Can Wiggins live up to the already-explosive hype?

Posted: November 27, 2013

LAWRENCE, Kan. - The overriding impression you get after watching Andrew Wiggins play for Kansas is:

Man, that Selden kid is really good.

Wayne Selden is Wiggins' classmate, teammate and, possibly, lottery-mate come June's NBA draft. But if the Sixers hold one of the top picks, unless they trade down or subscribe to some analytic that negates perfect size and otherworldly talent, Selden won't be bound for Philly or Orlando or any of the other self-sabotaged franchises eager for the No. 1 overall pick.

Whether Wiggins flourishes or flops at Kansas this season, the anointment is done. With a 7-foot wingspan, a 44-inch vertical leap and hands the size of flippers, Wiggins, if healthy, will be looking down on the rest of the draftees. He'll be a one-and-done wonder, despite the cautionary tales being lived out by fellow Canadian Anthony Bennett and volume-shooter John Wall, both one-and-done No. 1s.

But, really, at this stage, to mention Wiggins' name next to Bennett and Wall is to compare the expectations of Andrew Luck with Sam Bradford. Bennett and Wall were the best players available at the position. Wiggins, from Ontario, is considered a generational talent; the next Le-Bron, a Kobe-in-waiting. Wiggins most admires Kevin Durant, the Thunder's franchise man, who went No. 2 in 2007.

Wiggins isn't The Next anyone. At 6-8 and a mechanical shooter, he won't score like Durant. Wiggins' first step is quick, but . . . Kobe? No. And the only thing Wiggins shares with Le-Bron is height and hype; Wiggins is 40 to 50 pounds lighter and lacks point-guard skills. He won't Magically transform a franchise from irrelevancy to contention.

But he will be asked to do so. No worries; he craves the attention, such as the notice he got when his Jayhawks beat Duke and Jabari Parker on Nov. 12 in Chicago at the Champions Classic.

"I love moments like that," Wiggins said Friday night. "Big crowds. Big-name people in the gym."

Friday lacked either; a 30-point walk over visiting Towson, Kansas' coming-of-age game for a roster rebuilt. Selden and Wiggins likely will be NBA starters this time next year, but 7-foot freshman backup center Joel Embiid, a Cameroon native who abandoned volleyball for basketball at 16, might be the most impactful future pro in Lawrence today.

Wiggins' deference to his talented teammates is a blessing - selflessness seldom is inherent in a star - and a curse, if Kansas hopes to make an NCAA title run. He scored 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first half against Towson, at which point Kansas led, 49-16.

Wiggins took only one shot (and missed) in the second half. He finished with 16 points, just shy of his season average.

"Andrew can score three baskets in a row and not run as hard the fourth time because he's thinking, 'I just scored three in a row. Let somebody else score,' " Kansas coach Bill Self said. "That's the kind of stuff we need to try and break."

Why?

"In a game where you're struggling to get baskets," Self said, "he needs to be taking 15 or 20 shots."

LeBron, Kobe and KD never had to be urged to shoot more; but then, they are flawed comparisons with Wiggins.

If a comparison must be made, the player Wiggins recalls most is willowy Pacers swingman Paul George. That is no slight.

George, the best player on the most complete team in the Eastern Conference, spent two seasons at Fresno State before being taken 10th in the 2010 draft, long after Wall and, of course, Sixers guard Evan Turner, the second pick that year.

Still, it took George - 6-8 and 210 pounds - 2 years before, at 22, he became an All-Star, which should be a perennial engagement. That should be enough in Philadelphia, or Orlando, or anywhere, really.

Wiggins can throw down dunks, sure, but he is years away from having the strength to do so in NBA traffic.

He can defend when he wants (George is a splendid defender), but Wiggins currently lacks the focus to play that hard all game. He smothered Parker down the stretch in Chicago and shut down Towson forward Jerrelle Benimon for a few minutes in the second half Friday. Both times, Wiggins has to ask permission from Self to switch onto those players.

"I think my defense is underrated," Wiggins said, laughing.

He also gave up a backdoor basket to Towson's Marcus Damas when the game was still in question.

"You see flashes of potential to be a great defender. He could be a lockdown defender, in time," Self said. "Hopefully, it's not that far away."

Self hopes it happens within the next 4 months or so, because, after that, Wiggins won't be his player anymore.

Wiggins isn't shy about his plans. He told ESPN's Jay Bilas his goal is to go No. 1. He has been the consensus pick for that spot for months now.

