Kyle Wiltjer: Hooping Abroad
For most college basketball players, the dream is to play basketball at the professional level. While there’s may rungs on the ladder that is professional basketball, more often than not, folks associate the NBA with “going pro”. For Kyle Wiltjer, his professional career began at the NBA, but has since taken him to Greece and the Euro League.
“At the time I went to Greece, I was waiting to get a call to the Raptors G-League team. But, Olympiacos came out and offered me a good opportunity with a lot of money. And, Euro League is arguably the 2ndbest professional league in the world, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity.”
Before his time at the professional level, Wiltjer gained college experience at the University of Kentucky under John Calipari before transferring to Gonzaga.
“Getting to play for Coach Calipari was amazing. Obviously, he’s one of the best college coaches in the game. When I got to go there my freshman year, we had such an unbelievable team. And we won the championship that year, so it’s a memory I’ll never forget.”
Soon after winning a National Championship, Wiltjer transferred from Kentucky to Gonzaga.
“I decided to go to Gonzaga because of the opportunity. I played Canada basketball with Kelly Olynyk and saw the transformation he had after redshirting a year. The way their system (Gonzaga’s) was built really suited my game, and I knew I’d get a lot of playing time.”
After enjoying several successful seasons at Gonzaga, Wiltjer made the decision to go pro. After going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, Wiltjer was signed by the Houston Rockets.
“Getting to be on an NBA team’s roster was a dream come true. It’s one of those moments that was definitely surreal, especially because I went through camp and had to work for it. When I got that phone call, I didn’t even know if I’d make that roster. That definitely made the moment even sweeter.”
After playing 14 regular season games with the Rockets during the 2016-2017 season, Wiltjer was signed by the Raptors for the 2017-2018 season. This move was short lived as he signed in Greece with Olympiacos soon thereafter.
“When I first got to Greece, there’s little things that are definitely a change of pace from the United States. To be honest, it wasn’t too bad for me. Where I’m at (Athens), things are very Americanized and there’s a lot of English spoken.”
On the basketball front, Wiltjer has enjoyed his stint in Greece thus far, especially enjoying the enthusiasm of the Greek basketball fans.
“The fans are crazy over here (Greece). They comment on all your Instagram and social media posts, they have so much passion for basketball over here and it’s pretty amazing.”
While Wiltjer has by and large enjoyed his time in Greece, he acknowledges that the European game is different from the NBA.
“The European game is much different from the NBA. It’s very physical and reffed a bit differently in terms of where you can put your hands and what you can do. And if you hit the ball out of the rim it’s not goaltending. There’s just little things like that which take some getting used to.”
In terms of his own game, Wiltjer still has aspirations of returning to the NBA at some point down the line. “I definitely see myself trying to get back. I’m going to finish out my season over here and then try to get myself on a Summer League team and see where that takes me.”