October 27, 2011

Jones, Wiltjer make cross-country trip to join Cats

There's only one city that calls itself home to two members of the Kentucky basketball team.

It's not a traditional hoops hotbed, and it's certainly no where near Lexington. In fact, it's almost 2,400 miles away from Rupp Arena. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones and freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer are both from Portland, Ore, journeying cross country to join the Wildcats.

"It is kind of strange," Wiltjer said. "You don't see a lot of west coast players coming out here, but we both chose the best program for us."

Wiltjer and Jones weren't close as they grew up, but they did know each other. They worked out together a couple of times, and their paths crossed on the court once or twice.

"I've known him since I was really young," Jones said.

Jones' Jefferson High School and Wiltjer's Jesuit High School met twice while both players were there, splitting the two meetings. Jesuit won their last meeting, 52-48 in December 2008, and Jefferson won 61-54 in December 2007. Both Wiltjer and Jones won state championships in high school as well.

Despite Jones and Wiltjer being two of the best players in the area, there was never much of a rivalry between them. They weren't measured against each other and didn't have much contact outside of basketball.

Portland has produced its share of major basketball talent in recent years. Former Duke standout Kyle Singler is from Medford, Ore., a few hours away, and NBA rebounding champion Kevin Love is from Portland. Terrence Ross, a high school teammate of Jones', was ranked as the No. 10 shooting guard in the class of 2010 and considered Kentucky before picking Washington.

When it came time for Wiltjer to choose a college, Jones was an ace up his sleeve. It was nice for him to arrive in Lexington and find a face he knew from back home. Wiltjer would have been a senior in high school when Jones and the Cats played a game at the Portland Rose Garden against the University of Portland.

Jones nearly didn't come to Kentucky after committing to Washington on TV. He eventually reversed his decision and ended up in Lexington.

As Wiltjer was getting close to making his decision, he called Jones. Then a freshman, Jones gave Wiltjer his thoughts about each of his five remaining teams. He also told him why he picked Kentucky.

"I talked to him a little bit before I committed to get an inside view," Wiltjer said.

Jones declined to say what he told Wiltjer. Whatever it was, it was enough to reunite a pair of Portland's biggest recruits in recent memory a long way from home.

"I picked (Kentucky) because of the great (recruiting) class," Wiltjer said. "Some players choose a program where you get more shots but I chose this program because I want to win and it was the best situation for me."

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