Andrew Wiggins skipped onto the Allen Fieldhouse floor in a crisp, black-and-white tuxedo, smiling as he slid into place behind fellow freshman Joel Embiid. The sound of the Justin Timberlake hit song “Suit & Tie” blared throughout the old building, and Wiggins and a group of Kansas players broke into one of those choreographed dance numbers at the Jayhawks’ annual Late Night in the Phog.
And if you’re going to start the season-long examination of Wiggins, the most heralded Kansas basketball recruit in a generation, you might as well start with his dance moves.
OK, they were a little stilted, maybe even reserved at moments, before Wiggins finally broke into a smile and busted out a freestyle solo.
“He was just sweating bullets,” KU sophomore guard Andrew White III said. “(He was) telling me he wasn’t ready and all that. I was just trying to relax him.”
Of course, as Kansas coach Bill Self had warned a short while earlier: If you’re going to judge this latest Kansas team by first impressions, you may be a little disappointed.
This was the theme of KU’s 29th annual Late Night in the Phog, the unofficial beginning of what could be the most anticipated — and intriguing — season since Self walked in the door 10 years ago. On Friday afternoon, a crowd of more than 20,000 lined up outside Allen Fieldhouse to gets its first glimpse of Wiggins, the consensus top recruit in the country, and a six-man freshman class that is likely the deepest class of Self’s career.
When Self stepped on the floor and grabbed the microphone for his annual message to the fans, he asked for a little bit of patience for his young squad, which includes eight newcomers after Kansas lost all five starters off last year’s team.
“I know expectations are high,” Self said. “But as a fan, you’ll drive yourself nuts if you’re not somewhat patient.”
But moments later, it appeared that Self had tempered the hopes and expectations enough for one night. As he left the floor, he pointed up to the five National Championship banners that hang above one side of Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s time to hang one more banner,” Self said, walking off the floor to a rapturous applause.
By the time the Jayhawks finally took the floor for their 20-minute scrimmage, that message had soaked in with the sweat for an hour or two. But after Wiggins finished the night with 12 points on six-of-eight shooting, including a steal and a one-handed dunk in the opening minutes, it was easy to imagine what Kansas might look like in January or February.
Sophomore Perry Ellis led the “Blue” team, which included Wiggins, with 14 points in a 66-40 victory over a “Crimson” team that featured Embiid (seven points) and freshman guard Wayne Selden (six points). For Self, it was a sloppy display of basketball with little to no defense.
"That was brother-in-law ball," Self said. "I don't know who told them to do that, but obviously the veterans said this is how we do it. And we'll get that corrected."
KU fans had begun lining up outside 24 hours earlier, assembling camping tents and waiting in lawn chairs. By 6:15 p.m., the building was at capacity. And Self would say that close to 25,000 fans were lined up outside to get into a building that holds 16,300. As a packed building turned into a steamy sauna, the first tangible signs of Wiggins mania were present.
Maybe it was the arrival of actor and KU graduate Rob Riggle, carried in on a white throne and dressed in a white tuxedo. But mostly, it was the mystery of hype and expectations. It’s going to take time, Self says. During the first week of practice, Self says, he’s sometimes found himself straddling the line of being too patient and not patient enough with his young team.
“This is where it gets kind of tricky for a coach,” Self said. “You see where they can be potentially, so sometimes you get impatient because you forget that the process takes time. And with young kids, it’s going to take time.”