When Andrew Wiggins arrived at Kansas, he was — perhaps unfairly — compared to KU basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain.
One year later, Wiggins, a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves, accomplished something that only Wilt had done. He played college basketball at KU. Then won NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
“We’re all so proud of Andrew,” Kansas coach Bill Self said after the award became official on Thursday. “He obviously had a fabulous rookie season and showed he has the potential to be a great pro.”
Wiggins, who was selected No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft last June, averaged 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing all 82 games as a rookie. He also play 39 minutes per game for a rebuilding Minnesota franchise that was beset by injuries for most of the season.
“It’s a tough league. It’s hard to play every game,” Wiggins said at season’s end. “I feel proud of that.”
For Wiggins, the accolade sets the tone for what could be a burgeoning All-Star career. For Kansas, the ongoing ascendance of Wiggins could provide a boost in recruiting and brand exposure. The last Kansas player to make a NBA All-Star team was swingman Paul Pierce, who left KU in 1998 and is in the final years of a likely Hall of Fame career. Self, meanwhile, has yet to produce an NBA All-Star after 12 seasons at KU.
“He represented Kansas basketball in a big way and is a great ambassador for us,” Self said. “(Andrew) winning the rookie of the year will certainly allow him to continue to be a great representative for our program.”
After being selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was dealt to the Timberwolves in August in a trade that sent the disgruntled Kevin Love to Cleveland. Wiggins would win the first four Western Conference rookie of the month awards, making himself the prohibitive favorite to be chosen rookie of the year.
After finding his way through the first month of the season, Wiggins took off. As teammate after teammate went down, more responsibility fell on to Wiggins’ shoulders. Forced to become a focal point at 19 years old, he responded by becoming more assertive and more aggressive on both ends of the court than he ever was in his lone season at Kansas.
He averaged 19.1 points per game after Jan. 1 and in his final 13 games of the season, he scored 23.3 points, dished out 3.5 assists and took 10 free throws per game.
“I don’t even know who else would be in the conversation (for the award),” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said in February. “He’s going to be an All-Star. He’s a terrific player, a good talent, and it looks like he’s figuring out the NBA game. He’s really going to be a good player.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.