HOUSTON—Before there was Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow masquerading as power forwards to give Duke an extra perimeter player on the floor, there was Ryan Kelly, the White Raven.
A real power forward, the 6-foot-11, Kelly poured in 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per night and shot 41.4 percent from long range between his junior and senior seasons. Kelly gave Duke a dimension that made every team that faced the Blue Devils during those years fret about which defense could take away Kelly's specific set of skills.
And now Duke is facing the very problem that bedeviled opponents for years, only worse.
Enter Kyle Wiltjer, the 22-year-old Kentucky transfer and recent recipient of the WCC Newcomer of the Year Award. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Wiltjer is every bit a power forward as he is a marksman from 3-point range, where he shoots 46.9 percent.
"He reminds me of Ryan Kelly," senior Quinn Cook said. "We played [Wiltjer] when he was at Kentucky two years ago, and they have very similar games."
In that game, Wiltjer stayed in the shadows, scoring just five points to go along with three boards and four assists. But he's not in the shadows anymore. The Portland, Ore., native leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 16.8 points per game and is behind only Domantas Sabonis in rebounding with 6.2 per contest.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski agreed with his captain's analysis of Wiltjer. Krzyzewski noted that Kelly was "the best player in our league" before a foot injury limited him through the end of his senior season. Wiltjer's ability to stretch the defense and also bang bodies inside is exactly the same skills that made Kelly so great two seasons ago.
Although Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Jr. and Byron Wesley all pose a threat in the backcourt and Przemek Karnowski is a force in the paint, it's Ryan Kelly 2.0, Kyle Wiltjer, who will be the biggest concern for the Blue Devils Sunday evening as the team attempts to earn a trip to the Final Four in Indianapolis next weekend.
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