They grew up in a quiet suburb outside Toronto, a place where you had to work to care about the NCAA Tournament.
It’s not that all Canadians were averse to brackets or watching wall-to-wall basketball for a few days in March. Drama is drama, no matter what country you’re living in.
But Andrew Wiggins was not one of those who cared. His older brothers — Nick and Mitch Jr. — may have flipped on the games every once in a while. Their father, Mitch Sr., played at Florida State.
But young Andrew had more important things to care about. His own basketball games, his own teams, maybe even the Toronto Raptors.
“I watched TV,” Wiggins said, “but when I watched it, it would be more cartoons.”
As Wiggins, a freshman wing, said those words, the Kansas locker room was flooded with cameras and noise on the day before the Jayhawks, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, opened the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Eastern Kentucky.
The tournament Wiggins never really cared to watch is now the most important thing in his life outside his family, and wait a minute … this tournament is now about family, too.
In another locker room inside the Scottrade Center, Nick Wiggins, a senior reserve for Wichita State, arrived for an open practice with the undefeated Shockers, the top seed in the Midwest. Two brothers from Canada, on two highly seeded teams from Kansas, both with an opportunity to move into the Sweet 16 today.
“We never really thought about this happening when we were younger,” Andrew Wiggins said.
Nick said the same. His parents, Mitch and Marita, are here, waiting to watch Kansas face Stanford and Wichita State take on Kentucky. Their oldest son was also in the state, competing Saturday in a slam-dunk contest in Kansas City.
Pretty cool, Nick said, before stopping to send out a text.
“We have a very athletic genes,” he said. “Shoutout to my parents!”
Andrew Wiggins says he is more like his mother, the Olympic silver-medalist sprinter. Marita Payne-Wiggins is the type of mom who likes to measure her words and analyze her thoughts. That’s Andrew. Big smile, gentle demeanor.
Mitchell Wiggins Sr. was always more outspoken than his wife, and it’s no secret that Nick took some of those genes. He plays with more outward passion, more fire, more likely to let people in.
There are other, more subtle differences. Nick spent part of his college days covering his arms in new tattoos. Andrew is waiting on that.
“I like more of the clean image right now,” Andrew said.
But if there’s one thing that Andrew and Nick can agree on, it’s this: Among the six Wiggins children, neither Andrew nor Nick is the most athletic. That’s Mitch Jr., who just finished his college career at Southeastern, an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla.
“I probably had the best skill-set of the three,” Nick said. “But I feel like Andrew is very athletic, very young and talented. And Mitch … he’s very athletic and very bouncy. He’s probably the most athletic in our family.”
The Wiggins boys grew up walking to the Dufferin Clark Community Centre in Vaughan, Ontario. It was blocks from their house, and they could spend hours playing two-on-two — with their father as the fourth.
It was what you’d expect from a former NBA guard and his three sons. In college basketball circles, Wiggins’ “second jump” has become instant KU lore. But growing up, all the Wiggins brothers could bounce off the floor.
“That second jump,” said Gus Gymnopoulos, who coached all three brothers at Vaughan Secondary School. “His brothers had that as well.”
They learned the game during those pickup games. But they also learned lessons. In the late 1980s, Mitch Sr. lost part of his NBA career to a suspension for cocaine use. The Wiggins boys prefer not to talk specifics about their father’s past — it all happened years before they were born. But they all know parts of the story.
“Everyone goes through tough times in their lives,” Mitch Jr. said. “But it’s how you come back from that. He’s been a great factor in all of our lives in achieving our goals.”
Now the goals are changing. Bigger stages, more attention. But even then, even as the older brothers won most of the pickup games, Mitch Jr. and Nick could tell there was something different about their youngest brother.
“We beat it out of him,” Mitch Jr. said of Andrew. “We knew he was going to make it. He can do some things. He’s changing it for everybody.”
It didn’t take long for Kurtis Towsend to make the connection.
It was the fall of 2012, and Townsend, a long-time assistant under Kansas coach Bill Self, was trying to formulate a plan. The Jayhawks were in the hunt for Wiggins, then the No. 1 overall recruit in the country. The competition would be fierce, so Townsend was looking for every advantage.
It just so happened that Nick Wiggins, a junior-college transfer, had just begun his first season at Wichita State. Who cared if Lawrence and Wichita — more than two hours apart — weren’t exactly neighboring cities.
“We definitely used it,” Townsend said. “When coach Self and I went up to the house (for the official visit), we talked about that. The family could make one trip and be able to see three or four games.”
The idea of playing close to his brother also appealed to Andrew. Maybe he’d only make one or two trips to see Nick. And maybe Nick would only come to Allen Fieldhouse for a few games. But that would be worth it.
By December — maybe even earlier — Andrew knew he had made the right choice. On one night, Andrew called Nick, wanting to talk basketball. He was still adjusting to the college game and its rigors. In short, it was a lot more physical than he thought it would be.
“You’re just going to have get used to it,” Nick told Andrew. “When you went to the rim in high school, some people would move out the way because they didn’t want to get dunked on. The people here, you’re not going to get an easy basket.”
More than three months later, as Nick and Andrew practiced on Saturday in St. Louis, Mitch Jr. was in Kansas City, finishing second in the inaugural NAIA slam-dunk contest at Municipal Auditorium.
“Love,” Mitch Jr. said of his brothers. “It’s unexplainable what I feel for that. All the hard work they put in.”
Now comes the toughest question: What happens if Kansas and Wichita State keep winning? What if the dream scenario becomes a family nightmare? What if the Wiggins brothers face off in the NCAA title game?
“I’m going to have to wear a lot of stuff,” Mitch Jr. said. “I’m mixed between both teams … Kansas hat and maybe a Wichita hat and (just) looking crazy out there cheering.”The Star’s Randy Covitz contributed to this report.