Whether it's NBA scouts looking at college players, or college coaches and recruitniks watching prep stars, the appraisal of basketball talent remains a wholly imperfect science -- if it's even a science in the first place. There are so many variables: the level of play, the player's teammates, the setting, his mood that day. Taking one summer performance as definitive is hugely risky, because recruits are still kids, and kids are by nature inconsistent, and ... well, you don't need me to tell you any of this. It's all pretty obvious.
And now, with all of those qualifiers in place, it seems like you should become acquainted with the name Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins was already highly regarded; he's the consensus No. 1 player in the class of 2014. Still, according to just about everybody who saw Wiggins at Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C. Friday afternoon, he's the best high school basketball player in the country, or close to it. The hype has officially intensified.
Unfortunately, Wiggins didn't have a chance to go up against the No. 1 player in the class of 2013, Chicago native Jabari Parker, because Parker was recovering from a foot injury that will sideline him for much of the summer recruiting window. But Wiggins, an insanely athletic 6-foot-7 small forward from Toronto (he plays stateside at Huntington Prep) did have a chance to play against 2013's No. 2-ranked player, Julius Randle -- a player who dominates most other top-100 forwards, one whom many believe could nab Parker's top spot in the class before all is said and done. CBSSports.com's Jeff Goodman saw Wiggins take on Randle. His description of Wiggins' performance: "It was mass destruction."
Wiggins made Randle look ordinary, as if he was just another Top 100 player. I will confess that I'm a huge Randle fan, but he was outclassed -- in every manner.
I felt bad for Randle on this one because he didn't have a chance. Wiggins started slow, but by the end of the game he had racked up 28 points, grabbed 13 boards and done a magnificent job turning Randle into a non-factor for most of the contest. Randle finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, but the numbers were misleading. Wiggins wanted the defensive challenge against Randle and used his length, quickness and athleticism to continuously frustrate the big Texan.
With that performance, just about everyone present at the Riverview Park Activities Center walked away with the same thought: This kid has to be the best player in the country, regardless of class.
Wiggins is the most dynamic athletic force in high school basketball right now. He has a lightning-quick first step and on his second leap he is literally in the air as his opponent is just getting ready to jump. Wiggins had 23 points in the semifinal versus Mokan Elite (Kansas City) and in the final against the Oakland Soldiers, in which he also had eight rebounds. If Wiggins is not the best high school player in America, regardless of class, he deserves to be in the conversation.
The only downside to Wiggins' weekend was that his team didn't win. In fact, with his team (the Toronto-based CIA Bounce) leading by one point with 1.9 seconds left in the Peach Jam title game, Wiggins fouled a 3-point shooter -- sending the shooter to the line and robbing his team of a win and himself of his rightful Peach Jam coronation. Under needs, scouts can scribble "better understanding of game situations," but whatever -- that stuff will come in time. Right now, the Wiggins hype machine has a chance to engulf the enthusiasm around Parker, who just so happened to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated (next to the headline "The best high school basketball player since LeBron James is ... JABARI PARKER") this summer.
Given Parker's injury, and his parents' conservative approach to his recruitment, we may have to wait until next summer for the epic Wiggins-Parker battle, if it ever happens at all. Let's hope it does.
And in case you're wondering, yes, both players could very well end up playing their one-year college stopovers for John Calipari. Wiggins is assumed by most recruiting analysts to be leaning toward Kentucky; Parker's list of 10 schools included the Wildcats, but he's given little indication of his interest to date. Either way, Kentucky fans, you may commence your feverish drooling. Like you haven't started already.