On May 18, four days after a certain Ontario boy signed with Kansas, coach Bill Self attended his daughter Lauren's graduation from KU's school of education. The ceremony was held in Allen Fieldhouse, and the dean, Rick Ginsberg, had asked the 2013 grads to submit, on index cards, their most embarrassing moments and greatest regrets. Among the statements he mentioned was, "Not being around to see Andrew Wiggins play for the Jayhawks."
Dang! Self thought when he heard that. Even if it might be a joke ... even though the 18-year-old from Thornhill, outside Toronto, who had played for Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, was the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013 ... and even though he's the likely No. 1 pick in the '14 NBA draft. This is commencement! And the kid hasn't even made a basket!
On June 15 the 6'8", 200-pound Wiggins emerged from a gate at Kansas City International Airport to find 15 fans waiting for his autograph. His itinerary had been posted on a message board. One 21-year-old journalism major at Southeast Missouri State had a blue KU jersey with the number 22-even before Wiggins had received his own-because it was available to purchase in multiple stores in Lawrence. Four days later, when Wiggins made his first semipublic basket at KU, a soaring, fast-break dunk just a few seconds into a scrimmage in front of grade-school-aged campers, the play was on YouTube within hours and blogged about extensively.
...Wiggins has a 44-inch vertical; his one- or two-dribble moves to the rim (often with a spin) are more explosive than those of many small forwards in the NBA, and he has the tools to be a lockdown defender. Kansas video coordinator Jeff Forbes has Wiggins studying Durant's scoring possessions. He says that while Wiggins is soft-spoken, "he picks up things really fast. He immediately noticed how fluid Durant's footwork was coming off screens and how he reads defenses." But holding Wiggins to a Durant-at-Texas standard is unwise due to the kid's tendency to coast. During a recent workout Self had to yell, "Come on, Wiggs! Let's see if you're the best player on the floor!" because he spent 20 minutes blending in. Self had told Wiggins when he arrived in June that although he had yet to earn anything, "if you handle this right, you could potentially have everything you ever dreamed of and go down as one of the most loved athletes to ever come through this university."
...Around the time Wiggins reclassified from a junior to a senior, in October 2012, it was widely assumed that he was going to either Florida State or Kentucky. The truth? "I was wide open," Wiggins says, "but no one else was recruiting me."
...Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend happened to be in Huntington on the day Wiggins officially reclassified and told him that the Jayhawks-who were likely to lose most of their lineup, including star freshman scorer Ben McLemore-wanted in on the hunt. Wiggins said he didn't know much about Kansas but would consider visiting. Townsend had to cling to this small indication of interest.
...The Wigginses told KU coaches that cellphone messages would get listened to, but that didn't ease their nerves. Self left Andrew one voicemail that said, "Hey, big fella, I know you don't want to deal with this, but it's getting down to crunch time, and if we're in the game at all, throw me a bone. If we're not in the game, just tell me."
They were in the game enough to earn Wiggins's fourth and final campus visit, after Florida State (which shrewdly secured the first one, in December, by honoring Mitchell's and Marita's careers in a halftime video presentation), Kentucky and North Carolina. The Jayhawks hosted Wiggins on March 4, arranging for Marita to meet famed track coach Stanley Redwine, selling the school's own hoops history, and arguing that they had the best personnel and system to showcase Wiggins.
The Wigginses sat behind KU's bench for a 79-42 blowout of Texas Tech, and it was no coincidence that the game plan was heavy on ball screens and lobs, with point guard Elijah Johnson throwing six alley-oops in the first half. Says Self, "We did the things that gave us the best chance to win and were along the lines of what the family would like to see."
...Self called Fulford on May 14, the day of Wiggins's announcement (and the 58th anniversary of Chamberlain's), to ask if he knew anything. Fulford was still in the dark, but said, "If what he's wearing"-Adidas shoes-"is any indication, you're in good shape." Townsend said that morning that he had a hunch they were going to get Wiggins, but Self was wary due to their lack of intel from anyone on the inside. He texted Wiggins to say, "Enjoy this, you've earned it," and was buoyed by getting "Thanks" as a response. As Townsend recalls, "Coach was all happy, like, He texted me!"
Even Wiggins's parents didn't know his decision until they arrived in Huntington the night before the announcement. His older brother Nick, a guard at Wichita State, didn't know either, but he had been hoping Andrew would choose KU, which would place him about 150 miles away.
...As they celebrated in their offices in Lawrence, Self texted Wiggins and his parents to tell them how excited everyone was, and that he couldn't wait to talk to them.
Self didn't hear from Wiggins for three days. "He was like, Coach, man, I've been busy, I've got a lot going on at high school. But I could tell he was happy."
Sports Illustrated (Sub required)