RNH Exclusive: Interview with Rockets Forward Kyle Wiltjer

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Houston Rockets rookie forward Kyle Wiltjer recently joined Red Nation Hoops for an exclusive interview.

Wiltjer, who went undrafted in 2016, signed with the Rockets on a free agent contract. In 12 games with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets’ D-League affiliate, Wiltjer has posted averages of 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and is shooting a blazing 39.4% on three-point attempts. He also brought us this great moment:

You signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent. When you got the initial call from the Rockets after the draft, what was that like?
“It was a whirlwind of emotions. You’re watching the draft, hoping you get drafted, and near the end...there’s a couple of teams that wanted to pick me. My agent said the Rockets didn’t have a pick, but they wanted to sign me. It was tough because I had to go undrafted, but I was more than thrilled that Houston wanted to bring me in because we thought that their style of play with D’Antoni coming in was perfect for the way I play. We held out those last couple of picks in the draft and then signed the deal with Houston. It was a very exciting moment, but I also understood at the same time it was just the beginning and a lot more had to happen for me to actually be a Rocket.”

The Rockets’ style of play really fits your skillset. What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve taken from Coach D’Antoni?
“Just being confident in your game and doing what you do. Whatever your role is, just do it to perfection, do it to the best of your ability. He’s never going to take you out for a missed shot...you just have to be in the right spot, play hard, and you’re going to be successful in this system. So for myself, it’s just shoot your shot and shoot when you’re open.”

Obviously Coach D’Antoni has had a big influence on you thus far, but what has it been like to go down and play in Rio Grande Valley with the Vipers? What has it been like to learn from some other coaches?
“It’s been great because the play pretty much the exact same way the Rockets do. The coaching staff was actually with us during Rockets training camp, so I’m familiar with all the faces. Going down there, it’s not as hard you’d think to just go right in there. The best thing I get from going down there is staying in great shape and staying ready because when I come up, I feel like I just played in a couple of games. It keeps you ready at all times.”

Who would you say has helped you the most with transitioning to the NBA lifestyle?
“Ryan Anderson is a guy who has really helped me out a lot. He’s a guy I look up to on the court. I get to learn from some veteran guys. He and Nene are the two bigs that have...kind of taken me under their wing on and off the court. Our team is filled with guys who look out for you.”

What’s something you’d like to add to your game? What could take you to the next level in your career?
“You know, the ability to get defensive rebounds, clean up the boards. That’s something I can always work on. Being one of the guys that’s always in the right place. I think watching our group, it’s all about team defense...continuing to learn on both ends of the floor.”

You’re well-known with the RNH Crew for your bench celebrations. What would you say has been the most fun moment of the season so far?
“When we came back at Minnesota. You know, we were struggling all game. Coach says ‘Hey, if we don’t hit this next shot, we’re gonna call it.’ Then we hit a couple shots, added some life, and we ended up coming back and winning the game.”

When you guys do get down in games like that, what’s the huddle like? Who are you guys looking at to turn things around?
“The one guy that gets us all going is Coach D’Antoni. His approach and his ability to be a leader, he’s very positive and having a coach at the reigns like that who’s positive and pushes us, it’s a nice balance. And obviously James [Harden] is a guy that always gets us going. I just try to be as positive as possible and get the guys going however I can.”

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