Andrew Wiggins may or may not be the best high school basketball player since LeBron James. He may or may not be the guy who keeps The Streak alive, who turns Kansas from a Big 12 title contender to a national championship threat, who makes the Jayhawks must-watch TV this season and eventually becomes the NBA star Self has yet to coach in Lawrence.
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
Some of that will play out in the next 10 months or so.
Here’s what we know today: KU coach Bill Self did the most Bill Self thing possible and he did it in a completely Bill Self way.
A text message from a major college assistant: “Why am I surprised? Bill is a monster.”
This is why he’s building a case as the best college basketball coach of his generation. Stuff just works out for him, a combination of hard work, refined talent, undeniable charisma, and luck.
Think about what Self just pulled off. Wiggins, a 6-foot-7 Canadian highlight tape, had long been linked with Florida State (where his parents were athletes) and Kentucky (where John Calipari collects five-star recruits like garden gnomes). Those schools have been in on him for years, building relationships and dreams long before Wiggins became the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft (Jabari Parker made the Sports Illustrated cover last year, not Wiggins).
Kansas was basically in on Wiggins since October, the month he reclassified to 2013 and Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend visited him at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.
This is a late, elite signing that brings to mind Brandon Rush joining KU after classes started in the fall of 2005, and then leading the Jayhawks in scoring three times and helping win the 2008 national championship. Only Wiggins is much, much more talented.
Self was desperate for this, or at least as desperate as you can be with a $50 million contract, adoring fan base, and powerhouse program to sell. KU lost all five starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team. Self already had the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, but with Marcus Smart returning to Oklahoma State, KU would’ve likely been picked second in the Big 12 next season.
Wiggins changes the math, and he’s presumably coming to Kansas in large part because Self had this obvious, existing need. Self will sign the best recruit of his career, in other words, largely because he needed to. In the end, a potential problem became a situation loaded with potential.
This is what Self does.
There was luck involved, like reading the winds of a teenage prodigy and Kentucky loading up on so much talent that Wiggins wasn’t needed. But however it happened, Self beat out the longtime favorite (Florida State) and two fellow bluebloods (Kentucky and North Carolina) for what is being presented as the best high school basketball player in a decade.
KU will likely start two freshmen — Wiggins and Wayne Selden, along with Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor — and begin the season in or near the top five nationally. Without Wiggins, they were more of a top 25 team, and Self’s toughest rebuilding job in 10 years at KU. That’s the world of college basketball, and how talented Wiggins is thought to be.
Before the hype machine carries this story too far, it’s worth noting a few things about Wiggins. The LeBron comparisons are only setting up disappointment. Nobody should be expected to live up to that.
But coaches around the country respected how Wiggins announced his intentions: privately, with teammates and family and friends and just one local reporter. He is said to be a quiet kid, aware of his talent and potential but still growing accustomed to all that surrounds it.
There will surely be questions and innuendo around Wiggins — it’s part of the package with a recruit of his talent, especially one who played at three different high schools — but insiders are looking at his relative humility as a positive indication.
However this plays out, the next season of Kansas basketball has been refurbished with the sport’s brightest star. This is the alpha dog KU lacked last year, the scorer that can lift so much around him, the surprise star when the Jayhawks needed it most.
Put another way: this is Bill Self, doing Bill Self things, in Bill Self ways.