Did Wiggins do more for KU by LEAVING than he did by showing up in the first place?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He was the trophy wife, the bling. Andrew Wiggins did more for Kansas basketball in five minutes on Thursday night than he did in the previous five months combined.
National championship? Been there.
Final Fours? Twice over, son.
Big 12 titles? Ten in a row, baby.
But there was one thing missing in the Bill Self pamphlet, one notable unsaid in the media guide, one bauble left unpainted on the murals at Allen Fieldhouse.
No. 1 draft pick.
Since 1974, Kentucky’s had two. Duke? Two. North Carolina? Two. Purdue? Two.
"(There’s) something about that label, being No. 1, that will certainly bode well for our program," Self said Thursday night after Wiggins, his freshman wing guard, was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "To me, as many great players as Kansas has had, it’s been 26 years, I guess, since we’ve had a No. 1 pick. I certainly don’t want to wait another 26 years, but it’s certainly very exciting."
Wiggins was the first Jayhawk taken No. 1 overall since Danny Manning in 1988 (Clippers). Wiggins at No. 1 and teammate Joel Embiid at No. 3 (to the Sixers) were the first KU teammates taken among the top five picks in modern NBA Draft history.
"It was a proud day," Wiggins told reporters in Brooklyn, N.Y.
That’s the takeaway, basically: A little Jayhawk pride, a little chest-thumping for the folks along Mount Oread after Embiid got hurt and the tranny dropped in March.
And Thursday night, really — the hat dance, the smile, the suit — was why Wiggins was such a big get for Self in the first place. The league title was probably going to be won with or without him (especially after Oklahoma State’s implosion). If a long postseason run happened — and it didn’t; KU crapped out at the Big 12 tourney and in the third round of Bracketville — well, great, but incidental.
No, Wiggins was there, really there, to be … well, drafted.
And that’s it. The 6-foot-8 Canadian was gone the minute he stepped on KU’s campus — or any campus, really. Wiggins probably would’ve been the first player taken in June 2013, if he could have been taken. Lawrence was nothing more than a glorified pit stop. Wiggins rolled in with a fanfare unheard of since maybe Wilt Chamberlain, with whispers of shoe deals and agents and hangers-on already floating in the mix.
He chose Kansas because he wanted to.
He played at Kansas because he had to.
Fine. The sword cuts both ways. Self didn’t come up with the one-and-done rule; he just has to navigate through the margins and gray area it creates as best he can. It’s not the only dumb, imperfect compromise in the books.
On one hand, one-and-done is a despicable mockery of whatever illusory student-athlete model the NCAA is still purporting to espouse, endorse and protect. On the other, it’s become this bizarre badge of honor — call it The Calipari Effect, if you like — on the recruiting trail, this idea that the better team you are, the better program you are, the more you have to reload.
"Well, no question, one knock that has been used against us in recruiting (with) other programs is the fact that, ‘Yeah, they have a lot of pros, but their guys aren’t one-and-done guys,’" Self continued. "And … we’ve had three one-and-done guys go 1, 3 and (seven) over the last three years.
"Not that this is a big deal, but I do think it does help when you have freshmen who are projected to go one-and-done go as high as (those two did)."
It is a big deal, in some circles, even as it makes you sick to your stomach.
So Wiggins and Embiid — who probably would’ve gone No. 1 if his body wasn’t breaking down like a Decepticon in a Michael Bay flick — can do for Kansas in the college afterlife what they didn’t really do while they were in Lawrence: Carry the flag. Wave it high.
History is history, however qualified: The last time KU had two players taken among the first 10 picks in the NBA Draft was 1998. Those Jayhawks were coming off a 35-4 season.
The last time KU had two players taken among the first 12 picks was 2003. That bunch had just wrapped up a Final Four run, a berth in the national title game and a 30-8 mark.
It’s not a completely fair comparison, granted. Wiggs and JoJo are freshmen — raw, unfinished. Paul Pierce was a junior in ’98; Raef LaFrentz was a senior.
The Wiggins-Embiid Era — and you can count it in weeks, not months — was 25 up, 10 down, and over in the NCAA’s round of 32. Injuries, inconsistencies, guard woes and the feeling of what might have been. A blink, and it was done.
"I hate to say this," Self said. "(But) we weren’t a 2 seed without Jo. With Jo, we were certainly a 2 that could play to a 1."
Still, Self got what he wanted, ultimately, another one crossed off the bucket list. And what delicious irony: Wiggins opens almost as many doors by leaving KU as he did by turning up in the first place.
It’s also worth noting that for all his transcendent gifts, gifts of God, genetics and hard work, Big Wiggs could not carry the Jayhawks by himself once Embiid went on the shelf in late February. Not that the kid didn’t try — witness those 41 points at West Virginia and the 30 points at Sprint Center against Oklahoma State.
But there was also a 7-for-21 effort against Iowa State in the Big 12 tourney and a 1-for-6 stinker in St. Louis against Stanford; both times, KU went home.
King James, he isn’t. His Airness, he ain’t. And that’s OK. No. 22 will probably be a better pro than he was a collegian, given that quickness, length and reach; given his defensive instincts and absurd quick-twitch leaping ability; given his penchant for slicing past defenders, one on one; given his feel for finishing on the break.
At this point, no one is 100 percent sure what the ceiling is for Wiggins. All we know for sure is, after a running start, he can probably touch it.