If you’ve ever met or spoken with Andrew Wiggins, you know that he’s a soft-spoken humble kid not given to brash behavior, or anything resembling aggression.
One of the few times I’ve heard him come remotely close to being brash was after he and his CIA Bounce AAU team beat Julius Randle and his Team Texas Titans at the Peach Jam in the summer of 2012.
This was when Jabari Parker had just been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Wiggins had missed out on a chance to face Parker’s Mac Irvin Fire squad because Parker was absent from the event with a foot injury.
Instead, a Who’s Who of coaches including Kentucky’s John Calipari and Kansas’ Bill Self watched in a jam-packed gym as Wiggins went off for 28 points and 13 rebounds in an 81-80 OT win over Randle and company.
Speaking quietly outside his team’s locker room after the game, Wiggins was asked if he had made a statement about who the best player in high school basketball is.
“Everyone has different opinions. If they think I’m better, then that’s their opinion. I think I’m the best,” Wiggins said.
He added: “I’ll put myself before anyone.”
I bring this story up now because Wiggins seemed to flash that same assertive, aggressive style in the second half Tuesday night in a game No. 13 Kansas lost at No. 19 Florida, 67-61.
The 6-foot-8 Canadian broke out for personal-bests in points (26), rebounds (11), three-pointers (4), free throws (8-for-8), blocks (2) and minutes (37).
He flashed tremendous athleticism in transition — his hallmark — but also proved critics wrong by hitting several big shots from the arc as Kansas made a late run after struggling all night with the Gators’ 1-3-1 zone.
The rest of the Kansas starters managed just 23 combined points.
“I think that this loss is on everybody,” Wiggins said, typically preferring not to focus on his individual achievements. “We are young, we start four freshmen. No one on the team takes all of the pressure or negativity. We win together and we lose together.”
Still, Self, who beat out Calipari and others in the Wiggins Sweepstakes last spring, revealed he was pleased with Wiggins’ fresh bout of assertiveness.
“What Andrew did, he competed,” the coach said. “He scored points, but he got 11 rebounds and we’ve been on his butt about doing that. He made shots, but even some of the shots that he made… I’m glad he made them and all that, but that’s not what I’m glad he did. I thought he was more aggressive and competed more. Against the zone that (Florida) did, he didn’t have many opportunities for big stretches of game, so for him to turn it on when they went, man, I thought that was good.”
Wiggins is a star among stars.
It’s not in his nature to want to dominate a game single-handledly. Especially now that he’s with a new group of teammates and is trying to fit in.
He’s certainly not putting himself before anyone.
It’s an inherently contradictory situation.
He wants to make his teammates better, and indeed most of them can play better than they did against Florida.
But at times, he will need to take over for Kansas to achieve the success they envision.
“He’s got to impose his will on the game in the first half and not settle,” ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg said on TV.
A veteran NBA scout echoed those sentiments to SNY.tv
“He will have to be monitored because the great ones do not have to be pushed by the coaching staff to be assertive,” the scout said. “They are usually aggressive and assertive at the offensive end of the floor.”
In all likelihood, Wiggins will end up being the No. 1 overall pick next June because he is perceived to have the biggest upside — although Duke’s Parker, Kentucky’s Randle and Wiggins’ Kansas teammate Joel Embiid are all possibilities, too.
But it is interesting that NBA personnel want to see Wiggins show that killer instinct all the time — not just in the second half of games his team is losing.
With Kansas now having lost three games by early December, and more tough tests coming up, it may increasingly be time for Wiggins to show people what he said that night at the Peach Jam.
That he thinks he’s the best.
**For more stories on Andrew Wiggins, click here.