When I saw Bill Self at the Final Four in Atlanta, I speculated that it was down to Florida State and Kentucky for the top player in the Class of 2013, Andrew Wiggins.
"We're still in it," the Kansas coach replied.
That was all Self could say, by NCAA rules, but he said enough. The confidence in his voice was not just false bravado. He believed the Jayhawks had a good chance at landing the 6-foot-7 wing player from Toronto by way of Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.
And Tuesday they did.
[Related: Andrew Wiggins decides on Kansas]
everyone fixated on Florida State (where his parents went) and Kentucky (where seemingly every prep All-American goes), the more those around him started to wonder if he'd wind up at North Carolina or Kansas.From what we know of the publicity-shy Wiggins, this was a classic move. He zigged when most people expected him to zag. (No, not to Gonzaga, which has several other Canadian imports.) The more
By Monday, word on the hoops grapevine was that Kansas looked like the choice. By Tuesday morning, when Kentucky coach John Calipari started tweeting about his team's grade-point average, it appeared certain the Wildcats were out. But nobody on the outside was certain what Wiggins would do until the news was broadcast to the Twittersphere, courtesy of Huntington Herald-Dispatch writer Grant Traylor – the only reporter invited to the school.
By modern standards, this was a shockingly publicity-free recruitment. Wiggins all but went underground, and those close to him persuasively claimed not to know anything. So it was hard for the recruiting media (a 21st-century phenomenon in its own right) to know where Wiggins was leaning.
[Related: Twitter reaction to Andrew Wiggins' decision]
If Kansas was making up ground on the perceived leaders in the late going, nobody knew it. But Self might be the second-best recruiter out there, behind Calipari, and in the end he landed another superstar prospect.
With Wiggins, Kansas rockets from in danger of finally being dethroned atop the Big 12 to odds-on favorites to win its 10th straight conference title. And the Jayhawks have inserted themselves into the national title conversation along the way.
Under Self, they are amazingly recession-proof – no deviations from title contention, no sudden dips into the NIT, no chemistry experiments gone awry. There have been some memorable NCAA tournament busts, but no program has been more consistently good over the last decade.
After losing all five starters from the 31-6 team of 2012-13, this will be a frighteningly young bunch. But there will be talent: In addition to Wiggins, Self has signed highly touted recruits Joel Embiid (center), Wayne Selden (wing), Conner Frankamp (point guard) and Brannen Greene (shooting guard). And one of the best coaches in the country at developing players has talented bench players Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Naadir Thorpe and Andrew White to blend with the freshmen.
So it's a great day for Kansas, and a great day for Wiggins, as well. It's entirely his decision, of course, but he seems to have chosen wisely for the nine months he's expected to spend in college.
With the roster glut at Kentucky, playing time and shot attempts would have been limited. At Florida State, the burden of being The Man would have been immense. At Kansas, Wiggins can still be The Man but have the insulation of talented teammates, a media-savvy coach and a blueblood program that quite frankly can shelter an introvert as much as it wants without appreciable backlash.
So now the question becomes whether Wiggins can live up to the mountainous hype.
It's a lot to ask, and there isn't any time these days for bringing a player along slowly. Wiggins will almost certainly have declared for the NBA draft by this time next year, so he must step right in and perform immediately.
The 2012-13 season was a comeback year for experienced players, and defending national champion Louisville brings back another deep cast of older guys. But nobody has forgotten the impact made by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at Kentucky in 2012, and expectations will be along those lines for Wiggins.
How he handles the burden remains to be seen. But Kansas will welcome that burden and everything else that comes along with Andrew Wiggins when he arrives in Lawrence. After many people were counting him out, Bill Self got his man yet again.
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