He is only 19 years old, but already the new face of the Timberwolves franchise possesses his own personal assistant, a $12 million-plus shoe contract before he ever signed to play in the NBA and, judging by the enthusiastic welcome he received last week at the Minnesota State Fair, quite a following.
A child of the YouTube age, Andrew Wiggins arrives in Minnesota just as Kevin Love leaves. His fame, generated since age 13 by highlight-reel dunks archived from AAU jamborees, prep games and one collegiate season at Kansas, precedes him.
Wiggins hasn’t played a single game or even practiced yet, but his first week in Minnesota suggests the No. 1 pick in June’s long-awaited NBA draft is about to become the public pulse for an organization that has reframed its future by trading away a superstar.
Wiggins flashed an easy smile and mostly seemed to be a young man of few words, whether he was socializing with corporate partners and big-spending season-ticket members at an exclusive downtown Minneapolis rooftop reception, leading the way for the four newest Wolves at a very public news conference on the fairgrounds or donning sunglasses in unity with a patient at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital.
“I don’t think I’m quiet,” he said. “People say that about me. I just speak when I want to, when I choose to speak. I think I grew out of my shell a while ago.”
That will happen organically when you’ve been something of an Internet sensation — discovered by a worldwide basketball audience coming out of Canada, of all places — since you were in middle school.
Go to YouTube and you’ll find a 39-second snippet of him — entitled “Best 13 Year Old in the Nation” — that has been viewed 4.7 million times.
While there, you’ll also find footage of him playing with a North Carolina prep school at Augsburg College before about 1,500 fans in a December 2009 holiday prep tournament against Hopkins and Henry Sibley high schools.
He stood 6-6 as an eighth-grader then and clearly was the star of a show well before anyone commonly called the Toronto-born-and-raised prospect “Maple Jordan.”
“He was the best eighth-grader I’d ever seen,” said then-Henry Sibley coach Tom Dasovich, who is now at Minnetonka. “I remember specifically thinking that must have been something like how LeBron James looked as an eighth-grader.”
Parental role models
Nearly all grown up five years later, Wiggins walked the State Fairgrounds last week accompanied by a security detail that included a handful of police officers and dozens of fans — mostly young ones — who followed behind while anyone in the group’s path wondered what all the commotion was about.
One teenage fan wore a Kevin Love jersey he had transformed with black marker and duct tape from 42 to a No. 22 Wiggins jersey.
The shuffling entourage stopped only when Wiggins did, pausing to watch him ride the midway’s spinning “Tornado” with his three sisters or lose his first shooting contest as a Timberwolf, by way of water pistol at the shooting gallery.
Those who approached seeking a hands-on experience or photo opportunity instead were handed by Wiggins a trading card, one of 1,000 printed by the team for its newest players in advance. Wiggins signed 250 of them the night before, all of those cards long gone by the time he left the State Fair after he rode down the giant slide, ate stuff on a stick and made that midway side trip among the masses.
“That’s my life,” he said simply the next day, downplaying the crowd he often attracts. “People like to be around me.”
The son of a former NBA player and a two-time Olympic-sprint silver medalist, Wiggins received from parents Mitchell and Marita Payne-Wiggins the genetics that have made him a prospect talked about for years and worthy of centerpiece status in a trade for a three-time All-Star: At 6-8, he possesses a 7-foot wingspan and a startling 44-inch vertical leap that might only be third best on his own team (possibly surpassed by Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III).
From his parents, he also received plenty of preparation about how to live life illuminated by the bright stage lights.