Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Andrew Wiggins SI Cover

As if the hype wasn't enough, Sports Illustrated as KU freshman Andrew Wiggins on the cover with Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. (

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Kansas' Andrew Wiggins is on the newest cover of Sports Illustrated with Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. Is it fair to Wiggins to have him on a cover with two of KU's best and put that level of pressure on him before he's played a collegiate game?

Absolutely, it is fair, although SI's choice to put Andrew Wiggins on the cover is less impactful than it would be if the NBA's one-and-done rule wasn't in place and the young Canadian still chose to play through a year (at least) in the NCAA. As it stands, Wiggins is exactly as important to Kansas as Wilt and Manning were during their respective post-commitment, pre-playing days. Although he likely will not single-handedly dominate or lead the Jayhawks as a freshman, Wiggins' marriage to KU brings the program the credibility that can only be attained by obtaining a No. 1 recruit who happens to be heavily lauded as a once-in-a-generation talent. It's the kind of thing a university's men's hoops team can leverage during scouting trips and home visits for years, even coasting if it so chose -- and head coach Bill Self is not one to coast, as evidenced by the steady stream of excellent ability that flows through the program he commands.

That Wiggins chose Kansas means even more in a landscape in which John Calipari can trot out five freshmen starters at Kentucky each season with expectations for roughly half of his roster to enter the NBA draft. While UK and KU are both tradition-rich programs, Calipari's superb recruiting tactics may have diluted the public's perception of the Wildcats in a way that the Jayhawks and every other collegiate team have escaped by not filling their squads around all-around unproven quantities, whether those programs have the requisite recruiting weight to do so or not. 

Wiggins is one of the few high school players with critical mass-level hype that make it to college without flaming out. By going to Kansas instead of Florida State (another school that made it into his final four choices), Wiggins has hedged his bets against seeing his star dim before becoming a professional. He won't have to carry the Jayhawks like he would have done for the Seminoles. The kid is -- or his parents, or his handlers are -- smart. Wilt towered above and overpowered his opponents; Manning was a four-year KU denizen led a miracle team to a championship; and, when all is said and done, Wiggins won't match either of those profiles, but he will be exactly as important to Kansas' basketball legacy as the two players he shares the SI cover with. Yes, he is worthy of the pressure.

First off, it's important to not get the wrong idea about the cover. SI is making a comparison about freshman hype, yet some may take it as SI is calling Wilt, Manning and now Wiggins the three best freshmen to ever play at KU. Freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity basketball during Wilt's days and Manning scored twice as many points his senior year than he did as a freshman. He was still very good as a freshman (14 points per game), but nothing like by the time he was a senior (24 ppg). But what all three have in common was the hype around getting them to Lawrence. Ben McLemore now owns the freshman scoring record at KU after last year's performance. Even so, people were calling McLemore a bust because of his inconsistency. Wiggins can put up Manning and McLemore-like freshman numbers, but that's not what the cover represents. No one in recent years has been hyped as much as Wiggins. It is an automatic burden he must live with, much like Wilt.

Is it fair? Sure. It wasn't libelous or painting Wiggins in a poor light. But can it be easily taken out of context and in turn throw massive amounts of pressure on the kid? Absolutely. It's one thing to label Wiggins as the best in his class (I'm not going to even get into the LeBron comparisions) but even without saying he will be in the pantheon of Kansas basketball without playing a game, and merely making a comparison of the circus each player drew, is not something that should be placed on his shoulders.

I'm worried about the national attention and analysis of Wiggins. People are expecting Wiggins to put up a performance similar to what Kevin Durant did during his one season at Texas. But here's the biggest difference: Wiggins is both blessed and cursed to have so much talent around him. Durant was able to score so much because he was the guy. Look at the Texas roster from 2006. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams had solid years and ended up as fine college players, but Durant took more than 200 more shots than Abrams and 300 more than Augustin. Durant was the offense.

Now look at what Wiggins has. Wayne Seldon has the potential to be a star; Joel Embiid could be a future No. 1 draft pick if he stays a few years and has had his footwork compared to Hakeem Olajuwon; and some are saying sophomore Perry Ellis still might be the leading scorer on the team. Wiggins will be good. Probably very good. But he won't average 25 points per game because he won't need to. He has so much talent around him to make plays that fans and analysts won't just be able to look at his stat line to know what kind of player he is. He could still have a great impact on the college landscape this year, but be wary of expecting Durant's numbers and don't call him a bust if he averages 16 ppg instead of 24.

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