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6' 6 " fifteen year Andrew Wiggins, #22, is photographed during a basketball tournament at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Ont.. The Vaughan Secondary School guard is being scouted by American schools such at Duke, Syracuse and others, is considering going to school in the states next year. He'll be following in his father's footstep if and when he makes it to the NBA. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail) (Fred Lum)
6' 6 " fifteen year Andrew Wiggins, #22, is photographed during a basketball tournament at Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Ont.. The Vaughan Secondary School guard is being scouted by American schools such at Duke, Syracuse and others, is considering going to school in the states next year. He'll be following in his father's footstep if and when he makes it to the NBA. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail) (Fred Lum)

Michael Grange

An athletic prodigy Add to ...

Mitch Wiggins stands in the crowd along the baseline in a packed high school gym, watching his son play high school basketball; just another dad blending in.

His wife, Marita Payne-Wiggins, has a seat in the bleachers with her daughters.

They remain in the background despite athletic pedigrees that sound like something out of a science experiment, if the purpose was to yield an athletic prodigy, which their son Andrew, 15, undoubtedly is.

Mitch is 6-foot-5 and even at 51 still has the look of the NBA shooting guard he was for six seasons. Marita, 50, a double Olympic silver medalist in 1984 for Canada, is 5-foot-9 and appears as if she could run a decent 400-metre time (her specialty) this afternoon if pressed.

The object of their attention - and of just about everyone in the gym gathered for an early-season tournament - is their youngest son, the Grade 10 star for Vaughan Secondary School, north of Toronto.

He is, superficially, a normal teenager with high hopes:

"I want to make it to the top, to the highest level, the NBA," he says. "If I work hard and stay humble, the sky is the limit."

But in his case it's actually true. He is quite possibly the best basketball player his age on the planet, with NBA insiders privately comparing him to a Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant - his favourite player - or Rudy Gay or Tracy McGrady.

It's not normal, but when Wiggins plays normal flies out the window. He's edging 6-foot-8, combining the fluid, explosive grace of a track athlete with the broad base of skills and basketball savvy one might expect from the son of former professional player.

"He's a phenom; he's incredible," says University of Texas assistant coach Rodney Terry, who helped recruit Durant to the NCAA Division I powerhouse and who is already eyeing Wiggins. "He's a high first-round [NBA]pick if everything stays on course. He's got a chance."

Canadian national team coach Leo Rautins says: "He reminds me of when I started watching Vince Carter; every time he plays you find yourself saying to the guy next to you: 'Did he just do that'?"

But his best trait may be the one that might allow him to reach his considerable potential.

"He's a listener," says his father. "He's very determined to be a player and he tries to do what I think he should."

His father certainly has some stories to tell; like scoring the winning basket in an NBA Finals game against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. If he wants some tips on post play he can tell his son how Hakeem Olajuwon, his old Houston Rockets teammate, used to do it. What was Michael Jordan like, or Dominique Wilkins? Dad grew up playing against both of them as a teenager in North Carolina before starring at Florida State where he met Marita who was there on a track scholarship.

The son sounds well grounded, noting with a smile that for all the hype and the viral YouTube videos he's still just the fourth best player in his family, behind dad and his older brothers Mitchell Jr. and Nick, both of whom are playing in the U.S. college ranks.

But the best lesson a father can pass on to his son might be what not to do, with a first-hand account of where straying from the straight-and-narrow can lead.

In 1987 Mitch Wiggins was suspended from the NBA after testing positive for cocaine just as it was taking off with the Houston Rockets on a team some consider the best collection of talent to have never won an NBA title. He was reinstated after 30 months, but his addiction cost him the best years of his career.

"He tells me don't make dumb mistakes; don't do something stupid," Andrew says. "Just focus on the books, play basketball and you'll go far in life."

Talent like their son has doesn't require a chance; the challenge will be working through the opportunities - he's likely headed to prep school in the U.S. next year - rather than trying to find them. Talent like their son has requires a shield and a sword to make it through the competing demands and interests that inevitably surface.

An example of how fragile the whole undertaking can be sits across from him at the breakfast table; his genetic cautionary tale.

"I played pro for 13 years, but only six were in the NBA," his father says. "The issues I had took me 4 1/2 years to get through; I can't hide it. Kids look me up and that's the first thing they see. But I speak to them about it; they know."

His mother knows first-hand how stardom has its perils. She trained in the same club as Ben Johnson and watched his epic fall from grace up close. She laughs when asked if she's hurt that her son took up basketball instead of track, but is serious when the subject is what it takes to allow talent to flourish.

"Dad does most of the coaching," she says. "I do the encouraging and the supporting and everything that goes along with that. You have to teach them mentally, spiritually, physically, if you take care of that everything else will fall in place."

True talent is like a live wire; it can light up a place in a flash but can short-circuit too.

Inside the gym Wiggins has dominated at both ends of the floor, but in the flow, not forcing. His moment - and the one the crowd has been waiting for - comes when a missed three-pointer bounces straight up and Wiggins, having timed his approach from the wing perfectly rises, head-and-shoulders above the crowd, to slam the rebound straight down, electrifying a small stage with stadium-like talent.

The trick will be getting him from here to there, from a small Toronto gym to the sport's greatest heights. Fortunately for all, his parents know the path, and just as important, what lies on either side.

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