There all kinds of stories behind the athletes vying to have their names called Thursday at the NBA Draft. It’s the final validation of a young man’s lifetime of work, when dreams turn to reality and you become an NBA player.
For Andrew Wiggins, the sensation from Thornhill, Ont., there has been less suspense than most. The NBA has always been a distant horizon that he was destined to arrive at eventually.
The time is now.
Wiggins is so athletically gifted – Olympic track star mom; NBA veteran dad — that even league talent evaluators can’t quite get their heads around the combination of quickness, explosiveness and length contained in his flowing 6-foot-9 inch frame. The biggest risk for him was getting to this point while remaining physically healthy and socially and emotionally unscathed.
He survived being treated like “a rock star” at the University of Kansas and feels he’s ready for even more scrutiny which will come with stardom in the NBA. The wide expectation is that Wiggins, 19, will be the first player chosen in what has been one of the most anticipated draft classes in a decade.
“You only go through it one time, so you better make the best of it,” said Wiggins who held court for 30 minutes on Wednesday, showing a new comfort with his role as a public figure, something that will likely come like a freight train now.
“You never know what can happen on draft day. You’re anxious, you want to know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow’s a day your destiny — everything — changes.”
One thing that hasn’t changed all that much has been Wiggins status among his peers. There was never much doubt he was headed to the NBA. The question was how soon and how high he would be drafted.
Nik Stauskas of Michigan by way of Mississauga and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse by way of Brampton – expected to be drafted in the 9-to-12 and the 12-to-23 range respectively – were to quick to recognize that Wiggins was different.
“I remember playing AAU with Andrew when he was 13 years old and the first time I ever saw him he did a 360 [degree] behind-the-back dunk and I was like, ‘I think this kid is going to the NBA,'” said Stauskas.
Ennis saw it even earlier: “First time I watched him I was maybe 10 or 11 and he’s a year younger and we played and then watched him and he was way more athletic and taller than everyone else and then he came over and played with us when were 15-and-under and his talent – you can watch him for a few minutes and see how good he is and how natural he is.”
Wiggins rocketed to the top of his draft class on the strength of a legendary AAU showdown between his CIA Bounce team – with Ennis running the point – and Julius Randle’s Texas Titans. Randle, a star at the University of Kentucky, is also expected to be a lottery pick tomorrow night.
Wiggins scored an easy 28 points and frustrated Randle — who fouled out with a miserly 15 points.
“It was awesome,” said Ennis.
He’s never been projected to go any lower than third overall since and now, with Kansas University teammate Joel Embiid having undergone surgery on his foot, Wiggins is favoured by most to go No.1 overall ahead of Duke’s Jabari Parker.
He likes it that way.
“It’s my competitive side, I don’t what anyone to go ahead of me. I still want to go No.1.”
Chances are he will. The only question is which team will take him. The Cavaliers have picked No.1 overall in three of the past four years and also had the No.4 pick in 2011. They used the first pick last year on Anthony Bennett of Brampton, who struggled through a difficult rookie season. They used the No.4 pick on Tristan Thompson – also of Brampton — who has emerged as a team leader in a crowded front court.
Wiggins says the familiar faces would be appealing:
“We’re all boys,” he says. “We’ve played on each other’s teams. The chemistry is there with those guys.”
But with so many young players on the roster, there is some thought the Cavaliers are open to deals with Orlando and Philadelphia – each of whom have multiple lottery picks – so they can bring in some veterans while still adding talent in a deep draft.
But most expect them to pick Wiggins and hope he becomes the kind of transcendent performer a No.1 pick ideally should be.
He’s been criticized at times for being a bit too passive, but those who know him best say it’s a mistake to misconstrue his willingness to be part of a group – as opposed to lording over it – as a sign of weakness or a lack of ambition.
“He’s just a great teammate,” says Ennis. “A lot of people who got that kind of hype could have let it go to their head and changed the way they acted and changed the way they approached the game, but he’s the exact same as he was when I met him.”
Wiggins has been on the radar for nearly seven years, even if he is just 19 years old. A YouTube video of him tearing up competition as a 13-year-old is approaching five-million views.
That was the beginning and Thursday night marks the end of a chapter that’s been years in the making.
He’s excited. As he talked about where he’s been and where’s he’s going, his knees were jiggling. He was hunched forward, as if he was anticipating his future rushing toward him. It’s been for a long time, and now it’s here.
“You always want to be the best,” he said. “In high school there were people above you, so you wanted to be No.1. Going into college you want to win national championships and be the best. In the NBA you’re playing the world’s best, not in your area or region.”
“So that’s motivation to conquer being one of those elite players at the highest levels of basketball.”
Andrew Wiggins, Canada’s first ever basketball prodigy, gets his chance to deliver on all that promise starting Thursday night.