Framing the Andrew Wiggins Hype on the Brink of Decision DayPosted by Chris Johnson on May 13th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Top-rated prospects are not created equal. Each and every recruiting class features a different No. 1 player with a different skill set and different ceiling and varying amounts of pro potential. You get seasons like 2012, when Nerlens Noel joined Kentucky with every iteration of defensive scouting recommendation and eulogistic praise imaginable. He was a specialist, a defensive savant with a merely “developing” offensive game. Noel would turn out to be an undisputed star and – even after tearing his ACL against Florida in February – maybe the best bet to be taken No. 1 in this summer’s NBA Draft, but Noel’s hype was built more on potential, on unparalleled size-to-position athleticism, on a work ethic that would one day allow him to put everything together into a devastating offensive and defensive force of nature. Andrew Wiggins is not Nerlens Noel, or even Anthony Davis, and certainly not anything like Harrison Barnes, the freshmen preseason All-American that wasn’t, whose under-performance has spawned – and not unjustifiably so – some level of unease about the boundless expectations surrounding Wiggins’ immediate impact at the college level.
When we talk about Andrew Wiggins, we’re not just talking about a No. 1 recruit and a likely top overall NBA Draft pick. Wiggins is one of the distinguished few prospects that – according to pretty much any scout or talent evaluator or Youtube frequenter you speak to – offers not only the potential to lift a college team’s one-year baseline to new heights, but the promise of franchise-altering skills in the NBA. So, basically, think Kevin Durant, or LeBron James, or Tim Duncan. While we’re on the subject, the LeBron comparisons are not completely unfounded. A direct prep-to-pros LBJ parallel was invoked on the cover of Sports Illustrated just last year, with a glorifying cover story and headline that read, “The Best High School Basketball Player Since LeBron James Is…”, featuring a 2013 prospect whose name was not Andrew Wiggins. That illuminating SI edition was a tribute to Chicago high school star and future lottery pick Jabari Parker, written and published before Andrew Wiggins realized he was just plain clowning everyone on the high school level and best be reclassifying to expedite his passage to professional basketball. Now that headline seems sort of outdated, or factually incorrect, because a quorum has been reached: Wiggins is better than “the best basketball player since LeBron James.”
Try to wrap your head around what that layer of escalating relative description could mean for the lucky college program that lands Wiggins, which, according to Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford, will be this Tuesday afternoon. If the deadline holds true, one team and one coach will have a whole lot to celebrate — and, depending on his school of choice, the first ever recruitment-inspired late-spring national championship celebration – and a whole lot to reassess about the upcoming season. By now, you already know the drill. Wiggins’ four finalists are as follows: Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida State and Kansas. If there is a collective Wiggins inkling – or some obscurely-conceived notion reached by Twitter-dwelling fans and media – Wiggins will elect to join FSU. The Seminoles may seem like the oddest choice left on the board, like an outlier among three totally predictable blue-bloods. Competitively, sure – FSU doesn’t offer a direct path to Final Four and national championship contention like, well, just about every other school left in the discussion. It offers something else that’s often just as crucial in recruiting decisions – family ties. Wiggins’ parents were both athletes at FSU, and coach Leonard Hamilton would almost certainly allow Wiggins to have free reign – he may even let Wiggins have some say on coaching strategy and playing time allocations – just about anywhere and anytime he steps on the basketball court. Wiggins wouldn’t be a part of Florida State basketball; he would literally become Florida State basketball.
The other schools essentially recruit themselves. Kentucky has a pattern of established success with a unique one-and-done formula, a coach with the team-molding know-how to turn disparate groups of high school stars into selfless collective units and maybe the best recruiting class of all-time under his command this season. North Carolina is powder blues and Roy Williams and the the Dean Dome and Michael Jordan and historic hoops royalty. Kansas is the most boring of the three, in the sense that Bill Self and the Jayhawks have won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season crown nine years running, and the streak has proven so consistently impervious to gutting personnel departures and massive roster upheaval alike, that at the beginning of every conference season you almost begin saying to yourself, “Can’t wait to see who will take home that second place trophy!” So, yeah. There are no bad choices, only different options, and honestly, you can make a compelling argument for any which program (except, ironically enough, the one most believe Wiggins will wind up picking). The variance is a matter of degree, not type; Wiggins can’t go wrong wherever he ends up.
Recruiting build-up has never felt quite this palpable, nor can I remember an instance during the one-and-done era when any single prospect was afforded a certitude of immediate dominance, and multiple NBA all-stardom – the “tanking for Wiggins” meme is only scratching the surface of its mainstream hoops lexicon application – so unwaveringly clear as Wiggins’ future outlook. The buzz is almost insufferable. Wiggins ought to have made this decision by now, for the sake of avid college hoops wonks like yours truly, and NBA scouts waiting to chart their winter travel plans around Wiggins’ set of scheduled games.
The wait appears over.