Andrew Wiggins, the Class of 2014's consensus No. 1 player. Credit: Nick Taylor, Ball-n.com.
Toronto's Andrew Wiggins is the Class of 2014's consensus No. 1 player and he's representing Canada in the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit.
He turned 17 years old in February and yet he delivers that proclamation without sounding either conceited or stupid. There aren't many teenagers who could compare their games to the NBA's two leading MVP contenders without raising eyebrows, drawing laughs or getting criticized. But Wiggins, aside from being the consensus No. 1 player in the Class of 2014, slides smoothly into the middle of the "confident but not cocky" and "humble but hyper-talented" Venn diagram. He makes the statement and you nod.
Wiggins is a phenom in every sense of the word. He is the youngest competitor in the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, an annual high school showcase that pits a team of American players against a World select team. Wiggins, a Toronto, Canada, native, will play for the world team. As scrimmages unfolded at the Portland Trail Blazers' practice facility this week, he looked like one of the squad's top-3 players despite being two years younger than most of his teammates.
"There's a lot of stuff I can do," he says, sitting casually after practice on Tuesday, dressed in sweats and with the most mandatory of fashion accessories, custom Beats by Dre headphones, around his neck. "I can create for other players. I can get to the basket and finish around the hoop. I can dunk it, I can shoot the [3-point] shot. I have a smooth touch with the ball ... My favorite player of all time is Allen Iverson. He was undersized, 6-feet. He could score whenever he wanted to score. He single-handedly brought his team to the Finals."
Smooth is the right word. Wiggins has a professional calm when he's sizing up defenders, a steadiness beyond his years. He's hurrying but not rushing, as they like to say.
He's just finished his sophomore season in high school and isn't draft-eligible until 2015. That thought is enough to make you shake your head and laugh at the system, once you see him poster a helpless defender in a 3-on-3 drill or watch him fly in from the weakside to pin a shot against the backboard, hammering it so hard that it ricochets out near the three-point line.
Measured at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds this week, with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, Wiggins aces the eye test. He looks the part of a prototypical go-to small forward and his game matches up with the visual first impression. Wiggins has handle and hops, an affinity to get to the basket and an ability to read defenders to find pull-up jumpers, plus the range and stroke to step out and consistently knock down an NBA three.
"I just want to score whenever I get the ball," he says. "Make big plays. I don't really know how else to explain it."
The package makes sense when you consider that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, spent six seasons in the NBA before playing professionally overseas. Andrew hesitates when asked if he thinks he was born to play basketball.
"Not really, but I've been around it my whole life," he says. "I remember when he was in Europe, playing in Greece, he would bring me to all their practices. I was a little, little kid, like one or two."
Basketball took Mitchell around the globe and it's doing the same for his three sons, who have all left Toronto to pursue their hoop dreams. Andrew left Canada after one year of high school to play for Huntington Prep in West Virginia. Andrew lives with a host family, more than 500 miles from his home, and commutes back to Canada "five or six times" a year to see his parents.
"I knew I was ready to come across the border and play against States people," he says of the decision to leave his parents and three sisters for Huntington. "I didn't hesitate or nothing like that."
Mom -- Marita Payne-Wiggins, a Canadian track athlete who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics -- didn't push back or pump the brakes?
"We're all one, big tight family, we're really close to each other," Wiggins says. "We love each other a lot. My parents know I'm mature enough to handle myself and make the right decisions. They trust the people I'm with. My teammates go to Huntington Prep with me. I'm in a comfortable situation. I live in a house with a host family. They take care of me. I feel like I'm at home. My parents know I'm not a dumb kid. I'm a smart guy, I always put school first. You need education to go to the NBA and be successful in life."
This weekend, Andrew is away from both his home and his home away from home, thrown together in Portland with players from Croatia, China, Zambia, Poland, among other far-flung locales. His participation in the Hoop Summit as a 17-year-old isn't unprecedented, but it is unusual. The experience has been another step in reaching what were his original goals in leaving home: finding top competition in the States and gaining exposure to high-level coaching.
"The competition in America is outstanding," he says. "It's better than the competition in Canada. I dominated in Canada my freshman year so I knew I could come to America and get better competition, get better as an individual."
