Basketball: Bears lose Wiltjer to Kentucky

A tough recruiting setback for the Golden Bears on Saturday afternoon when Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-9, 225-pound power forward with superb shooting and passing skills, chose Kentucky over Cal and Wake Forest.

Mike Montgomery and his staff have been courting Wiltjer, a senior at Jesuit HS in Portland, for well over a year. He is the big man they hoped to add to the strong class of perimeter players who begin their freshmen seasons this year.

And he is going to Lexington, where he isn’t even the top power forward in the Wildcats’ 2011 class. That distinction belongs to Chicago prep Anthony Davis, rated the No. 1 overall prospect in the country by Scout.com.

Wiltjer announced his plans — this is an oral commitment and does not become binding until the November signing period — at halftime of the Boost Mobile Elite 24 all-star game, played on outdoor courts at Venice Beach and televised by ESPNU.

Wiltjer told ESPN he chose the Wildcats because they provide the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity to prep himself for the NBA. Coach John Calipari, who had four freshmen drafted this past June, already had corraled a 2011 class that features the No. 1 point guard (Marquis Teague), No. 1 small forward (Michael Gilchrist) and No. 1 power forward (Davis) in the class, according to Scout.com.

Wiltjer is rated the No. 5 PF and No. 19 prospect overall by Scout.com. Rivals.com has him as the No. 4 PF and No. 25 overall. He showed he can hang with the best on Saturday when he scored 20 points and was named his team’s co-MVP in a 131-128 all-star victory.

The Bears courted Wiltjer effectively, earning praise from his parents, Greg and Carol, on two occasions that I’ve talked with them. His mother this evening said, “Coach Montgomery is phenomenal. He’s been so legit from Day 1 with us.”

The family made an unofficial campus visit to Berkeley during the football season a year ago, and Monty had to believe he had a great shot here.

Wiltjer has never stepped foot on the Kentucky campus, but his mother told me he made up his mind after attending a nine-day Christian service camp, where he left basketball and recruiting behind after a busy July traveling with the Oakland Soldiers and had the chance to think things through. He returned home and announced to his parents he wanted to attend Kentucky.

Carol Wiltjer told me that she and her husband initially counseled him to slow down and let this play out over time — I sense they would have been delighted had their son picked Cal, although neither said that to me. He came back to them with an emphatic declaration that this is what he wants and they need to believe in his choice.

“I don’t want to take the easy route. I want to be challenged,” he told them.

In the final analysis, Carol Wiltjer said, mom and dad signed on with Kyle’s choice. “It’s his decision,” she said.

But a hard one for Montgomery and his staff to swallow.

Jeff Faraudo