LAWRENCE — Andrew Wiggins sat on a set of stairs outside Kansas’ practice facility, waiting for his coach. It was Wednesday afternoon, a few minutes after KU’s weekly camp scrimmage, and Wiggins had just made his first public appearance in his new life.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
There was an overflow crowd inside the Horejsi Center, which usually seats 1,300 fans for KU volleyball matches, and now there were at least a dozen media members with video cameras and microphones. Wiggins buried his head in a towel, smiled a bit, and finally, here came Bill Self, appearing at the top of the stairs.
“Did we just win the Elite Eight game?” Self joked.
This is a scene from Wiggins’ next chapter, and if Self wanted to break the ice, he had a good reason. Wiggins is on campus now, the No. 1 overall in the nation recruit finally settled into his college home, and this is the kind of hype and attention that will likely follow him for the next year or so.
“I’ve been used to it,” Wiggins said of the packed gym and media attention. “The last couple years, I got that a lot.”
In some ways, Wednesday was just another camp scrimmage, an excuse to entertain some young KU basketball campers and get the Jayhawks’ new players acclimated to playing in front of some fans. But this was also the first time Wiggins had suited up in public, his first time as a Jayhawk. And the scene left Self comparing Wiggins’ arrival, at least in hype, to the freshman years of Danny Manning and Wilt Chamberlain.
“Other than Danny,” Self said, “you have to go back to Wilt, that would probably have the type of fanfare.”
The arrival, of course, came at least a month earlier than expected when Wiggins, a native of Thornhill, Ontario, turned down an opportunity to play with the U-19 Canadian national team at the World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.
“I know that college is a big step from high school, so I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Wiggins said. “And coming here early would higher my chances of being ready for college.”
He arrived on Saturday. Moved into an apartment in the Jayhawker Towers with roommate Niko Roberts, a senior walk-on. And spent the next couple days doing what college kids do. He followed around the upperclassmen. Tried to fit in. And attempted to get a feel for his new hometown.
“It’s been a great vibe since I’ve been here,” Wiggins said. “… a lot of the people of Lawrence have been showing nothing but love.”
The expectations for Wiggins are enormous, of course. And Self says he wants Wiggins to embrace them. But there are signs this will be different. Earlier this week, a few details from his first Kansas workout leaked into the press, an early symbol of Wiggins mania.
“His talent set?” sophomore forward Perry Ellis said. “(It’s) a different level.”
On Wednesday, the first sign came in the early moments of the scrimmage, when Wiggins finished an emphatic tomahawk dunk while former Jayhawks Cole Aldrich just watched.
The crowd let loose in unison, an unscripted wave of “Ohhhh!!!!”
“It felt good,” Wiggins said of the dunk. “I let loose of all my nerves. It was good after that dunk.”
Wiggins finished the scrimmage with seven points (two dunks and a three-pointer) on three-of-seven shooting as the KU alumni squad took down the regulars 66-61 in a game where the result had little significance.
But it’s over now, and for now, Wiggins can move on to the next first.
He is on campus now, ready to spend the summer preparing for what could be his only year in college, ready to combat the intense scrutiny and attention that come along with being labeled as the “Best High School Player Since LeBron.”
“Players can have rock-star status, or whatnot,” Self said. “But I think this could be a little ridiculous if he lets it get to him, because he just want to come here and enjoy the summer, and hopefully people will allow him to do that.
“I’m sure Danny (Manning) had this type of exposure when he was coming in, and Danny found a way to handle it. And Danny may not be a bad person for Andrew to talk to, to learn how to kind of navigate the landscape here.”
Late on Wednesday afternoon, the cameras and microphones disappeared, and Wiggins left the stairs, disappearing for a moment of quiet. This new home, he says, feels right, and he wants to make the most of college. He’s heard other pro players talk about their college days being their best days in basketball. And maybe that will be the same for him.
“I want to win,” Wiggins said. “I want me and my teammates to go as far as we can, be the best players that they all can be. And hopefully win a national championship.”
Texas lineman commits to KU
The Kansas football program picked up another commitment on Wednesday, landing offensive linemen Jacob Bragg of Nacogdoches, Texas, according to Rivals.com. Bragg is rated as the eighth best center prospect in the country, according to Rivals.com. He becomes the fourth commitment in the class of 2014, joining Gardner Edgerton running back Traevohn Wrench, Lawrence Free State safety Joe Dineen and East St. Louis linebacker Kyron Watson.