His overall offensive game is fairly well-honed at this point. Wiggins says his coaches now emphasize his off-the-ball play and maintaining his defensive intensity in their instructions. "Move without the ball," he says. "They say I'm too quick and athletic to be standing still. Need to learn how to move without the ball. And I like playing defense. I like trying to shut down my opponent."
Wiggins is clearly Canadian. Extraordinarily friendly and easy-going, with a slight accent and an easy smile. On the spectrum from goofy to serious, he's still edging toward the goofy side. He pushes back quickly at the idea that basketball has consumed him.
"I have friends, I have a life," he says, with a light touch of defensiveness. "When I go back home to Toronto I go with my friends, live a normal teenage life. We go to parties, we go to the mall, hang with my family, go to the rec center, listen to music, just chill."
But that personality transforms with the ball in his hands, there's no question. He locks in and the smile disappears.
"Off the court, I'm a nice guy, chill guy," he admits. "But on the court I'm trying to get that killer instinct where I go at you and kill you. I'm trying to get that on the court."
According to ESPN.com, he averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.7 blocks per game for Huntington, who went 28-2 last season, and was named West Virginia's Boys Basketball Player of the Year award. Wiggins is currently ranked No. 1 in his class by Scout.com, ESPNU.com and MaxPreps.com. Simply put, he's a monster.
"I know I'm ranked No. 1 but I don't look at it like that. I know I'm No. 1 and people are coming for my spot. I always have to work hard, stay humble, work harder than everyone else."
He feels like a target, like anyone would in his situation, and he feels he gets it even worse because he's Canadian.
"[Americans] think less of us," he says, before stopping himself. "Well, not less of us, but like we're not as good as America. Put it that way."
Then he pivots: "I'm proud I'm from Canada. But especially because I'm from Canada and ranked No. 1, people might kinda hate on me ... people think Canadians aren't as good as Americans. Over the past couple of years. we showed them with our talent, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Steve Nash, I think we probably exposed that Canada has talent. We can go against the U.S.A."
A moment later, he is pointing out that Huntington Prep was not invited to the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational tournament. You can see that greatness gene -- the ability to find slights anywhere and use them as fuel -- beginning to form. He says he has studied tapes of Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler even though he was born in 1995, three years after their memorable showdown in the 1992 NBA Finals. A banner honoring Drexler's retired Blazers jersey hangs in the rafters of the practice facility as he chats, but Wiggins doesn't blink or pause as he glances up at it. He's so far along the path to the NBA, already at 17, that the honor doesn't seem unreachable.
"Trying to provide for my family," he says of what motivates him to travel the globe. "I don't want my parents to work no more when I'm older. Put my children through school and everything."
He catches himself there and starts giggling.
"When I get children."
You can't blame Wiggins for getting ahead of himself. At this stage of his development, only a handful of players in recent years have been more "can't miss." That sentiment was reinforced and underlined this week with nothing but positive feedback from NBA GMs and scouts, some of whom admitted surprise that he was still three NBA Drafts away.
And that's the question you can't help but ask: How can Wiggins get to the NBA more quickly?
Andre Drummond, expected to be taken near the top of the 2012 NBA Draft lottery, attended Connecticut rather than play a final year of high school. Top class of 2012 talent Nerlens Noel recently reclassified from the class of 2013, cutting a year off of his wait time. Wiggins says that a similar move "could be a possibility" for him but that he has no definitive plans at this point.
"I'm sure there is [a way to move up]," he says. "I've never failed no classes before. My school, all my grades are on point. If anything they are above average. I haven't really thought about it ... I like high school. I like the high school experience. Once you're in college, you can't go back to high school. I'm just trying to live my high school experience. I like high school."
Wiggins' very unusual high school experience takes him to the Rose Garden -- an NBA court with 100+ talent evaluators on hand and a national television audience -- on Saturday. His approach, of course, will be to handle things as smoothly as possible.
"I'm coming in to play my game. I'm the youngest person in the Hoop Summit so I don't really have nothing to lose," he says. "I just want to play hard and hope I make some shots. I'm just trying to play hard. If I don't make my shots, I don't make my shots. Everyone has bad days. I know people have seen me play, they know what I'm capable of, they know my potential.
"My dad just tells me to stay humble and the sky is the limit."
Photo Credit: Nick Taylor, Ball-n.com
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter