After Just One Game, the Andrew Wiggins Backlash Has BegunPosted by Taylor Erickson on November 12th, 2013
The power of the Internet can be a wonderful thing, providing someone with virtually unlimited information at the click of a button. But let’s be honest, it can also be quite an inconvenience at times, too (like when your Facebook picture from a party in college may have kept you from that job you really wanted). With the technology we have today, the web serves as an open book of history for anything that’s been said or written if the one speaking or writing is significant enough to have his or her voice published.
So you’re probably sitting here thinking “OK, I get it, but I came to read about college basketball, so please carry on.”
Fair enough, as I’d probably be thinking the same thing, so here’s where I’m going with this. In the last month or so, there seems to be a momentum shift in how some media in college basketball are viewing Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins. As I’m sure you’ve heard over, and over, and over again, Wiggins was built up over the better part of the last year as a guy who could be one of the better recruits we’ve seen in the last 10-plus years in college basketball. His name was thrown out there with the likes of Michael Beasley, and Kevin Durant, and even, gulp, LeBron James. Somewhere along the line, someone called him “the best recruit since LeBron” and boy did that sound bite take off like wildfire. Whether those comparisons are accurate is something we can’t all come to an agreement on, but we can all agree that when Wiggins reclassified his graduation year last October, there was no doubt that he was considered the top prep prospect in the nation. Many cited his performance in the Peach Jam in July 2012 as evidence, where Wiggins went head-to-head with fellow top Kentucky recruit Julius Randle in what is the considered the highest profile AAU event in the country. The unanimous belief after the Peach Jam was that Wiggins was the superior talent to Randle, leading to quotes like this one from former CBS writer and current ESPN staffer, Jeff Goodman.
Randle is a beast. He’s about 6-foot-8 and likely checks in at around 235 pounds or so. He’s big, strong, athletic and just flat-out dominates every forward he goes up against on the summer circuit. But not Wiggins. Wiggins made Randle look ordinary, as if he was just another Top 100 player. I will confess that I’m a huge Randle fan, but he was outclassed — in every manner.
Both Wiggins and Randle would go on to have impressive showings in their senior seasons, but neither’s performance led anyone to change their opinion on where the two stood in the 2013 class rankings. Wiggins still sat atop the rankings, followed by Duke freshman Jabari Parker and Randle.
When Wiggins committed to Kansas in May, you didn’t have to look far to find information breaking down his game and potential impact at the collegiate and pro levels. ESPN.com’s Chad Ford spoke about Wiggins’ reputation among NBA personnel, saying, “Every GM and scout in the league with whom I’ve spoken believes Wiggins would be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft if he were eligible. Every one.” After Wiggins’ commitment, CBSSports.com moved Kansas from #19 to #9 in its 2013-14 preseason poll. ESPN.com’s Jason King moved KU from #21 to #6. The point is, Wiggins was expected to have an enormous impact on college basketball this season.
Now fast forward six months from May to the present date. In that time, we’ve seen Andrew Wiggins in action in a Kansas uniform a grand total of three times. That’s two Jayhawk exhibition games against clearly inferior in-state talent, and one regular season game on Friday against Louisiana-Monroe without starting point guard Naadir Tharpe. Considering a typical basketball season is normally between 30 to 40 games, we’re working with an extremely small sample size. So my question is, why does there appear to be momentum building among some college basketball pundits that Wiggins hasn’t lived up to the hype at Kansas?
Not sure what I’m talking about? The aforementioned Jeff Goodman seems to be on a quest to be the first member of the national media to jump ship on Wiggins. Goodman attended a Kansas practice in early October and tweeted that “Wiggins was the 5th or 6th best player at Kansas’ practice.” If that’s his opinion, there’s no problem at all expressing this belief to everyone. But it hasn’t really stopped there. After Wiggins led Kansas in scoring with 16 points in a win against Louisiana-Monroe, Goodman said he spoke with an NBA scout who said there’s “no way” that Wiggins will be the top pick in next June’s draft. So the guy who many believed was one of the best talents in the last decade suddenly has no chance of being the top pick? Adding fuel to the fire, this tidbit came just a few weeks after Goodman wrote an article explaining how he would take Kentucky’s Randle with the top overall pick rather than Wiggins. For those keeping track at home, that’s the same Randle who was considered “outclassed — in every manner” by Wiggins a little more than a year ago. Even more interesting is how quickly Goodman’s opinion seems to have changed after tweeting this in regards to Wiggins’ draft stock back on May 1:
The responses from recruiting experts Eric Bossi and Justin Young are worth pointing out as well, as they indicate that even then, some very smart people in the recruiting and prospect evaluation worlds voiced caution about hyperbolizing Wiggins at such an early stage.
Another NBA scout appears to be echoing Goodman’s current sentiments, telling Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, “Until Wiggins learns how to play hard, he’s Kansas’ third-best freshman.” Maybe that speaks volumes as to how some scouts value Kansas’ other talented freshmen, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid, but to legitimately suggest that Wiggins is the third best freshman on his own team seems a little excessive. As CBSSports.com contributor Matt Norlander mentioned last week in the CBS Eye on College Basketball podcast, this situation draws similarities to that of South Carolina football player Jadeveon Clowney, who many believed would have been the top pick in last April’s NFL draft were he eligible, specifically the claim that Wiggins, like Clowney, lacks the work ethic required to thrive at the next level.
So here’s my thing. I don’t have the slightest problem at all with someone changing an opinion on a given player or team. I change my mind on these things almost daily. But I’m also not in a position where my opinion is put out there for the nation to read about on a consistent basis. If Randle has progressed to a point where he’s now a better player than Wiggins, and has earned a spot as the presumed top overall pick in the NBA draft, then so be it. And this isn’t to single out Goodman, because he’s an outstanding college basketball reporter who knows more about the sport just about anyone out there. But opinions like Goodman’s that were written after Andrew Wiggins’ dominant performances prior to his last season at Huntington Prep all culminated to a level of hype for a high school recruit that we haven’t seen since LeBron. It seemed like everyone who had a platform to express an opinion on the high school phenom was in a rush to build him up as quickly as possible, and now it seems some of those same individuals are in a rush to tear him down just as quickly. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Goodman could absolutely turn out to be ahead of the curve on this one and look like the smartest man in college basketball, but don’t you think we should actually give the kid a chance to prove himself first? He’ll certainly have a really good opportunity tonight in Chicago.