Andrew Wiggins, with his mother Marita Payne-Wiggins (L) and his father Mitchell (R), at the 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year awards.
Bright lights are nothing new for Andrew Wiggins. The precocious kid out of Canada has been dealing with them for more than a year now, ever since he exploded onto the prep basketball scene.
And boy, has he blown up.
The Toronto native, who spent his last two years at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, has just about swept his way through the annual honors circuit, including the Gatorade Player of the Year awards. Wiggins was in Hollywood to receive his hardware as the national Male High School Athlete of the Year—arguably the most prestigious distinction in high school sports.
But this is just the beginning for Wiggins. He's already been touted as the next big thing in basketball, with nearly every draftnik pegging him as the No. 1 pick in what's expected to be a 2014 NBA draft loaded with All-Star-caliber talent.
And, at 6'7" and 200 pounds—with a tireless work ethic, a diverse skill set, a hunger on the defensive end and athleticism on a level rarely seen—it's easy to see why.
Before taking off for his mandatory year at Kansas, Wiggins spent a few minutes with Bleacher Report to break down his game, his expectations, how he handles the hype and more.
Andrew Wiggins had collected plenty of accolades prior to his arrival in Los Angeles. He'd already been named a McDonald's All-American, the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball USA for 2013.
Luckily, there is room on his grandmother's mantle back in Canada for at least one more shiny object.
The recognition isn't without its downside, though. Being the best high school player in the country means handling tremendous pressure to perform at a young age. In Wiggins' case, faith and family have been instrumental in keeping him humble and level-headed under circumstances that are trying for anyone at any age, much less for a teenager.
During a recent appearance on The Mason & Ireland Show on ESPN LA 710 radio, Steve Nash, a two-time NBA MVP and the current general manager for Canada's senior men's basketball team, spoke highly of Wiggins, as conveyed by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
He’s still a thin, 18-year-old kid, but he’s 6-7 with long arms and can run and jump and really move incredibly well. He’s got a 44-inch vertical or something and he’s coordinated and can defend, block shots, run the floor and he’s a perimeter player. As far as his athleticism, he’s way up there at the top one or two percent. He’s a pretty good basketball player too.
Nash even went so far as to compare the kid to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James:
The big thing with Andrew is to continue to develop and work and work and work and develop his skills, follow guys like Kobe and LeBron who have tremendous athleticism but continue to work and develop. If he does that, he can play in as many All-Star games as he wants.
High praise, indeed, though Wiggins seems to take it in stride—or, at least, as well as any 18-year-old can.
As big a name as Andrew Wiggins already is, he remains something of a mystery to much of the hoops-watching public as far as his actual skills are concerned.
Sure, his YouTube highlights serve as a decent and thoroughly entertaining introduction to his prodigious talents, but his game goes far beyond jacking up threes and flying in for dunks likes most kids on the AAU circuit these days.
So, naturally, I asked him to give a scouting report on himself.
Andrew Wiggins may well be the first player off the board in the 2014 NBA draft, but he won't be the first Canadian to earn that distinction. That was Anthony Bennett. The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world with their selection of the Toronto-born baller at the top of this year's crop.
Wiggins, though, wasn't at all put off by being one-upped by his fellow countryman. If anything, he was excited to see another Canadian—who went to prep school in the States and whose mother also hailed from the Caribbean—pave the way on draft day.
But before Andrew Wiggins can hope to follow in Anthony Bennett's footsteps, he'll have to spend at least a year under the tutelage of Bill Self at Kansas. The Jayhawks have a long and storied history of sending special players to the pros, from Wilt Chamberlain and Paul Pierce to Mario Chalmers and Ben McLemore, the No. 7 pick in this year's draft.
Wiggins, though, has the requisite gifts to raise the bar for KU products in modern basketball to a different level. He hopes to Rock, Chalk and Jayhawk his way to a national championship as a freshman prior to his arrival in the NBA.
Once Andrew makes it to the NBA, he'll have to go toe-to-toe with the best players on the planet before he can claim to have lived up to the hype.
And not just the ones who are already there, either. Granted, his stiffest tests from the outset will be administered by the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
But there will be no rest for the weary even after those guys are gone. Wiggins will likely be beating down the door to the NBA with a slew of superstar prospects right behind him, including Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and the Harrison twins.
Not to mention all the other standouts from the high school class of 2013 or 2014, for that matter.
Clearly, the future is bright for pro basketball—and brighter still with Andrew Wiggins charging toward the NBA.
Even if the lights themselves give him headaches from time to time.