I kept thinking there was a shot, even if small.
I’m not going to try to convince you that I believed Andrew Wiggins, the top high school basketball player in the country, was going to pick KU over Kentucky, North Carolina, and Florida State. I had thought for a long time he would make the easiest decision and go to Florida State, where his parents went to school.
Still, I thought KU had a shot.
There was the weekend he visited, when KU turned senior night against Texas Tech into an extended dunk session, soaking in the crowd’s love all evening. With plenty of time to kill in a blowout, the ESPN crew kept telling the national TV audience how McLemore could be this year’s number one pick, and Wiggins could take his place in the KU lineup and be the #1 pick in next year’s draft.
There was the national writer, who had followed Wiggins closely, who Tweeted to the world how great KU campus visits are right after Wiggins was in town. He said even recruits who went to other schools raved about their time in Lawrence. Was the reserved Wiggins sending a veiled message through an intermediary?
There were the comments Wiggins made after playing with future Jayhawks <a href=’http://rivals.yahoo.com/basketballrecruiting/basketball/recruiting/player-Wayne-Selden-117207′>Wayne Selden</a> and <a href=’http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/recruiting/player-Joel-Embiid-143044′>Joel Embiid</a> in All Star games, about how they were great players and he would love to play with them.
There was his brother playing for Wichita State, which just might make picking Lawrence for his one year of college ball easier on his whole family.
There was his quiet handling of the entire recruiting process. No interviews or weekly Twitter updates. Not even a televised press conference when it came time to announce his decision.
There was the lack of hats at his announcement. KU never wins when hats are involved. <sup><a id=’ffn1′ href=’#fn1′ class=’footnote’>1</a></sup>
There was the drama at Kentucky, that seemed very opposite what Wiggins personality seemed to be.
There was the tidbit that floated around a week ago that his family was fine with him going to KU if he didn’t chose Florida State.
Always just little glimmers. But in the recruiting game, you hold on to the slightest hope. Maybe they would all add up to a player who was going against conventional wisdom.
Tuesday morning, I still thought he would pick Florida State. But there was that glimmer tickling the part of my brain where I had tucked those little notes away.
And then we got the word, Andrew Wiggins will be a Jayhawk for the 2013-14 season. There was much rejoicing, giddy texts and emails were sent, and for the second time I did a second celebratory lap of my house for a recruit. <sup><a id=’ffn2′ href=’#fn2′ class=’footnote’>2</a></sup>
This completely changes next season for KU fans. A month ago it seemed to be a classic rebuilding year, with a batch of exceptional freshmen coming in, but none who appeared good enough to single-handedly carry the team deep into March. This was a recruiting class made to stick for several years. Until Joel Embiid rocketed into the top fifteen and Wayne Selden crashed the top 20 and then Wiggins made it one of the best classes in school history. The reduced expectations of a rebuilding year are out the window. KU is back in the group of teams expected to compete for a national title in 2014. So much for watching the young pups grow and think about how good they’ll be in 2015 and 2016. The future is now. Or this coming season, at least.
As for Wiggins himself, I think all the hype about him being the best player since LeBron James is ridiculous and unfair. He’s an exceptional athlete, a skilled basketball player, and loves the pressure and responsibilities that come with being the Alpha Dog. But he’s not LeBron, a once in a lifetime talent. As freakish as Wiggins’ athletic ability is, he has more of a classic basketball player build than the tight end in basketball shorts that LeBron was when he finished high school. Wiggins can run by and jump over people, but I don’t know that he’ll be able to overpower them the way LeBron did to players his age at 18.
So he’s not going to be LeBron. He may not even put up the numbers that Kevin Durant put up during his one year at Texas. He’s still going to be really freaking good, though. He will be KU’s best player from day one, and will embrace that in a way Ben McLemore didn’t want or wasn’t able to do. He may not have the beautiful shot that McLemore had, but his overall game is better. He won’t shrink and defer when things aren’t going his way. <sup><a id=’ffn3′ href=’#fn3′ class=’footnote’>3</a></sup> He will have rough patches like Ben did, like Xavier Henry did, like Brandon Rush did, like Paul Pierce, like Danny Manning did as freshmen. But those rough patches aren’t going to get him down.
Recruiting hype doesn’t always translate into a great college player, especially in the age of One And Doners. Wiggins is it, though. He’s the best KU recruit since Danny Manning. He won’t have the same impact on the program Manning had since he’ll only be in Lawrence for one year. But he has a great opportunity to hang exactly as many national championship banners as Manning did. Which is why coaches spend so much time chasing these high school kids around.
Welcome, Andrew Wiggins.
And Rock Chalk, bitches.
<li id=’fn1′>As far as I know the first hat ceremony was when Baron Davis picked up a KU hat, pretended to put it on, then threw it on the ground and grabbed a UCLA hat. Recruits have worn KU hats when announcing they will be Jayhawks. But anytime there is a row of various hats, KU always loses. <a href=’#fn1′>↩</a></li>
<li id=’fn2′>The first came the day Paul Pierce announced he was coming to KU. <a href=’#fn2′>↩</a></li>
<li id=’fn3′>Not bad-mouthing B-Mac at all. I loved him and his year at KU. I loved his humbleness and goofiness. Just pointing out the holes in his game vs. Wiggins. <a href=’#fn3′>↩</a></li>