For Andrew Wiggins, the response was to be expected. In the middle of his first NBA season, with the Rookie of the Year award waiting at the end of this road, Wiggins has been as quiet off the court as he has been impressive on it.
So, asked what it would be like to be going home, he just smiled as if to say, “If you only knew.”
What he said was: “This is my first time playing back home, in my first NBA season. So it should be exciting.”
When the Wolves play the Raptors in Toronto Wednesday night, it will be more than just a homecoming for Wiggins, who grew up in a Toronto suburb. He’ll be returning to his home country. And Canada has been waiting for this.
Wiggins is the face of Canada’s burgeoning basketball scene. Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian to go first overall in the draft in 2013. But Wiggins, who followed suit last summer, has had far more success on the court than Bennett, his Wolves teammate who will not play Wednesday because of injury.
So when Wiggins takes the court at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday night, it will be more than exciting.
“I think it will be a big, big deal,” Wolves assistant Sam Mitchell said. He was head coach of the Raptors from 2004-08, winning coach of the year honors after the 2006-07 season. Mitchell, who will coach the Wolves Wednesday with Flip Saunders in Ohio with his ailing father, was in Toronto as the basketball groundswell was beginning. He knows how important Wiggins is in Canada.
“You’re talking about the prodigal son,” Mitchell said. “He’s gotten so much hype. Things have changed there. Basketball has grown so fast. Oh, yeah. This is going to be big.”
Ever since Wiggins came to Minnesota in the summer trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland, members of the Canadian media have made their way south to cover Wiggins.
The Toronto Globe and Mail sent reporters, as has Sportsnet and TSN, which traveled to be at Wiggins’ first regular-season game in Memphis. Earlier this month Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, in a speech at the Canadian Basketball Speakers Forum, vowed there would be a Canadian on the Raptors roster during his tenure, then hinted the player he likes most is Wiggins.
Both Wiggins and Bennett have purchased at least 50 tickets for this game.
“Every player has to go through that in their home cities,” Saunders said after Monday’s game. “The biggest pain in the butt is the tickets, trying to make sure you have all your tickets. It’s that, more so, than the crowd or anything else.”
Mitchell said he expects a huge ovation when Wiggins is announced in the starting lineup.
Wiggins, of course, tried to downplay the idea of his being a symbol of Canadian basketball. “I would say I’m more of a new face,” he said. “I’m the most recent one to be drafted. But there were people before me.”
Wiggins admits he has been looking forward to this for a while. “But, once I get on the floor, it’s just basketball for me,” he said.
Saunders and Wiggins agree the forward is going to Toronto with the fabled rookie wall looming. Before Monday’s game Saunders talked about how Wiggins has been trying to battle fatigue.
“You just have to grind through it,” Wiggins said after the game. “You try to go on the court and do what you love.”
Still, Saunders and his staff have challenged Wiggins to take his game to a new level.
“We’re trying to get him to just play,” Saunders said. Wiggins started the season acclimating himself to the league. When injuries pushed him to the forefront, Saunders called a lot of plays for Wiggins to get him the ball in places on the court he was most comfortable.
Now, the next step: “I said I’m not going to do that,” Saunders said after Monday’s game. “These last 20 games, you have to learn how to play. You have to generate your own offense, generate your own opportunities. That’s his next step. He has to find a way to get to his areas on his own.”
Wednesday, he’ll be doing it in his home area.
“As soon as the season started I checked to see when we’d play in Toronto,” Wiggins said. “That’s my home.”