Last June, I drove over to Lawrence, Kan., to see the debut of Andrew Wiggins. He had just arrived on campus. Bill Self's annual camp game against the alumni was taking place. Everyone who could fit crammed into KU's volleyball facility to watch Wiggins.
Seconds in, he got the ball in the open court and dashed to the basket. He jumped and he kept going up and up until he was nearly eye level with the rim. It was a nice dunk. And not long after that, the video was making its way around the Internet. The superstar had arrived.
"The thing is, he's just a kid," Self told me that day. "I told him the other night, he hasn't made a basket yet and the attention that he's received is based on potential; it's not based on anything he's done. But I think he should welcome the expectations. I don't think there's any reason to run from them."
And he hasn't. But have we?
Here we are in March, and the story around Kansas is that the title hopes hinge on the (currently) bad back of Joel Embiid.
The story of the NCAA tournament could be Doug McDermott at Creighton or Jabari Parker at Duke or the next Florida Gulf Coast or the dominance of Florida, but let's not forget, it could be Wiggins.
After he was oversold in October, it feels a lot like he's undersold now because of what's gone on around him.
The Jayhawks have lost three of their last five games, and they are searching for answers right now. Searching, in particular, on the defensive end.
It's not easy to go from playing with a 7-foot goalie at the rim to trying to figure out how to guard without him. And the truth is that, eventually, Kansas needs Embiid protecting the rim to have any shot at a national title.
To get him back, supposedly, the Jayhawks need to get to the second weekend. And to get there, and then to get to Dallas, they need Wiggins to be Wiggins.
Here's the good news for Kansas: It turns out he is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Wiggins is doing things right now that no one else in college basketball can do. And I'm not talking about the made-for-YouTube alley-oops or any other dunks where he gets his head so close to the rim he could kiss it.
Lots of guys can jump. Wiggins can do so much more.
Like last Friday night against Iowa State when he spun into the lane, missed and was up above the rim tapping the ball in before anyone else had thought to jump.
Minutes later, Wiggins caught the ball on the wing, sprinted toward the basket, crossed over on the way and totally turned Iowa State's poor Dustin Hogue around. It took him three steps from the three-point line to get to the rim.
"It was kind of like a reaction move," Wiggins said later, like it wasn't anything remarkable. "He jumped to my left side, so I just figured to go right. That's my strong side anyways."
This is the progression from November to March. In November, Wiggins was processing a lot of information, trying to figure out when and where he should attack. He only attacked relentlessly when Kansas was desperate, like in a near-blowout at Florida.
Now, Wiggins is using his instincts, reacting and attacking.
In KU's last three games, he has averaged 31 points on 18.7 shots per game. He's not hunting for points. He's just realized he can get his jumper whenever he wants off the dribble. From bounce to release, no one is quicker. His shot is unblockable. And when he makes it, he's unguardable.
And when he doesn't, like Friday against Iowa State...
"The greatest players who ever played the game had games where they didn't make a lot of shots," Wiggins said. "So I never sweat that. When my shot wasn't on, I just tried to drive and that's what I did. That's where I got most my points from."
|Wiggins' Production By Month|
"He's way more aggressive," Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane said of the Wiggins he sees now and the one he saw earlier in the season. "He's talented, man. He's one of the best freshmen you'll ever see in college basketball."
That's why the Jayhawks have a chance over the next three weeks. Wiggins is one of the best freshmen we'll ever see, whether the numbers support it or not. He is a one-of-a-kind talent, still getting better every single game out.
But he's also on a team that's very vulnerable on one end of the floor where he can only do so much. He's put up great numbers for three games, and KU has lost two of them.
For us to remember Wiggins as one of the great all-time freshmen, the Jayhawks need to go on a deep run. And for that to happen, they need to start guarding. Point guard Naadir Tharpe needs to play close to mistake-free basketball. Perry Ellis needs to be aggressive. And that's just to get through the first weekend.
To win a championship, it usually takes two.
Michael Jordan couldn't win without Scottie Pippen. LeBron James couldn't win without Dwyane Wade. Carmelo Anthony couldn't win without Gerry McNamara. Anthony Davis couldn't win without Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
And Wiggins cannot win without Embiid.
He can be the story of this tournament. He just needs to get his goalie back.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.