LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins made official Monday what he’s been telling folks all along: He’s headed to the NBA after his only season with the Jayhawks.
The 6-foot-8 forward, who was voted second-team All-America earlier in the day, is expected to go in the top three picks in the June draft. Many believe he could go first overall.
"It wasn’t an easy decision because the fans showed me so much love here," said Wiggins, choking up briefly during a news conference at Allen Fieldhouse. "I just wish I had more time. College goes by so fast. I can see why people stay all four years."
The Canadian was the top-rated recruit when he arrived at Kansas, and his brief career was a bit of a roller coaster. He struggled early in the season, caught fire midway through, and then flamed out when it mattered most in an NCAA tournament loss to Stanford.
Wiggins, from Vaughan, Ont., only scored four points on 1-for-6 shooting in the third-round defeat. Afterward, he said despondently that he let his team down with his poor performance.
That ultimately didn’t have any bearing on his decision, though. He announced he was going pro while joined by Kansas coach Bill Self, his parents — former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and Olympic silver medallist Marita Payne Wiggins — his older brother Mitchell Jr., and several of his teammates, including fellow freshmen Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid.
Selden has already announced he’s returning for his sophomore season. Embiid has not made a decision, even though he’s also expected to be a top-five pick in the draft.
Wiggins certainly had a historic season at Kansas. He averaged a freshman-record 17.1 points and nearly six rebounds per game, and was voted the AP’s Big 12 freshman of the year and first-team all-conference.
"Obviously this announcement needed to happen," said Self, who believes one of the biggest challenges Wiggins will face is realizing that basketball will suddenly become his job.
"It’s not like this year. He came in with so much hype, and whether he knew it or not, everybody was salivating for a chance to go against a guy with that much hype," Self said. "And he’s going to the next level with a lot of hype, but men are going to be saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, rook. I’ve been doing this a long time and you’re going to have to earn your way."’
Wiggins simply flashed a smile when asked if he was ready for it.
"Just listening to him now," his father said, "I’m thinking about when he was that little bitty kid that was dirty, and not listening, and now? He’s a young man that I think gets it. I think he’s going to do very well."
He’s also made it through his freshman season healthy. Unlike Embiid, Wiggins never had to deal with any nagging injuries, and his mother said that factored into his decision.
"The best thing is he’s not injured. He’s able to go ahead and complete part of his goals," she said. "Every day is a new day. He has no injuries and he’s ready to go."
Self said Embiid is still wrestling with his stay-or-go decision.
The 7-footer from Cameroon was waylaid late in the season by a stress fracture in his back, and that could factor into Embiid’s draft status, along with the fact that he’s only been playing basketball for a few years.
Embiid slipped out of the room immediately after Wiggins had finished speaking Monday, but Self told a few reporters that he had not made his decision, despite a report last week that said Embiid would enter the draft.
"That doesn’t mean he couldn’t still do that, but that was gun-jumping," Self said. "It certainly upset him, because somebody that was a source obviously didn’t have good information."
Self doesn’t expect Embiid to make his intentions known anytime soon.
"The decision he needs to make is what’s best for him," Self said, "whether to stay another year or to go, and I could see him do either one of them. And I think you could make a case that either one would be a good decision. He’s not quite like Andrew who’s been playing the game his whole life. He’s only been playing three years. He’s still trying to figure it out."