The Cleveland Cavaliers used the No. 1 pick in last week’s NBA Draft on Wiggins, a 19-year old, one-and-done player at Kansas who almost certainly would have been the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft had he been eligible. The youngest son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and former Canadian Olympic sprinter Marita-Payne Wiggins started dunking all over the Toronto area at 12, and by the time he came to North Carolina for high school in 2009, there was a YouTube video of his dunks and uber-athletic plays making its way around the Internet.
That video — "Best 13 Year Old In The Nation 6’6 Andrew Wiggins!" — has now been viewed more than 4.7 million times.
It wasn’t any video or title that made Wiggins special. His rare athletic gifts are as good and maybe even better than his bloodlines indicate, and being the youngest of five children and a younger player playing against older kids in a burgeoning Canadian basketball environment helped him test himself.
"They grew up in the gym," Mitchell Wiggins said of his children.
Andrew Wiggins’ first stop in the United States was a short one. The North Carolina prep school he attended wasn’t much of a school at all, and Wiggins returned to Vaughan Secondary School near Toronto to finish ninth grade. He played for Vaughan in 10th grade and starred on the American AAU circuit with the Canadian CIA Bounce program in the spring and summer, then showed up in Huntington, W.V., as part of the Huntington Prep traveling All-Star team in the fall of 2011, living with a host family and attending St. Joseph High School in Huntington with sophomore status.
By then, the word in basketball circles was very much out.
"The cameras . . . the glare has been on him since he was 14," Mitchell Wiggins said. "Andrew has matured beyond his years. He’s comfortable with who he is. He walks his walk."
He didn’t play in the Jordan Brand Classic until the spring of 2013, but Mitchell Wiggins said Andrew was 15 when Michael Jordan first saw him play. And Mitchell Wiggins said Jordan asked Mitchell if the player he was watching — the one jumping over everybody — was his son.
After Mitchell confirmed that it was, Jordan said, "Ooh, he’s got a little something."
If that’s not the highest of vague compliments, it’s close.
"Then, I started looking at him a little differently," Mitchell Wiggins said.
Jordan attended a day-long basketball festival in the Charlotte area that included Huntington Prep during Wiggins’ final season there. In Huntington Prep’s game, Wiggins had three dunks that also included fouls — one so hard that several spectators ran on the floor in celebration and amazement.
By then, Andrew had reclassified from the class of 2014 to the class of 2013, and though he was coveted by college programs nationwide, the move was made to speed up his NBA arrival. He moved to the top of every major recruiting service’s rankings as soon as the move to 2013 was made, and though Wiggins preferred to say little about his recruitment or his future, the buzz continued to grow.
In February 2013, Sports Illustrated featured Wiggins in a story that also detailed Mitchell Wiggins’ past drug use and fall from the NBA, the failures of past Canadian players at the game’s higher levels and the Canadian man who had been the coach at the first prep school Wiggins attended. None of the allegations of improprieties in the article involved the Wiggins family, but that article served as maybe the biggest reminder at the time of the spotlight under which Andrew was living — and that it would likely only grow.
On the night the Sports Illustrated article was released, Wiggins scored 57 points against the Marietta College junior-varsity team. Speaking after that game about Wiggins and his potential, then-Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said he was anxious to see Wiggins play one season of college and challenge himself "against players more on his level."
Then, Fulford stopped himself.
"There won’t be anybody on his level," Fulford said.
He excelled in the McDonald’s All-American Game — forget that he’s Canadian, the game’s dunk contest was made for Wiggins, and he won it — and the Jordan Brand Classic in the weeks following his final high school season. Eventually, in a ceremony from which media was barred except one local reporter, he chose Kansas for his nine or so months of college.
He averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in his one season at Kansas — and some considered that a disappointment. He scored just four points when Kansas was eliminated on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament last March, and the critics seemed louder then. But few have doubted his talent, and the Cavaliers believe they’ve drafted a young player who’s both used to the hype and ready to live up to it.
"It’s just a different world, these kids entering school with all the hype," Kansas coach Bill Self told FOXSports.com last season. "In a lot of ways he’s handled it beautifully in how he’s deflected it. But I think in some ways he hasn’t understood or maybe we have not done a good job of explaining to him that because of the society and the media hype and everything that we live in and the attention that you’re getting, if you don’t produce then you’re going to be the most talked-about person.
"And if you do produce, it’s going to be expected. Basically it’s a no-win, everything-to-lose type perspective from his standpoint. Because there’s no way he could have lived up to the hype."
In that 2013 Sports Illustrated article, an agent who wished to remain anonymous estimated that Wiggins would be good enough to pull in $400 million in salary and endorsements once he turned pro, and former Canadian national team coach Leo Rautins said Wiggins has the potential to be an NBA All-Star and, maybe, to someday be MVP.
Fulford has said that Wiggins as a high school player often got "bored" but remained driven to improve, challenging himself and those around him. Any doubt, ever, seemed to come from outside Wiggins and his small inner circle.
"I’ve always been confident in myself and I always thought I was one of the best players on the team, even when I was younger and I wasn’t really playing a whole lot," Wiggins said.
That must have been a good team.
"He’s always been a player who was better against older guys," Mitchell Wiggins said. "I didn’t judge him against kids his own age. I judged him against older players and he stood out. I knew he had something."
Said Andrew Wiggins: "I’ve been confident my whole life."
What his father saw long ago and Jordan saw four years ago has been seen by many others since. He scored 41 points in his final college regular-season game, and both he and his father admitted last week that Andrew Wiggins saw being the No. 1 pick as a goal.
In the 16 hours between being drafted and landing in Cleveland, Wiggins talked to both Anthony Bennett and Kyrie Irving, his new teammates and recent No. 1 picks, about his new team, expectations, and his new world. Both offered welcomes, good luck and advice based on their own experiences.