Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas, makes Jayhawks a title contender
Remember all that talk about how this could end up being the year that Kansas ends their streak of winning at least a share of nine straight Big 12 regular season title?
Remember how we all thought that Marcus Smart and Le’Bryan Nash -- and maybe Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson -- returning to school for another season would be the biggest news of the offseason in the Big 12?
Remember when Oklahoma State was the best team in the conference?
That all changed on Tuesday afternoon when Andrew Wiggins, the Canadian-born forward out of Huntington Prep (WV) and the top high school recruit in the country, announced that he would be spending his one year of college basketball playing for Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks.
Of the four teams involved in the final pursuit of a prospect many believe to be on par with Kevin Durant and LeBron James, Kansas probably had the most to gain by bringing in the freakishly athletic, 6-foot-7 wing. Wiggins is a pure-bred scorer, a kid whose athleticism borders on genetic mutation -- that’s what happens when your father was a first round pick in the NBA and your mother won silver medals as a sprinter in the Olympics -- that has the handle and shooting ability to be so much more than just a dunker. He’s the go-to guy that Self has desperately needed since Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor headed off to the NBA after the 2012 national title game.
Because the Jayhawks do have talent on their roster, it’s just young talent.
Joel Embiid may be the best center in the Class of 2013. He’ll team up in the front court with Perry Ellis, a scoring machine when he was in high school that finally gained some confidence by the end of the season. Self will have a myriad of perimeter weapons at his disposal as well-- five-star freshman Wayne Selden, Andrew White, Brannen Greene and the three-headed attack at the point of Naadir Tharpe, Connor Frankamp and Frank Mason.
The problem is that as good as all of those kids are going to be down the road, they are all young and/or inexperienced right now. Tharpe is going to be next year’s ‘veteran leader’, and he was so shaky at the point last season that Self was forced to play Elijah Johnson there even when Johnson was playing with the self-confidence of a middle school tuba player hitting on Blake Lively. Ellis was a touted recruit coming out of high school, but he played behind a guy that transferred in from Loyola Marymount. Combined, those two played fewer minutes per game last season than Travis Releford.
That’s the kind of experience that Self was going to be forced to deal with in 2013-2014.
But with Wiggins on the roster, those young guys can simply embrace being role players. They won’t have to shoulder too much responsibility, because Wiggins will be the guy that a) Self builds his offense around and b) defenses focus on stopping. It will be a lot easier for someone like Ellis or Selden or Embiid to have an impact offensively when they are constantly going up against a defense shaded towards Wiggins.
The beauty of it is that this is also a good thing for Kansas basketball in the future. Wiggins is gone after this season, but with a year of development at the collegiate level, who’s to say that someone like Embiid or Selden can’t turn into an all-american caliber player as a sophomore? Self is as good at developing talent as any coach in the country, and with Wiggins in the fold, he can do just that with his youngsters without having to worry about putting too much on their plate too early in their career.
Because that streak is a burden.
No one wants to be a part of the Kansas team that couldn’t win the Big 12 regular season title.
With Wiggins on the roster, the burden of that pressure lands on his shoulders.
And he’s good enough to handle it.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.