The present and future of American basketball descended on Las Vegas last week. While the U.S. national team practiced at UNLV's Mendenhall Center in preparation for the London Olympics, nearly 100 of the top high school players convened seven miles away at Rancho High, site of the LeBron James Skills Academy. James might be the best player on Team USA, but the top player at his camp hailed from north of the border: Andrew Wiggins, a 6'7", 195-pound rising junior from Concord, Ont.
Steve Nash is the undisputed patron saint of Canadian basketball, but Wiggins is far, far more developed than Nash was at the same stage; a Canadian newspaper recently described him as "likely the best 17-year-old hoopster Canada has ever produced." Let's take the paeans one giant step further: He is the consensus top player in the class of 2014.
In order to find top competition, Wiggins had to come south. After his freshman season of high school, he transferred to Huntington Prep in West Virginia, where he was the state's Gatorade player of the year following a sophomore season in which he averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.7 blocks. Wiggins shone at the Nike Hoop Summit in April in Portland, scoring 20 points in the World team's 84--75 win over Team USA.
His offensive arsenal, powered by a 44-inch vertical leap, was on full display at the LeBron academy, where he scored on a variety of three-pointers, slashing drives and acrobatic layups. Those athletic gifts are not especially surprising. His father, Mitchell, played six years in the NBA, and his mother, Marita, won two silver medals for Canada in track at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Because his father played for Florida State and remains close friends with Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton, the buzz in Vegas pegged FSU as the early favorite to land the son (for a year, anyway). Wiggins insists that his recruitment is a long way from heating up, and he wants to check out Syracuse, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina, among others.
For now, visions of gold, not scholarships, are dancing in his head. Pointing out that two Canadians (Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph) were chosen in the first round of last year's NBA draft, and a third (Texas point guard Myck Kabongo) could go in next year's first round, Wiggins credibly predicts that "2016 is going to be a great year for Canada." That's big news for a country whose hoops team has not qualified for the Games since 2000.