SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –- Coach Rob Fulford remembers well the day Andrew Wiggins made the decision to attend Huntington Prep. Driving on a road in downtown Huntington, W. Va., Fulford wasn’t quite sure how to express his excitement.
“It was a week before school started and I got a call from his dad, and he said ‘Hey congratulations Andrew’s coming.’ I was driving down the road and I damn near wrecked,” Fulford said with a laugh.
Since going to Huntington -- and one could even argue before going -- Wiggins has been one of the most followed amateur basketball players in the world. The Toronto native stands 6-foot-8 with long arms, a chiseled physique, gifted athleticism, and speed coveted by some of the country’s best point guards.
With those physical gifts has come an unprecedented amount of attention from fans and media. He’s a quiet kid at heart, and though he plays his best ball when the lights shine bright, he often struggles with the amount of pressure and questions that comes from his recruitment.
“It’s overwhelming, he just hates attention,” Fulford said.
Because of the talent and proximity, Huntington has played several games in the state of Kentucky this year. The University of Kentucky of course is considered to be one of the favorites to land the prized Canadian recruit, and at some points the mob of fans and autograph-seekers from gym to gym has taken a toll on Wiggins’ mental state. Fulford described the attention from fans and media as an ongoing circus of sorts.
“He doesn’t like it, we’ve played six games in the state of Kentucky this year, and we’ve had over 35,000 people there total," he said. "We play Montverde in Louisville on March 3, that’s going to be crazy.”
Wiggins has been sick for the last two weeks or so, first suffering from the flu before his illness developed into bronchitis. He showed no signs of slowing down at the Hoophall Classic on Sunday night though -– going up against Indiana-signee Noah Vonleh of New Hampton, Wiggins scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
He did not talk to media after the game.
The game with New Hampton was Huntington’s fourth in the last eight days, but with plenty of traveling inbetween. The Express played in Hampton, Va., Charleston, W. Va., and Dayton, Ohio before arriving in Springfield for the Hoophall.
Fulford admits that shots aren’t falling for Wiggins as easily as they were last year; he suggested that the mental toll of Wiggins’ recruiting process may have a lot to do with it.
“His shots aren’t falling; his shot was more consistent last year," Fulford said. "He’ll talk to you about anything, but once you bring up recruiting, he shuts down.”
For a star player who likes to keep to himself, Wiggins’ coach admitted that the rabid fanbase and constant media craze of Kentucky could very well impact his eventual college decision. All eyes will be on Wiggins wherever he goes, but Fulford and Wiggins are both well aware of the closely watched microscope that has become Kentucky basketball.
“I tell him, ‘You’re kind of sheltered here at Huntington’," Fulford said. "That’s the thing with the people in Huntington, when you go to the mall the little kids, they’re all over him. The adults, they could care less, they don’t even care who he is.
“He can be a normal kid here. I’ve told him after this year, he can’t hide, and if he goes to Kentucky, that part of it is going to be different.”
Wiggins may have been able to obtain some advice from a fellow blue chip prospect this weekend. Simeon’s Jabari Parker, who graced Sports Illustrated’s cover last year, had considerable attention on his recruitment until he committed to Duke on Dec. 20. On Sunday morning, before Huntington faced New Hampton, Wiggins and Parker spent a couple hours together at a photo shoot for Slam Magazine.
Parker spent the majority of the fall recovering from a stress fracture in his foot, an injury sustained while playing for the USA Under-17 national team this summer. However, when a nationally televised game came up early in Simeon’s season, Parker decided to play. Still trying to get back into shape and not close to being fully recovered, Parker got a lot of negative attention from the media and fans questioning why he was ranked as the No. 2 player in the 2013 class.
“I’m hoping [Parker and Wiggins] had some conversations, because I think with Jabari [recruiting] affected him," Fulford said on Parker's decision to announce last month. "He took so much heat when he came back, and he wasn’t ready to come back -- everybody saw that, but he took so much heat for it. I think he was like you know what screw this I’m going to get it over with.”
These days it seems as if everybody wants to know where Andrew will attend college—though it’s generally assumed that his college career won’t last more than a year. His coach hinted that those people may want to sit tight, thought, because Wiggins is nowhere near close to a decision and sees no point in rushing the process along. In the coming months he will be taking official visits to Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina. He has already visited Florida State, where both of his parents were star athletes.
He’s already being bombarded with questions of whether or not he will announce his decision at the McDonald’s All-American game or the Jordan Brand Classic, but the chances of him making an event out of his college decision are slim to none.
“I think deep down he may already know where he wants to go, but he hates to make a decision," Fulford said. "Obviously ESPN wants it to be on TV, but he won’t. That’s not his style.”