Kentucky may be the most popular choice, North Carolina the most glamorous and Florida State the most likely, but from a strictly basketball perspective, the least talked about finalist of all may make the most sense for Huntington Prep wonder boy Andrew Wiggins.
Even for a Canadian transplant, there’s no place like Kansas.
Ignoring all miscellaneous variables, the birthplace of basketball presents the most appealing collegiate checkpoint for the sport’s fastest-rising star. No, the Jayhawks can’t dangle an incoming recruiting class in the same league as Kentucky’s. They can’t pitch the Jordan factor or flaunt the FSU Golden Girls. The Big 12 heavyweight can, however, raise an acclaimed recruiting class of its own, rep the Phog Phactor and answer the Golden Girls with this.
KU may not have any one signature selling point to contend with the other three schools, but the net value of its total package is enough to win the Wiggins showcase. More than the stand-alone star power of Kentucky, cachet of North Carolina and familial comfort of Florida State, Kansas hoops has a program, better yet a culture, that unites a combination of the three.
If Wiggins desires a coach capable of producing pros through radically different courses, Rock Chalk Nation is worth a second look. In a decade-long stint in Lawrence alone, Bill Self has coached 24 pros, 18 current or former NBA players and 10 first-round picks, with several more to come this June. He has reared one-and-dones, four-year projects and everything in between. Better than any other coach in the game today, Self has maximized the individual components in his talent trove, both for short and long-term benefit.
If Wiggins values a culture of winning, Kansas, a storied program with a spate of recent success, should garner special attention. The Jayhawks have won nine consecutive Big 12 regular season titles and six of the last eight conference tournament crowns. They’ve made the NCAA tournament in each of the last 24 years — all the while without a player of Wiggins’ ilk — and have reached the Sweet 16 in six of the last seven. They invariably make Final Fours. They win national championships. Don’t forget, KU is a blueblood too.
If Wiggins fancies a strong supporting cast capable of competing for a title, don’t overlook the KU crew. Yes, Kansas must replace all five starters from a 31-win team, but the reinforcements lining up in their wake are ready to step up in true Self-ian fashion. The Jayhawks have an emerging point guard — which is critical to Wiggins — in rising junior Naadir Tharpe, plus a returning interior presence with sky-high potential (Perry Ellis) if he can ever finish at the rim. Incoming freshmen Wayne Selden and Conner Frankamp are talented imports on the perimeter and 7-foot fiend Joel Embiid, a late-bloomer, has the highest upside of any center in his class. Bruising big man Jamari Traylor will stabilize the frontcourt rotation, and the soon-to-be sophomore could be in store for a quantum leap in production with available playing time aplenty. Pundits are quick to write off KU as a national threat year-after-year, as talented stars matriculate out of the program, yet the Jayhawks remain one of the most consistent presences in the Top 10 today. The role players are already in place for next season. All Kansas needs is the centerpiece around whom to build. Paging Andrew.
If Wiggins wants to be “the guy” without forfeiting a legitimate chance to win, KU ought to be his future domain. He’d have no prominent competition for floor time or touches in Lawrence, and Self would most certainly tailor his offense to run through the Canadian hotshot. Kentucky has a cavalcade of highly-skilled freshmen competing for touches, never mind a returning sophomore (Alex Poythress) sure to bite into Wiggins’ minutes. North Carolina returns P.J. Hairston and James Michael-McAdoo, two players sure to shoulder a large percentage of the team’s shots next season. At Kansas, Wiggins would have the spotlight to himself, absent the do-or-die expectations at the other two bluebloods.
If Wiggins wants familial comfort, Kansas has him covered. His older brother Nick plays at nearby Wichita State, a two-and-a-half hour drive away.
If Wiggins covets a legacy, James Naismith’s alma Mater can offer quite an opportunity. Wiggins could be the best player (shy of Wilt) to ever suit up at the school responsible for inventing the game of basketball. How’s that for a legacy?
Each of the remaining four suitors for Andrew Wiggins has its own unique bargaining chip. The Jayhawks claim an entire stack. Kansas may not be the next stop on the Wiggins NBA expedition, but it isn’t for lack of a compelling pitch.