The recruitment of the millennium is finally over: Andrew Wiggins has committed to Kansas. The Wiggins saga was the single most compelling recruitment in the history of recruiting, but Wiggins is no longer the most coveted recruit in the history of recruiting: he is now a Jayhawk, or will be, very shortly.
When Wiggins made his decision early Tuesday afternoon, he finished a year that began with him as the most interesting non-NBA basketball player on Earth and ends with him having only become more interesting, despite no one learning much of anything about Wiggins himself.
Seriously: I have been aware of Wiggins since at least 2011, when he was a rising sophomore and touted as one of the most talented prep players on Earth. I'm pretty sure I watched this video, from April 2011, around the time it came out.
Since then, we have learned all about the hype about Wiggins — I know, off the top of my head, that both of his parents went to Florida State; that some of FSU's women tried to sway him when he visited Florida State; that FSU getting absolutely obliterated by Florida on that visit didn't dissuade him from keeping FSU among his finalists; that he picked Kansas and North Carolina as finalists seemingly on a whim; that he announced his private, one-reporter commitment ceremony off-handedly at a barbecue; that he's been living with a host mother in West Virginia for much of the last two years, at least partly because Canada just wasn't much of a basketball challenge; that his prominence attracts people who love to knock prep athletes down a peg; and that his "high school" coach, Rob Fulford, is a very cool dude; that he hadn't even told his parents about his decision as of this morning — but very little about Wiggins.
What we know, or what we think we know, is that Wiggins has shied away from the media almost to the point of aloofness, a reticence that seems anachronistic for a high school senior in 2013, much less for the most talented basketball player outside the NBA. And that's really about it.
All I know for sure is this: Andrew Wiggins making his decision today was the last major domino that will fall to set up a tremendous 2013-14 college basketball season. And while that would have been true no matter what he chose, Wiggins picking Kansas is Wiggins choosing one truly weird timeline.
What Andrew Wiggins means to Kansas
Wiggins had the potential to deliver a national championship to any of the four schools he named finalists. He would have improved Florida State more than any other program, with a chance to change its trajectory forever. He could have joined the juggernaut to end all juggernauts at Kentucky. He could've been Michael Jordan's heir at North Carolina.
Instead, Andrew Wiggins picked the dark horse.
Wiggins' recruitment boiled down in most eyes to a two-team race with two also-rans, casting Florida State as favorite, Kentucky as runner-up, and Kansas and North Carolina as big names thrown in for, well, some reason. Kansas does provide the best example of one player serving as an entire team in the history of college hoops, in Wilt Chamberlain, but Wilt played a while ago, and Wiggins is not Wilt, obviously, because of differences in height and personality and game and, well, everything.
But Wiggins joining a Kansas team that loses more than any of the other three contenders from its 2012-13 squad is incredibly interesting (Kansas has an excellent class of top talents, including Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, and Conner Frankamp, coming in, but Wiggins would be far and away the best scoring option in a way he wouldn't be at any other school), and proof that the basketball gods will simply not allow Bill Self to lose a Big 12 title.
In fact, Wiggins picking Kansas might be most interesting as a reflection of everything Self has done there, in taking the foundation for greatness that Roy Williams built and adding even better recruiting — and, arguably, coaching. Kansas loves its basketball, and has been great at it, but hasn't produced superstars on par with the rest of the bluest of blue-bloods in the sport under Self: the best Jayhawks of the Self era have been longer on talent and drive than personality.
And the relative lack of Self era NBA stars (likely to be rectified by Ben McLemore before long) has helped cast him as a very smart coach who wins at an absurd rate — Self has an .836 winning percentage at Kansas; Adolph Rupp had an .821 at Kentucky — with great talent that is rarely the best talent. Now Self has the most talented player in college basketball one year after having McLemore and a better supporting cast and making an exit in the Sweet Sixteen. Wiggins automatically reboots the national championship hype for a team that might have seen its streak of Big 12 titles end in 2013.
This is Self's greatest recruiting coup, and always will be, but he's either going to make good on it or make a lot of Kansas fans very mad. But, hell, what if Wiggins leads Kansas to a national title, doing more than that best recruiting class in history at Kentucky by himself and topping all of his previous hype by leading one great coach's merry band of youngsters to a title?
