20 Questions: Can Andrew Wiggins Possibly Live Up to the Hype?Posted by Chris Johnson on October 14th, 2013
Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season.
The spotlight Andrew Wiggins will face over the next six months will be unlike anything any college basketball player has ever experienced. Not only is Wiggins being hyped as the best college player since Kevin Durant, he is doing so in an age where a powerful combination of social and online media has – before Wiggins ever plays a single minute of college basketball – catapulted the already insane expectations about his first season to stratospheric heights. Wiggins is, by all accounts, an exceptional talent. Scouts rave about his athleticism, versatility and defensive potential. They see the most physically gifted high school basketball player since LeBron James. And over the next six months, maybe Wiggins will prove to be everything smart basketball people think he can be: a generational, franchise-altering, cant-miss superstar.
Or maybe he won’t. The expectations are already so high, it’s almost impossible to think he can be what everyone expects. Early reports out of Kansas are that Wiggins may not even be the best player on his own team right now. Drawing conclusions from preseason practice is silly; Wiggins should, and probably will, be Kansas’ best player in 2013-14. That title carries its own set of expectations: Can Wiggins extend the Jayhawks’ nine-year conference championship streak? Will coach Bill Self be able to use Wiggins to help elevate a team replacing five starters deep into March? More challenging is how other teams and players will view Wiggins. Every time Wiggins takes the floor, the guys lining up on the other side of the court will have one goal in mind: stop Andrew Wiggins. It’s inevitable; everyone will want a piece of the “next LeBron,” will want to guard him, to shut him down, to dunk on him, to jeer him every time he touches the ball. It will become something like its own game-within-the-game: Everyone will be coming after Andrew Wiggins.
Maybe Wiggins won’t let that stuff get to him. He may be so talented, that any and all trash talk and hard fouls will simply motivate him, inspire him to take his game to another level. But as the college basketball season rolls into March, and Wiggins has spent four months taking elbows to the ribs and trying to block out verbal abuse, it’s fair to wonder whether he will be able to handle the pressure of being some team’s (or some player’s) target every night. Wiggins is being asked to live up to an impossibly high standard, the superlatives lofty and far-reaching: the surefire No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, the best player in one of the best recruiting classes of all-time, a candidate for National Player of the Year awards.
With all the praise being heaped upon Wiggins — he recently became the first Big 12 freshman to earn preseason all-conference honors; even GQ is hopping on the bandwagon — it’s easy to forget that he’s just a freshman. Sometimes freshmen don’t live up to the hype right away. Sometimes they need time to adjust, playing time to settle into the group of players around them. Not everyone can be Kevin Durant (some super-hyped prospects are closer to Austin Rivers in their first seasons). Perhaps Wiggins will need an adjustment period, some time to get comfortable with the compacted pressure of playing at the bluest of blue-blood programs – on top of the immense individual pressure he will be under the moment he plays his first game with the Jayhawks. Anything Wiggins does this season will be viewed through a warped prism of unreasonable expectations, and that’s the biggest reason why he won’t be able to live up to the hype. Wiggins has, through social media and high school highlights and scouting reports, been built into some otherworldly, indescribable, awe-inspiring basketball force, something vaguely mythical, like one of those “Monstars” from “Space Jam.” And if he turns out to be anything less than what we’re expecting – if he’s merely good, but not breathtakingly dominant – we are bound to be disappointed. That is why Wiggins will fall short of expectations – because his expectations are almost impossible to define.