Canada is as celebrated for its hoop exports as the U.S. is for its wealth of hockey talent. However, in recent years, there’s been a sudden shift in the Canadian basketball scene. In 2011, Tristan Thompson was the highest-drafted Canadian-bred baller in NBA history and once Myck Kabongo is out from under the NCAA’s boot he’ll be an early 2013 first round pick.
ESPN draftnik Chad Ford believes 17-year-old Andrew Wiggins, who transferred to powerhouse Huntington Prep (West Virginia) from Canada, is the best prep hoops prospect since King James.
During last weekend's National High School Hoops Festival Wiggins lost his shooting touch, but displayed a versatile array of crossovers, spin moves and aerial scoring en route to a victory over Riverdale Baptist. Wiggins’ 16 points and 14 boards was a subpar performance for a player whom many peg as the best prep hoops player in America. Anything short of the lofty expectations set for him is a letdown.
Ten years ago, LeBron entered the national lexicon and altered the scope of prep hoops. Modern day hoops phenoms don’t receive the LeBron James media treatment, due in part to David Stern’s 19-year-old age limit. As a result, instead of ESPN beaming Wiggins and No. 1 Huntington Prep into the homes of casual fans across the nation, he’s mostly unknown outside of hoop heads and ESPNU subscribers.
Wiggins is a fundamentally sound wing scorer with a Durant-like 6-11 wingspan, aided by a 44-inch vertical, packaged in a 6-8 frame. If the ageless Steve Nash is Canada’s reigning Mr. Basketball and the Great White North’s hoops version of Gordie Howe, the great black hope of Canadian basketball’s new era is Basketball Gretzky.
As a result, Wiggins is the most high-profile Canadian teenage sensation since Sidney Crosby was gliding across junior hockey ice and Drake was rolling through the halls of Degrassi. Since October, when Wiggins officially reclassified to join college hoops’ freshman Class of 2013, the hoopla surrounding his recruitment has quickly intensified and is orbited by one of the most unusual recruiting battles in recent college basketball history.
Wiggins' list has reportedly been whittled down to everybody’s favorite Kentucky and the surprisingly unusual contender Florida State. His motive? Seminole is in his DNA. It’s where his Olympic silver medalist moms met his NBA-journeyman pops.
However, Florida State’s unheralded basketball program is the Solange Knowles to its internationally known sister football program.
While Bobby Bowden was busy constructing a perennial national championship contender, the Seminoles basketball program has barely stayed afloat in the ACC, save for a Sam Cassell-led run to the Sweet 16 in ’92 followed by an Elite Eight in ’93 that ended in a loss to the, you guessed it, Kentucky Wildcats. After Cassell, arguably its most prominent hoops product is more renowned for his Heisman (Charlie Ward) than his contributions on the hardwood.
Program builder Leonard Hamilton has changed the game. At Florida State, Wiggins would be the rare blue moon prospect to launch the program into national prominence. At Kentucky, Wiggins would be the Dylan Dilinjah to Coach Cal’s Diddy, who would inevitably be buried beneath the weight of Wildcat mythology and Calipari’s celebrity. On the other hand, one quick glance at the ESPN 150 recruits tells you how special Kentucky’s 2013 class could be, if Wiggins commits. A recruiting haul consisting of top-six prospects – Wiggins, the Harrison wonder twins, James Young and top-30 power forward Marcus Lee – would be next level. That doesn’t even include Julius Randle, the nation’s top power forward.
The Wildcats ‘92 Unforgettables squad lost one of the most memorable games in college basketball history after making a miraculous run through the Big Dance and had their jerseys lifted to the rafters before they’d graduated. Starting center Willie Cauley-Stein never heard of ‘em. UK’s current crop of one-and-dones probably think The Unforgettables were a psychedelic rock band from the UK.
As a Seminole, Wiggins could leave behind a Carmelo-like legacy, complete with a statue-building naming package. Unlike Rick Barnes and then-Texas freshman Kevin Durant – who both were chucked out the Big Dance before they’d reached the bar – Hamilton has too much coaching acumen to allow Wiggins to get bounced from the club without a chance to chill in VIP.
During his tenure in Tallahassee, Hamilton has often fallen short of attaining rival Floridian Billy Donovan’s level of success. If the 2013 class comes to fruition and Hamilton’s recent tourney success continues, his 2013 recruiting class is robust enough to make national title aspirations reasonable.
The perception that may hurt Florida State’s cause is that, unlike ‘Melo in college basketball fevered upstate New York, Wiggins will be secondary to football season, bowl season and then spring practice down South. Fortunately, Donovan has proven it can be done. Wiggins would join his high school teammate and fellow Canadian Xavier Rathan-Mayes, son of a former FSU guard, and a slew of top 150 commits who could be FSU’s Noah, Brewer and Horford.
Unfortunately, getting blown out the swamp water by 25 to Donovan’s Gators during Wiggins’ official visit last Wednesday had to hurt their chances. The blow may have been softened by FSU’s co-ed love.
Wiggins is Canada’s basketball Gretzky and he was born to be FSU’s hoops savior. If Wiggins is mid-air, looking down at defenders next season in the garnett and gold, Tallahassee should look up and thank Canada.