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Continued: Andrew Wiggins: The next big thing?

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 30, 2015 - 1:07 PM

Wiggins decided to play at Kansas in large part because he would be close to his brother, who was a senior last season. Raised in a religious home, Andrew Wiggins and his siblings still get inspirational texts almost daily from their mother.

If Wiggins fell in love with the game in Greece, it was when the family moved back to suburban Toronto that the ball really got rolling. Noting his son was getting his best competition during family games in the driveway, Mitchell moved Andrew to Huntington (W.Va.) Prep to finish his high school career. By then he was already highly touted, but restrained.

In fact, Wiggins has always had an interesting combination of confidence and humility. He grew up admiring Vince Carter and in high school talked about being able to score like Kevin Durant and get to the hoop like James.

At the same time, he kept college recruiting low key. It finally came down to Florida State (where his parents met), North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas. When he chose Kansas, he first told a reporter for his high school newspaper.

“He’s the most humble great player I’ve ever seen,” said Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend, who did much of the recruiting of Wiggins. “He is not phony.’’

When Wiggins left Huntington Prep, he wrote an open letter thanking everyone from teachers to coaches to classmates to the school janitor. Townsend remembers the day Wiggins landed in Lawrence for his first summer camp to find thousands of fans waiting. He spent more than an hour signing autographs. After his last college home game, he walked out of the locker room to find thousands more fans waiting to say goodbye. For hours, he signed his name for anyone who asked.

“Those fans were four and five deep,” Townsend said. “Lined up, down the hallways. I went out to try to save him. But he said, ‘No. They waited a long time for this, I’m going to sign every one.’ ”

Still a teenager

Wiggins is making a big jump, one he might struggle with. Self knows this. When asked what the Timberwolves were getting, Self said: “An untapped athlete with a skill set that’s going to be tremendous in a short period of time. His skill set hasn’t quite caught up to his athletic ability. But when he gets more consistent, he’s going to be terrific.’’

Wiggins scored more points than any freshman in Jayhawks history. He was Big 12 Freshman of the Year, on the all-conference first team, an All-America. But there were questions.

Even Self admitted that, at least to begin with, Wiggins was too nice. Certainly too deferential to teammates. To this day the most flamboyant thing Self ever saw Wiggins do was don the gaudy suit he wore to the NBA draft.

But, pushed relentlessly by Self, Wiggins got better as the year went on. “Coach Self really, at the end of the year, brought out the dog in me,” Wiggins said in a predraft interview with ESPN. “He made me get focused.”

Said Self: “He absolutely was too nice. And he’s still too nice. Flip [Saunders] will have to get more of that dog in him. He’s just young.’’

The tools are undeniable. His quickness, lateral movement and reach make him a strong defender. Townsend says Wiggins’ second jump is the most impressive he’s ever seen. Wiggins shot 44.8 percent overall at Kansas, 34.1 percent on three-pointers, and averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Self said Wiggins needs to work on his ball-handling and passing: “As he gets better at ball-handling, he’ll get to the basket more.’’

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst George Karl is skeptical that Wiggins’ skills will catch up to his ability. “He’s in the top 10 percent of the league athletically,” Karl said. “But where are his skills?”

ESPN college analyst Jay Bilas remembers watching a game when Wiggins jumped out of bounds but got back in and to the rim in one move. “It’s like watching a cat,” Bilas said. “That’s natural ability, and it serves him well. But his ball skills have to improve. … I think he’s got a chance to be very good, an elite-level defender. The one question mark: Does he have the motor and drive to be a great player?’’

Not surprisingly, both Self and Townsend say yes.

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