What Andrew Wiggins will mean to college basketball
Wiggins will assuredly be part of one of the best college basketball seasons in recent memory. The nation's talent pool is loaded, with a number of players following Wiggins' lead and reclassifying from the high school class of 2014 to the high school class of 2013 to speed up their pursuits of NBA riches and enough talent (Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Cauley-Stein, Michigan's Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Baylor's Isaiah Austin) turning down the NBA to stay to make the best teams of 2013-14 among the best of this millennium.
Wiggins would have been part of many marquee games, no matter where he went: he had a 75 percent chance of seeing Florida's loaded team in Gainesville (of his four finalists, only North Carolina doesn't play the Gators on the road in 2013-14), would have played North Carolina if he went to Kentucky or Florida State, would've played Duke if he headed to Kansas, Florida State or North Carolina, would've played Oklahoma State and Baylor if he went to Kansas, would have played Baylor in Cowboys Stadium if he goes to Kentucky, and could have played for Kentucky in a game at Rupp Arena against a Louisville team coming off a national title that will be given Game of the Century hype.
As it is, at Kansas, Wiggins will play against Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, and the slew of future NBA players on those teams. And it's good for college basketball, even if it's not necessarily good for Andrew Wiggins, that he has to play against non-professional players for a year. That year is going to be a hell of a lot of fun.
What Andrew Wiggins means
Maybe the most important thing about Wiggins is how he has conducted himself during his recruitment, and how it's confirmed that top recruits, 18-year-old kids, are simultaneously the most powerful and least powerful people in sports.
Wiggins could have done literally anything for today's announcement — hiring a plane to write it in the sky, texting just one friend to tell her where he was going, asking fellow Canadian star Chris Hadfield to tweet it — and gotten media attention. He picked a method seemingly designed to shake as many reporters as possible — and the only guy there saw his Twitter following explode. His high school coach's Facebook profile picture is the funniest thing I've seen this week:
Facebook pic from Wiggins' prep coach: twitter.com/bretstrelow/st…— Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow) May 13, 2013
Wiggins will not have this much power to choose the fate of his career again until he's signing his second NBA contract. Now that he's chosen a school, he'll be locked in there for a year; after he announces for the 2014 NBA Draft or
chooses to come back for 2014-15 announces for the 2014 NBA Draft, he'll be subject to the caprices of the NBA's ping-pong balls, then locked into a rookie contract, then subject to the whims of his coach. Wiggins will get to pick his agent and his endorsements or eschew them, but that's not determining his fate as much as it is lining his pockets.
It will be at least four years until Andrew Wiggins has as much control over his life again as he did when he woke up this morning. But, on the bright side, at least everyone will stop asking him where he's going, even if they start asking why.
I don't blame him for waiting it out: he's taking time to make sure he's making a good decision, something I wish every person considering what amounts to a job offer could do, and he's, perhaps inadvertently, showing that virtually any big-time prospect could do the same, even if few would be quite as impervious to critique as Wiggins' talent renders him.
And I don't think I will be any less excited about Andrew Wiggins because he's not excited about talking to reporters, which I find refreshing: I, personally, know that I like knowing as much as possible about sports and the figures who are important in them, and yet Wiggins being shy has made it no harder to enjoy him and slightly easier to appreciate him as an uncommonly level-headed teenager.
Andrew Wiggins has handled a public post-Decision decision better than many prominent NBA players with more power have, and I think that's promising: if more recruits take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that come with being painted into the future with the indifference that Wiggins has, perhaps the people who take those shots will realize they are ultimately doing nothing of use, and help make the process of young people deciding on their paths a little more sane.
I thought Wiggins prized his small circle and his privacy more than anything else, thought his parents would be happiest with him attending their alma mater, and thought he would more comfortable with Rathan-Mayes at his side than at any of his other finalists. And so I'm a little stunned that Wiggins picked Kansas, but I'm happy for him: I have come to respect his process as much as his play, and because I want him to be happy.
After all, my selfish interest in being right about Wiggins doesn't matter. It's far more important to me to enjoy Andrew Wiggins than to worry about whether I've read him right. And I sure hope that will be true of the rest of the college basketball world, too.