Special to ZAGSBLOG
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The nation’s top-rated high school basketball player got dressed and quickly moved his feet toward the exit of Blake Arena’s basement, toward a freedom from reporters waiting anxiously for his latest thoughts on potential college suitors.
Huntington Prep (W.V.) swingman Andrew Wiggins, the top prospect for the class of 2013, exited the locker room area without fielding questions from a chunk of media members after the Express fended off pesky New Hampton School (N.H.), 55-47, at the Spalding Hoophall Classic on the campus of Springfield College Sunday evening.
Coming off a deflating 46-35 setback to La Lumiere (Ind.) on Saturday, Huntington Prep received a 19-point, 10-rebound performance from Wiggins, who was awarded the game’s MVP honors but then quickly disappeared.
“He doesn’t like talking about it,” Express coach Rob Fulford said of Wiggins, who this weekend posed with fellow All-American Jabari Parker for a future SLAM magazine cover. “The recruiting is weighing on him a little bit.”
A lack of inner peace isn’t just a curse on Wiggins; 2014 Kentucky commit Karl Towns (St. Joseph, Metuchen, N.J.) said he chose the Wildcats at the beginning of his second year of high school basketball, in large part, because of the relief.
The 6-foot-8 Wiggins is believed to hold Kentucky and Florida State as his top choices, with North Carolina and Kansas not far behind. He plans to take official visits to Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas in the spring.
The native Canadian has already taken an official visit to Florida State with his parents, former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and former Canadian Olympic track star Marita Payne-Wiggins, and they were honored at halftime of FSU’s recent loss to Florida.
“It’s tough. These schools are waiting on him and they want (answers),” Fulford said. “Deep down, I think he may know where he wants to go, but I think he hates making decisions.”
Intense pressure is something Wiggins will need to deal with, especially as a player who has been labeled one of the top prep players since LeBron James.
“We’ve played six games in the state of Kentucky and had over 35,000 people,” Fulford said. “You’re kind of sheltered in Huntington, so he’s just a normal kid. After this, though, he can’t hide.”
Wiggins, who will likely play in the McDonald’s All-American Game April 3 in Chicago and the Jordan Brand Classic April 13 in Brooklyn before the late signing period begins April 17, has been battling the flu for two weeks. His illness has transformed into bronchitis, according to Fulford. That clearly isn’t the only thing keeping him down, though.
“It’s overwhelming. He doesn’t like the attention. He doesn’t like it. His shots aren’t falling,” Fulford admitted. “His shot was much more consistent last year and his free-throw percentage is low… He’s a good kid. He really is. He’ll talk to you about anything, but once recruiting is brought up, he shuts down.”
So where does this leave the schools scrambling to get a pledge from such a highly touted star?
Kentucky would surely bolster its already-sterling incoming class, which includes Aaron and Andrew Harrison,, James Young , Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and Dakari Johnson (Montverde Academy, Fla.).
On the other hand, Florida State could be the best fit for Wiggins’ personality.
“Florida State might get two or three more ESPN games because he’d be there, but it’s a football school,” shrugged Fulford, hinting at some relief from scrutiny as a Seminole.
North Carolina may have an outside chance of getting Wiggins, perhaps because of family ties; his father is from Kinston, N.C. and still has family there.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who has missed out on Parker (Duke) and Julius Randle (uncommitted, has been into Huntington several times to see Wiggins.
Meanwhile, Kansas is slated to host Wiggins for an official visit in the spring, but according to Fulford, Jayhawks coach Bill Self “has only been in once, so I don’t know where that’s at.”
Fulford also suggested, due to Wiggins’ coy personality, the potential future NBA lottery pick will make a decision in a couple of months very quietly.
“I think he’s going to send a text message and that’s going to be it,” he said. “And he might not even do that himself. Who knows?”
Wiggins is keeping his cards close, but he can’t hide forever.
**For more stories on Andrew Wiggins, click here.
Photo: Brian Fitzsimmons