"I will not let anyone wear No. 11 unless they are Candice Wiggins' equal, a four-time All-American," VanDerveer said.
Wiggins, the third overall pick in this year's WNBA draft, had few peers in college, and none at her position by her senior year. And on Sunday, Wiggins, wearing No. 11 as usual, will play for the Lynx in the team's WNBA regular-season opener against Detroit at Target Center.
"I'm excited," the 5-11 1/2 rookie guard said. Lynx coaches and fans should be, too, judging by the superlatives former coaches and teammates heap on Wiggins.
"You don't have enough ink and paper to print all the good things I can tell you about Candice Wiggins," VanDerveer said. "I'm coming to her first game and sitting in the front row."
Wiggins is the daughter of Angela Wiggins and the late Alan Wiggins, a former major league ballplayer. Her father died at 32 from complications of AIDS five weeks before Candice's fourth birthday.
Alan Wiggins played for the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles between 1981-87, but his career was cut short by drug problems.
Candice was scarred as a youngster, but not by her dad. Her memories of him are vague, yet she loves him and is grateful for much of what he did.
Her scar? It's a real, vintage GI Joe lookalike, running five or six inches across her upper left cheekbone.
Candice was 3, walking with several teenagers on a sidewalk in Pasadena, Calif., when a car struck her while backing up. Somehow, her blouse became tangled with something underneath the car and her face was badly cut.
"When I got to the hospital," Angela Wiggins said, "her face was all stitched up on one side. But she was mad; she had lost her tennis shoes and they had cut her outfit."
As upset as Angela Wiggins was -- "luckily [Candice] was not under a tire" -- Mom still had to laugh at her combative child.
Learning to shoot
Alan Wiggins' best season was 1984. The switch-hitting second baseman stole 70 bases and scored 106 runs as the Padres won the National League pennant.
Candice's mannerisms remind her mother and her older sister Cassandra of her dad.
"She runs like him," Cassandra said. "Her little smiles, the little fist pumps are like his. When she asks me what he was like, I say, 'Look in the mirror, you are him.'"
Alan Wiggins, who couldn't cope with the pressures of his profession, did provide for his family. He demanded a guaranteed contract from the Padres and bought a life insurance policy.
Alan put up a hoop for Cassandra and his son, Alan Jr., at the Wiggins home in Poway, a suburb of San Diego. And, when the couple's third baby came on Valentine's Day, he insisted on Candice for a name; his wife's choice was Candy.
All three children eventually played college basketball, but Candice was the best. She credits her mother for developing her shooting skills.
"My shot is not very pretty looking, but it goes in," Candice Wiggins said, "and that I attribute to my mom. Not because she taught me how to shoot -- she taught me how to keep shooting."
Starting at the age of 10, her mother would wake up Candice early in the morning before school to shoot baskets in the driveway. On cold mornings Candice would put socks on her hands. After school there was more shooting.
"I would take 500 shots a day and my little arm would get so tired," Candice Wiggins said. "It wasn't like she forced me. She would say, 'Do you really want this? Then you need to do this.'"
A legend among boys
Marlon Wells first saw Wiggins at age 11, playing against girls two and three years older. He asked her to try out for the boys' all-star team he coached.
"When I first saw her I said, 'This is unbelievable,'" said Wells, amazed at her shooting range, ball-handling and toughness.
Candice made the San Diego Rising Stars and started ahead of Gerald Dudley, now a rookie forward for the Charlotte Bobcats. Her archrival was Marcus Williams, a first-year guard for the New Jersey Nets then playing for the Southern Cal All-Stars.
At tournaments, opposing players and fans laughed at Candice before the tipoff, then would watch in disbelief as she swished three-pointers.
"Candice was a legend on the boys' circuit," Wells said. "It was like a rock show. Women would make sure to check the schedules to see Candice play. She had her own cheering section."
The Rising Stars went everywhere -- Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas -- but AAU officials barred the team from its boys' national tournaments because of Wiggins.
"We were good enough to win AAU titles, but if they were not going to let Candice play, we found another tournament, the BCI, which had all the other top teams," Wells said.
The Rising Stars won two Basketball Congress International national titles.
Success in school, too
Wiggins led La Jolla Country Day to four consecutive Division IV state high school championship games in California. The Lady Torreys won the first two finals, lost the next two, but each season Wiggins was named Player of the Year in her division.
"She was involved in every rebound, steal and assist; she never stops," Country Day coach Terri Bamford said. "There were games I asked her to score 50 points and she would get it, or to rebound and she would get them."
As a junior in high school, Wiggins attended a Stanford basketball camp. "She played all day with the campers," VanDerveer said, recalling her first look at Wiggins, "and then she played all night with the staff. I tried to tire her out, but she took it to the staff.
"The players on my team were like, 'Wow, who is she?' If [NCAA] rules would have allowed it, we would have signed her then."
So VanDerveer waited and Wiggins, whose mother always stressed academics, chose Stanford over Duke.
Wiggins, who nearly has enough credits for her communications degree, will take part in graduation ceremonies on June 15. Her mother couldn't be prouder.
"My grandmother could not read or write until she was 70," Angela Wiggins said, "which made me want to cry. She lived to 94."
Copying Pistol Pete
Late this season VanDerveer asked Wiggins to watch a movie about the late Pete Maravich, who averaged 44 points a game in his college career. VanDerveer's message: Go out there and score.
Wiggins did. She had 30 points in the Pac-10 title game, 44 points in one NCAA tournament game, 41 in another. The Cardinal (35-4) reached the national title game before falling to Tennessee 64-48.
That defeat hurt, but Wiggins was stunned to be named the winner of the Wade Trophy, an award given by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association to its player of the year. Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles were the favorites.
Now Wiggins is starting another phase in her career. She is earning $44,064 this WNBA season as one of the top four players picked in the draft. Her agent is trying to arrange a more lucrative offseason deal for her overseas. Her brother plays in France.
Lynx guard Lindsey Harding, who played with Wiggins on a U.S. national team in China recently, is convinced she will make a difference. "When she is not scoring, she is stealing the ball or pressuring someone," Harding said.
Wiggins has already made one fan ecstatic. Last Saturday, after an open practice at Target Center, Wiggins was signing autographs at a table.
A deaf, middle-age woman approached Wiggins and soon the two were communicating in sign language. The woman beamed.
"I was really bad. I have not done it since my junior year in college," said Wiggins, who took a sign language class at Stanford.
Even when Wiggins is bad, she is good.
Read more from Candice Wiggins and those who know her at startribune.com/lynx.