SI Vault
 
The Freshman
LUKE WINN
October 14, 2013
A once-in-a generation talent, ANDREW WIGGINS has Kansas fans in a frenzy. It's not the first time a first-year Jayhawk has had that effect
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 14, 2013

The Freshman

A once-in-a generation talent, ANDREW WIGGINS has Kansas fans in a frenzy. It's not the first time a first-year Jayhawk has had that effect

View CoverRead All Articles

Basketball was born in the mind of an Ontario man, a Canadian expat who founded the first team at Kansas and bequeathed it to an alum who fashioned himself a guardian of the inventor's intentions. In 1927, Dr. James Naismith's coaching heir, Dr. Forrest (Phog) Allen, won a battle to keep dribbling in the game, even though it wasn't explicitly covered in the original 13 rules, and in '28, he wrote an essay in Country Gentleman magazine entitled "Dunking Isn't Basket Ball." Allen was adamant that the basket should be raised because the average height of the players was increasing. The solution, he believed, was a 12-foot rim. Allen had prototypes constructed for practice and spent decades lobbying the NCAA rules committee to make the change. But in '55, when Allen was being honored by having his name on the new, $2.65 million fieldhouse at KU, the rims were still set at 10 feet.

Allen needed no ulterior motive to recruit 7-foot Wilton Chamberlain, the No. 1 schoolboy player in the class of 1955, out of Philadelphia. He was citius, altius, fortius, Stiltius—the fastest, tallest, strongest center the sport had ever seen. But Phog also wanted Wilt to serve as a giant middle finger pointing in the direction of the NCAA. In a never-published portion of a '57 interview with LIFE, Allen said of Chamberlain, "I wanted to get this boy and I wanted him to stuff that basket full of basketballs. I'd show the rules committee how ridiculous that 10-foot basket was."

The NCAA agreed that Wilt might make a mockery of the game, but its rule changes didn't involve the rim. Tales from Chamberlain's scrimmages with the freshman team led to the outlawing, for 1956--57, of redirecting teammates' shots into the hoop, which Wilt did frequently; of inbounding the ball on offense by lobbing it over the backboard, because Wilt was unstoppable on that play; and of jumping over the stripe as a free throw shooter, because Wilt could dunk that way.

By being recruited to volume-dunk the sport into crisis, and instigating new rules before even being allowed to play varsity ball, Wilt set the bar impossibly high for future No. 1--ranked players who enrolled at Kansas. Yet the next one arrived 29 years later and did two things that Wilt did not: graduate and win a national championship. The next one arrived 29 years after that, which brings us to the present, and the question of what another Canadian can do for KU.

On May 18, four days after a certain Ontario boy signed with Kansas, coach Bill Self attended his daughter Lauren's graduation from KU's school of education. The ceremony was held in Allen Fieldhouse, and the dean, Rick Ginsberg, had asked the 2013 grads to submit, on index cards, their most embarrassing moments and greatest regrets. Among the statements he mentioned was, "Not being around to see Andrew Wiggins play for the Jayhawks."

Dang! Self thought when he heard that. Even if it might be a joke ... even though the 18-year-old from Thornhill, outside Toronto, who had played for Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, was the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013 ... and even though he's the likely No. 1 pick in the '14 NBA draft. This is commencement! And the kid hasn't even made a basket!

On June 15 the 6'8", 200-pound Wiggins emerged from a gate at Kansas City International Airport to find 15 fans waiting for his autograph. His itinerary had been posted on a message board. One 21-year-old journalism major at Southeast Missouri State had a blue KU jersey with the number 22—even before Wiggins had received his own—because it was available to purchase in multiple stores in Lawrence. Four days later, when Wiggins made his first semipublic basket at KU, a soaring, fast-break dunk just a few seconds into a scrimmage in front of grade-school-aged campers, the play was on YouTube within hours and blogged about extensively.

The hysteria has only increased. Students have been Twitter-stalking Wiggins like tween girls obsessed with another fever-inducing Canadian teenage star. On the eve of Wiggins's return to KU for fall semester, in August, @EvanRiggs15 wrote, "Operation find Andrew Wiggins on campus is only a day away." Three people tweeted about being in his first fall class, and four tweeted about being in his second one, including @J_ST3W_K_C, who posted a photo of the back of Wiggins's head and the Raptors hat on his lap. So much for privacy laws or personal space: On Sept. 5, @Aly_Bauer tweeted about grabbing Wiggins's butt. There were other tweets about spotting him at Walmart, walking with him during a fire drill and delivering him a late-night pizza.

"I'm used to the attention by now," Wiggins says. But if you think he basks in it, consider that he tried to hold his college decision ceremony without any media present, his favorite nonbasketball activity is playing Call of Duty and his Twitter bio says he's "Just a average kid trying to make it." It's an endearing line from someone whose personality could be characterized as Unassuming Canadian, but still: C'mon!

"I used to be an average kid, when I put that up," he insists. "But that ... was a while ago."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6