NCAA title as a freshman. Was it difficult after that having that feeling of already having achieved the ultimate and being hungry the rest of the way in your NCAA career?
It was awesome playing at Kentucky and winning the NCAA title. Every year from then on, it´s your goal to win it all. We were hungry to win no matter what. We continued to work hard after that. Even if I came up short after that, I had an amazing NCAA career and it was awesome.
You won the NCAA title in 2012 with a starting five stacked with future NBA players and you and Darius Miller coming from the bench. What besides unending talent made this team so special?
We were very unselfish which is very similar to my team now. It doesn´t matter if one player scores 20 points, but if we win the game that is all that anyone cared about.
You played a season with Anthony Davis. Would you have thought after witnessing his freshman season that he would be on the way to becoming the best center in the NBA?
When I first got to Kentucky, Anthony Davis wasn´t the player he is today. He worked hard every day and it was cool to see his work ethic. When he got to the NBA, he made the most of his opportunity and just continued to get better.
After your second season at Kentucky you moved to Gonzaga stating the reasons as going as “Being able to compete the way I know I can. Did you leave Kentucky on good terms with head coach John Calipari? Did you feel like you would be able to develop further there?
I had a great relationship with John Calipari even when I left he makes sure to text me to see if all is going well and make sure I´m ok. I feel I got better each year in college.
You came to Gonzaga and the club then after many years of not doing damage reached the Elite 8 and Sweet 16 and the year after you left reached the NCAA final. Why did you go there?
Gonzaga is a really good school and played the way I did with a lot of high low basketball and they really utilized a four man who could shoot the ball. So I thought it would be a very good fit for me.
How important was a guy like Domantas Sabonis in your development there. You battled each day in practice. He is in the NBA now and your not. In his route a big motivation to keep working hard to reach your goals?
He is a really close friend of mine. We worked very hard each day at Gonzaga. It is really cool to see him in the NBA doing really well.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Domantas Sabonis?
It was very close every day. We both battled very hard each day in practice. We are different players as I helped him with his shooting and he helped me down low. It was really fun playing with him.
How did head coach Mark Few give you that last push in your development at Gonzaga and helped groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
Coach Few really helped me work on my strength and quickness especially in my retro year. He also helped me with my confidence letting me know I was one of the best players out there. It was an awesome opportunity and I had an amazing time at Gonzaga.
You have been teammates with one of my favorite players Philip Scrubb. What is something about him that few people know?
I have played with him a lot of times with Canada basketball. He is a great player and a lot quieter than most people would know. He is a hard worker and very humble kid.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Lebron James
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
Lebron is one of the best now and it is a very hard debate. I could sit here for hours debating who is a better player. It is an impossible question that you are asking of me.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
He is an incredible player and it is amazing to see how many triple doubles he can get. We played against him a couple of times last season. He is always moving on the court.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA?
Zach Collins was a top pick, but I think that he will make a nice role for himself in the NBA.
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
Chris Paul is the missing piece. I know they will work hard and they really want to beat the Golden State Warriors this season. They will be a tough team to beat.
How do you rate the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas trade? Who got the better deal and which team will profit better in the long run?
That was a tough and unique trade. Both teams got really good players and it will be interesting to see over the long term who got the better deal.
Where will the journey of the Oklahoma Thunder go this season with Westbrook, George and Anthony? Can they make a serious run in the west?
I have watched some of the Thunders games and it will be interesting to see how they do in the playoffs.
Thanks Kyle for the chat.