His middle name is Christian, and the first thing he did, before he declared he was turning pro, was thank God.
“First, I’d like to give glory to God, for giving me this opportunity,” said Andrew Christian Wiggins on Monday afternoon at a press conference at the University of Kansas, the 19-year-old basketball phenom flanked by his coach on his right and his mother Marita on his left.
It’s official: Wiggins has declared himself for the National Basketball Association draft on June 26, a draft in which he has been forecast to go No. 1 for well more than a year and remains pencilled in the top slot by most forecasters.
“I’m just confident that I’m ready,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins is the most-hyped prospect to ever emerge from Canada, the leader of a flush of young talented players emerging together from the nexus of Toronto. June 26 could see three players from the area, including Tyler Ennis and Nik Stauskas, drafted in the first round, following Toronto’s Anthony Bennett last year, the first Canadian No. 1 NBA pick ever.
Wiggins had always planned on a single winter of college hoops and his decision comes after a successful season. He became the highest scoring freshman in the history of the storied Kansas program but it ended with a stain, losing in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, where Wiggins played poorly.
The promise, however, is far greater than the missteps. Wiggins turned 19 in February and is 6-foot-8, with an ideal body for his position, the wing, according to his college coach Bill Self. Wiggins has a rare quickness and an ability to leap that is close to unmatched. His boosters foresee an all-star within four years.
“Even though there’s other great athletes out there, I don’t think there’s many that can do the things physically that he can do,” said Self.
For Wiggins, whose talent first wowed the basketball world five years ago on YouTube when he was 14, his rise is ground in faith and family – a foundation on display on Monday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. Alongside his mom, an Olympic medalist sprinter, was older brother Mitchell Jr. and his dad Mitchell, who played in the NBA.
Asked of his goals in the NBA, Andrew said “I’ve got a lot” but spoke specifically of providing “better lives” for his family and close friends, and “giving back to the community where I camp up,” the Toronto suburb of Vaughan.
The payday will be immediate. Under the terms of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, the No. 1 pick in June will make as much as $5.5-million next season on a three-year deal worth $17.3-million. The No. 2 pick is set for $4.9-million next season on a $15.5-million three-year deal.
The other potential No. 1 was in fact in the room on Monday, teammate, friend and fellow freshman, 7-foot Joel Embiid. This year’s draft is not unlike 1984, when Hakeem Olajuwon went No. 1 and Michael Jordan went No. 3.
While some observers wonder about jumping so soon to the NBA, it would be insane to give up such earnings, with the constant spectre of potential injury. His mom said as much on Monday without talking about money: “The best thing is he’s not injured.”
Beyond an NBA salary, there’s the shoes. Last fall, before he even played a game at Kansas, a rumoured massive shoe contract with Adidas was floated on the Internet before it was quickly exposed as a hoax. While untrue, it spoke truth to the hype around Wiggins.
“He’s the first generation of YouTube superstars,” said NBA agent Bernie Lee of Lee Basketball Services Ltd. in Toronto.
What sort of star Wiggins turns into is unclear – and a worry is he gets stuck on a bad team that never really improves.
“Everything in the NBA is predicated on winning,” said Lee. “He’s definitely the No. 1 target of this year’s shoe crop but he’s not an electric personality, he’s not overly intriguing as a human being to have a conversation. From a basketball standpoint he does what looks good in 15-second clips. The fact that he’s Canadian also helps. It makes him unique in a way.”
What particularly impressed Self was Wiggins’s ability to, most of the time, deliver when his team needed him, when Kansas struggled. One memorable occasion was early March, in a losing cause to West Virginia when he score 41 points, grabbed eight rebounds, had five steals and four blocks.
“The games in which we laboured,” said Self, “he always seemed to produce more.”
How good, how fast, is the question on the court of the NBA. Some young No. 1 picks become dominant quite quickly, such as Anthony Davis, the top pick in 2012. Self spoke to the challenge on Monday, how veterans will hammer at the rookie. “You’re going to have to earn your way.”
Wiggins acknowledged he needed work on ball handling, shooting, strength. Most college players arrive in the NBA raw, even the likes of Jordan, who worked fervently to become a better shooter and put on muscle.
“No one’s game is perfect,” said Wiggins. “I have a lot of things to work on.”