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September 5, 2012

Wiggins could be next big thing in hoops

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Andrew Wiggins offers quite a basketball story - a Canadian son of a former NBA player, Mitchell Wiggins, and three-time Olympic sprinter, Marita Payne-Wiggins.

Throw in a growing feeling that he is arguably the best high school prospect since the loaded class of 2007 produced NBA MVP Derrick Rose, and we just might be looking at the next big thing in hoops.

The 6-foot-7 junior wing easily retains his spot atop the 2014 rankings, which were expanded to 150 and released on Wednesday morning. Wiggins made the move from just outside of Toronto to the United States a few years ago and, since arriving at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, he's improved each step of the way.

As a co-director of the CIA Bounce program of which Wiggins is a member during the spring and summer, Mike George has watched up close the development of a prospect many have ticketed for NBA stardom.

"It's a unique situation," George said. "Having somebody that is skilled and talented, you can get caught up in that. He's so fun to watch and sometimes you have to remember that you are a coach."

Wiggins is explosive off the floor, thrives in the transition game and has a knack for coming up with big plays at critical moments. On top of that, he is a humble, approachable teenager despite being seen as the torchbearer for Canadian basketball.

"I think he takes a lot of pride in that because that's where he's from and he plays on the national team," George said. "He embraces the opportunity and challenge and takes it on. He's got a very humble spirit about him. If you know his dad and his mom, they are the most humble people you will ever meet. A lot of that is inherited from his parents and his brothers.

" It's a lot of pressure but I don't think he thinks about it too much. He's just a young kid who enjoys playing the game. If he could just play pickup five-on-five the rest of his life he'd be happy because he loves the game. Because of that he doesn't feel the pressure."

Don't be fooled, though, Wiggins is intensely competitive. He knows that players who rank Nos. 2-5 in his class - Jahlil Okafor from Chicago Whitney Young, combo-forward Noah Vonleh from New Hampton (N.H.) Prep, and point guards Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones from Dallas (Texas) Prime Prep and Apple Valley (Minn.) High, respectively - would love to knock him out of the top spot in the rankings.

"That's his competitive side," George said. "He won't publicly come out and say much about it. But, I know if I talk to him privately he will say he wants to be the best.

"If you look at any of the best players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, I'm not saying he'll be like them, but you have to have that inner drive to be great like they do and he has that."

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Wiggins is whether he will remain in the class of 2014 or graduate in 2013 to jumpstart his college career? A decision on 2013 or 2014 should be coming down within the next two weeks.

As far as the college front, it's been widely speculated that he will end up at his parents' alma mater of Florida State, or head to Kentucky.

George insists that Wiggins is much more open in the recruitment process and that other programs are shutting the door on themselves by not even attempting to recruit him.

"I'll say this as my statement on his recruitment, these college coaches need to stop assuming and take a chance and recruit him," he said. "A lot of people assume that he's going to Florida State because of his parents or Kentucky or whatever because it's presented like that in the media. All of these assumptions are made but it has never come out of his mouth.

"These other coaches aren't even trying."

At the end of the day, only time will tell if Wiggins can live up to the lofty expectations being set for him. For now, he's focused on what he can control and that's getting in the gym, working on his game and continuing to improve.

"I think his biggest strength is his ability to create shots and score in different ways," George said. "He's super athletic, his second jump, I've never seen anything like it. His ability to score, even when he's struggling with his shot he gets buckets and he can get rebounds, he runs the floor and he will get you assists because he's unselfish.

"I think he could tighten up handles a bit more. Really, he's just about getting in the gym to try and continue to improve on all aspects of his game."



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