Wiggins was on the cover or in the guts of GQ,ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. TSN, Canada's all-sports network, is carrying all of the Kansas' games live this season. Reports have surfaced that he could receive a shoe deal worth as much as $180 million, $26 million more than Allen Iverson earned in salary in his 12 NBA seasons.

There is no reason for Wiggins to play coy. He has been such a big deal for so long now, he recently took a 10-day hiatus from press appearances. Wiggins spent 5 hours during Big 12 media day dealing with media obligations. He spent much of the fall in front of cameras and recorders for the preseason publication shows and bibles. Then came the circus in Chicago.

There was little left to say.

Wiggins might have most recognition in college, but Parker has staked the claim as the nation's best freshman in this moment; perhaps its best player, by the end of the season. Wiggins isn't looking for a Wooden Award.

"It came in the flow of the game," Wiggins said of his 16 points and seven rebounds Friday. He also made his only three-point shot. "I didn't force anything."

He did impose his will, in an unlikely category: He had four offensive rebounds. Twice, he elevated in a perfectly vertical manner and plucked the carom from a defender who had established position. Both times, the defender was gape-faced mystified as to how it happened.

"They were probably shocked. That's where playing to my strengths come in," Wiggins said, laughing again. He laughs a lot.

With differing qualifications, Wiggins laughingly has been compared to other top Kansas recruits Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. Which is absurd: Chamberlain was, at 18, already the most dominant player in the world; Manning, as a freshman, was the most complete player ever to enter college.

The only similarities among them: Each was considered an unmatched talent for whom KU was a dark-horse destination.

Wiggins' conduct during his courtships was almost arrogant. He kept four major college programs on pins and needles by refusing to interact with their recruitment of him. No return phone calls; no text message replies.

Wiggins ignored Self's welcoming message until 3 days after announcing he would attend Kansas, a decision based on big brother Nick Wiggins' a year earlier to play for nearby Wichita State.

The program most disappointed was Florida State. Wiggins' mother, Marita, was a track superstar for the Seminoles, and his father, Mitchell, was a scoring machine who managed six seasons in the NBA.

In college, Mitchell could dominate. Andrew glides with a sprinter's stride and explodes like a rocket, but he loves to play in cruise control.

"I would say running the floor hard every time," he said, when asked in what area he needs the most improvement. "Getting baseline to baseline. I know I can push the ball in transition."

Selden, at 6-5 and 230 pounds, dominates. He probably will be a more impactful pro than Wiggins for two NBA seasons or so.

That's fine. It took that many seasons for George to consistently assert himself, too. George arrived last season. Now, he can rip a team's heart out, as he did to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden last week.

George excels with help. Roy Hibbert is a game-changing center. George Hill is a fine, young point guard. Those are exactly the conditions that will exist in Philadelphia next season and beyond, when Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams begin to blossom.

They can grow together. Selden might be a man among boys now, but Wiggins can be a beast.

"We have to remember, these kids are so young," Self said. "[Wiggins'] ceiling is so high."

Occasionally, Wiggins scrapes that ceiling.

"He makes it look real easy," Towson coach Pat Skerry said. "That's why he's going to make a lot of money here, pretty quickly."

Bio box

Full name: Andrew Christian Wiggins

Born: Feb. 23, 1995, in Thornhill, Ontario

Height: 6-8 Weight: 200

High School: Huntingdon (W.Va.) Prep School, Vaughan Secondary School (first 2 years of high school) in Ontario

College: Kansas (chose Kansas over Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State, his parents’ alma mater).

Stats: Four games, 24-for-41 (58.5 percent) from the field, 4-for-10 from three, 15-for-20 (75 percent) from the foul line, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.25 steals, 16.8 points a game.

Family: Dad Mitchell played six seasons in the NBA with Bulls, Rockets and Sixers. He played in 49 games for the 1991-92 Sixers. He lost three full seasons because of suspensions for for substance abuse ... Mom Marita Payne-Wiggins was a sprinter who competed for Canada in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, taking home a silver in the 4x100 relay in 1984 and a silver in the 4x400 relay in 1988. She still holds the woman’s Canadian record in 200- and 400-meter dashes ... Brother Nick plays basketball for Wichita State and brother Mitchell Jr. plays basketball at Southeastern University ... Has three sisters, Stephanie, Angelica and Taya.

Honors: 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 National Gatorade Player of the Year (first Canadian to win the award), 2013 McDonald’s All-American, played in the 2013 Jordan Brand All-American game.

Twitter: @22wiggins


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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