Ascent began in 2011
Family is at the heart of who Wiggins is. He has five siblings and is the youngest of the three brothers. He has an easy smile and a bright expressive face, is playful with those he knows and otherwise quiet. When he mishears something, he says pardon me. He doesn’t blush to tell his family he loves them.
“Happy 17th birthday to my beautiful little sister,” Wiggins said on Instagram in January, posting a pic of him and Angey. “love you!!”
The athleticism is in his genes. His mother, Marita Payne, a native of Barbados before her family established itself in Vaughan, won two silver medals as a sprinter for Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, in the 4x100-metres and 4x400 relay. Her individual times in the 200 and 400 metres are still Canadian records.
Mitchell Wiggins, Andrew’s father, grew up in North Carolina and was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1983. Three years later, he went to the NBA finals with Houston, but lost. In early 1987, he was suspended after testing positive for cocaine. He returned two years later for several more NBA seasons, before playing in Europe.
Marita and Mitchell met at Florida State University, which they both attended, and Andrew Christian Wiggins, the fourth of their six kids, was born in 1995. The family settled in the neighbourhoods of Marita’s youth when Andrew was in elementary school.
Glen Shields Public School and the Dufferin Clark Community Centre, three kilometres apart with a park named after Marita in between, were the playgrounds of his childhood. He learned basketball playing with his older brothers. Today, when Andrew does a quick spin move after driving to his right, those who know him best see his older brother, Mitchell Jr.
The family was bound by their Christian faith. “Don’t make dumb mistakes,” their dad said. “Don’t do something stupid.”
Andrew was a straight-and-narrow child. His teachers never even heard him swearing. Most Sundays, the family was at church. Marita, these days, text-messages her children daily snippets of faith, scripture and inspiration.
“We grew up in the church,” older brother Nick says. In Andrew’s Twitter profile pic, he has his arm around Marita, the two smiling at each other, an illustration of Jesus in the background. “It’s a big thing,” Andrew says. “God’s always above anything.”
The two older Wiggins boys excelled in basketball but not like their younger brother.
Mitchell Jr., a college senior, is playing lower-level hoops in Florida; Nick, also a senior, is the sixth man for the undefeated Wichita State Shockers, who play two hours southwest of Andrew’s Jayhawks. The two teams could, in theory, face each other deep in the NCAA tournament.
“We all talk like we’re best friends,” Nick says of the brothers.
Andrew’s ascent began in 2011, when he was 14 and filmed in North Carolina during an aborted foray at a questionable prep school. The 40-second reel quickly garnered a million views on YouTube. Andrew played his Grade 10 season at Vaughan Secondary, winning a provincial title. Gyms were packed to capacity, including reporters and college scouts.
“Everybody,” Vaughan coach Gus Gymnopoulos says, “wanted a piece.”
Andrew moved on to Huntington Prep in West Virginia for Grades 11 and 12. In the summers, he played for Canada internationally and excelled on a circuit for all-star high-school players. He is part of a cohort of top-flight basketball players coming out of Canada, many from the Toronto area, kids who grew up on Vince Carter and the Raptors, watched Canadian Steve Nash win the NBA MVP trophy twice in his Hall of Fame-calibre career, and themselves received strong coaching. Among them: Anthony Bennett, who last year was Canada’s first No.1 NBA draft pick, and Tristan Thompson, who went No.4 in 2011.
For Andrew Wiggins, leaving Huntington Prep last spring, the last moments of high school seemed more important than impending fame. Prom was a week before his Kansas decision; Wiggins wore a white tux. A couple of days after, he played paintball with his teammates. “Lol,” said Wiggins on Instagram. “Went straight call of duty mode on em!”
On graduation, Wiggins wrote a 660-word open letter of thanks to the community, including the school’s janitor.
“I am proud,” he wrote, “to say I played here.”
The U.S. college recruitment of Wiggins could have been a circus. Instead, the teenager eschewed Klieg lights and the cajoling of coaches and considered only a handful of schools. At Kansas, Self offered Wiggins a sterling basketball education and a shot at a national title: Five championship banners hang at the north end of Allen Fieldhouse. He offered to turn a prodigy into a professional.