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The 'Secretariat' of prospects

Hoops phenom Wiggins set to begin frosh year at Kansas

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WHEN an 18-year-old soon-to-be freshman arrived on Kansas University's campus this week, it signalled the start of what could be the most scintillating 10-month-long era in recent college basketball history.

And the most refreshing part of it all? Andrew Wiggins wants no part of the rock star status he has already been granted.

"I know college is a big step from high school, so I just want to be ready for it," Wiggins told reporters.

During Wednesday's much-publicized scrimmage, the 6-foot-8 Wiggins wowed the crowd of more than 1,300 at the Horejsi Center with glimpses of the talent that college coaches and recruiting analysts have been gushing about for more than a year.

There is little debate that Wiggins, who reclassified so he could enter college this fall, is the best high school basketball talent since Kevin Durant, who had a sterling freshman season in his only year of college basketball at Texas during the 2006-07 season.

But Wiggins has also been deemed the best high school talent since LeBron James, who of course skipped college altogether a decade ago. One national title-winning coach called Wiggins the "Secretariat" of basketball prospects because he possesses natural talent so far and away above his peers.

Kansas coach Bill Self was surprised at the level of attention Wiggins received just for settling into his apartment at Kansas this week. Self talked about concern over professional autograph seekers hounding Wiggins and referenced Danny Manning and Wilt Chamberlain as perhaps the only former players who received comparable hype before playing a minute at Kansas.

"We have recruited other good players before, but we have not had anybody with this type of attention at all," Self said. "I kind of feel for him."

From the recruiting riches at Kentucky to the return of several recognizable faces who decided to postpone their NBA careers, college basketball is poised for a distinguished season. But Wiggins could be the story of the year.

"But the whole thing is, he is just a kid," Self said. "I told him the other night, he had not made a basket yet and the attention he has received is based on potential, it's not based on anything he has done. But I think he should welcome the expectations."

Aside from sheer athleticism, what else distinguishes Wiggins is that he is allergic to the spotlight. He does not seek adulation. And he said one of the players he admires is Durant because the Oklahoma City Thunder star does not embrace all the trappings of stardom.

Wiggins said he was not even aware of all the schools recruiting him for much of last fall. And for a long time, he didn't understand that every person who came to watch his team play came to watch him put on a show.

"Players can have rock star status," Self said, "but this could be a little bit ridiculous if he lets it gets to him."

-- -- --

It will be fascinating to watch how much Self can tap into Wiggins' potential in one season before he is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2014 NBA draft. Wiggins will need to refine his jump shot in time.

And he no longer has to be bored against some competition, as he was at times at Huntington Prep (W.Va.), even when that competition included many future Division I college basketball players. His coaches had to nudge him or find various ways to motivate him because dominating, when he wanted to, came so easy for him.

Despite his unassuming manner, Wiggins does not lack confidence. He was motivated to outplay Julius Randle during a highly anticipated showdown at an event in North Augusta, S.C., last July because it "solidified" his reputation as the nation's best high school player. And his high school coach Rob Fulford said Wiggins had been "very upset" that touted Jabari Parker was not at the same event because Wiggins was "tired of hearing about him," Fulford said.

Now he is poised to shine on a much larger stage.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2013 B6

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