Andrew Wiggins -- CBSSports.com's Preseason Player of the Year
He won't average what Kevin Durant averaged because he's not a point-hunter like that. But Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins will prove to be the nation's best college basketball player this season.
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- I am sitting in the bleachers inside Allen Fieldhouse, on the second row and underneath a string of retired jerseys that read "Chamberlain" and "Pierce" and "Manning." Next to me, just to my right, is an 18-year-old prodigy whose name could theoretically also be in these rafters someday, and we are discussing college basketball, at which point I realize Andrew Wiggins doesn't know much about college basketball.
"I really didn't watch college basketball when I was young," Wiggins tells me.
But who was your favorite college team?
"I never had one," Wiggins says with a smile.
So if you're a college basketball fan who has been operating under the assumption that college basketball's next-great-thing has always dreamed of playing in this historic building for the Kansas Jayhawks, well, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Because not only did Wiggins never dream of playing at KU, he never dreamed of Big Mondays or Final Fours or any of this stuff. He's in college mostly because the system essentially requires it; barring a major surprise, Wiggins will be out of college in seven months and preparing to fulfill his actual lifelong dream -- playing in the NBA. But in between now and then he's planning to make an impact both in the Big 12 and nationally while dealing with ridiculously high expectations that have some wondering whether Wiggins can have a season comparable to the one Kevin Durant had in his first and only year at Texas.
So I ask Wiggins about this.
Then he asks me a question in response.
"What did Kevin Durant do in college?" Wiggins asks before reminding me that he never actually watched Durant play a minute of college basketball.
"Kevin averaged 26 points a game," I tell Wiggins.
"But did he have a good team?" Wiggins asks, and it is at this moment when I realize that though I'm talking to an immensely gifted young man who currently projects as the consensus No. 1 pick in next June's NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins is not all that interested in trying to set scoring records because, honestly, he doesn't even know what they are, and it's never occurred to him to ask.
He'd rather win a lot and hang a sixth championship banner in Allen Fieldhouse.
He's here at Kansas to try to cut nets.
"I don't know about 26 a game," Wiggins says. "But my team is going to be really good."
Andrew Wiggins is CBSSports.com's Preseason National Player of the Year.
And, before you scream it, yes, I know, he hasn't played a game in college yet. And yes, I know, some of you are going to insist he should've had to "earn it" on the court, and blah, blah, blah. But, with all due respect, I think that's a stupid approach because preseason honors aren't really earnable. They are simply educated guesses about what's to come. So in the same way that Kentucky couldn't possibly earn the preseason No. 1 ranking most will bestow upon it, there was no way for Wiggins to earn this.
It's merely a projection.
It's a projection rooted in Wiggins' unique combination of skill and athleticism, and it's a prediction best defined this way: after all of the games have been played, I think it'll be clear to most intelligent observers that this 6-foot-8 wing from Canada will have been the nation's best player for the 2013-14 season regardless of whether he leads anything in scoring, rebounding or whatever other statistic draws attention.
"I'm going to embrace it," Wiggins said. "I'm going to take it as a challenge."
Still, Wiggins knows a backlash is probably coming.
It's an almost unavoidable scenario for somebody often labeled as the best prep prospect since LeBron James graduated in 2003. If Wiggins doesn't get 20 points in KU's opener on Nov. 8, countless reactionary folks on Twitter will label him overrated. If Wiggins doesn't overwhelm fellow freshman phenom Jabari Parker four nights later in a game against Duke, some will wonder whether he's even a future top-five pick.
Such is the harsh reality of daily referendums on athletes.
"It's going to be so hard for him to live up to the expectations," said assistant Kurtis Townsend, who was KU's primary recruiter of Wiggins. "But when I talk to Andrew about it, he says, you know, he's had these types of expectations on him his whole life."
Which is true, of course.
I first met Wiggins five summers ago in Las Vegas when he was a 13-year-old playing for a 16-and-under team called Grassroots Canada. His coach at the time, Ro Russell, told me this that day: "Andrew Wiggins will eventually be the best player I've ever had."
So, yeah, Wiggins has been dealing with high expectations forever.
And he's also forever shined in big moments.
The best example came two summers ago at the Nike Peach Jam when Wiggins was matched against Julius Randle, the current Kentucky freshman whom most project as the No. 2 pick in next June's NBA Draft. The gym was packed with college coaches, media and fans, and Wiggins completely overwhelmed Randle in every way to solidify his reputation as the nation's best high school prospect. The guess here is that Wiggins' freshman season will go similarly. He'll blend in at times -- mostly because he's surrounded by other future lottery picks like Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden -- but have so many huge performances in big moments that his talent and impact will be undeniable even if he doesn't average the same 25.8 points that Durant averaged at Texas.
"Andrew just isn't that kind of guy," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "He's not a guy who's going to be hunting points, but what he can do is dominate games in a lot of ways that maybe [Durant] wasn't asked to do. But he's not going to average 26. He's probably not even going to be a 20-point scorer."
And, if that's the case, will there be a backlash because of all this hype?
"There might be from some people, but it won't be from NBA people," Self answered. "The people who matter won't [question him]. Because they know."
In the meantime, Wiggins will try to fit in as best he can for somebody who is already signing autographs on campus, and, by all accounts, he's been great at that so far. "All the pressure and all the hype, and he handles it the best I've ever seen anybody do it," Selden said as he glanced over during KU's Media Day and saw Wiggins surrounded by at least 20 reporters and cameramen. "He remains humble. He's really good with all of this stuff."
And an accomplished Call of Duty gamer, too.
Perhaps the best on the KU team.
"I don't think that's true" joked Kansas guard Tyler Self, who doubles as the coach's son and Wiggins' roommate. "But he is just a normal college kid. He's pretty laid back. He likes to chill, hangout ... and I think he's fitting in very well with the team."
That's off the court, obviously. On the court, there's really never going to be a time when Wiggins isn't the center of everybody's attention. Coaches will gameplan for him. NBA scouts will essentially move to Lawrence to regularly evaluate him. Fans will buy tickets and tune to certain channels at certain times to, in many cases, get their first glimpse outside of YouTube clips of the kid who projects as the future face of whatever NBA franchise is fortunate enough to lose enough to position itself to draft him.
Again, Wiggins told me he's embracing all of these expectations.
He didn't ask for them.
But he's going to accept them and focus on living up to them.
"It's a lot to fulfill," Wiggins said. "But I don't think anything is out of reach for me."
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