- Jason King
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The Andrew Wiggins era at Kansas got underway Wednesday when the most hyped basketball prodigy since LeBron James drew 1,300 fans to Lawrence.
For a pickup game.
Wiggins scored just seven points in a scrimmage against former Jayhawks stars such as Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins. But he definitely had KU faithful buzzing after soaring for a thunderous tomahawk slam just 10 seconds into the contest.
“I let loose all of my nerves,” Wiggins said. “I was good after that dunk.”
Indeed, the months leading up to Wednesday’s highlight-reel play were certainly taxing on Wiggins, who didn’t announce his college destination until May 14. Wiggins’ final list consisted of Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State.
When he finally picked the Jayhawks, he was as relieved as he was excited.
“Everywhere I went -- no matter where I went -- everyone asked me where I’m going to school,” Wiggins said. “So now it’s like a big relief, a big weight off my shoulders.”
Judging by Wiggins’ first few days in Lawrence, that pressure could soon return.
A anonymous poster on a Kansas message board somehow figured out Wiggins’ travel plans Sunday and posted his flight information online. When Wiggins landed in Kansas City, a handful of Jayhawks fans were there to greet him at the airport.
About an hour later, when he arrived at his Lawrence apartment for the first time, Wiggins encountered more autograph seekers who had been waiting for him in the parking lot.
Even though Wiggins -- the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft -- has spent much of the past few years in the spotlight, Kansas coach Bill Self said what he’ll experience at KU is “a different level.”
“I kind of feel for him,” Self said. “(He’s got) professional autograph seekers waiting for him every time he steps out of his apartment. He’s going to have to tell people ‘no.’ We’ve got to help him do that.
“Players can have rock star status and whatnot. But this could be kind of ridiculous if he lets it get to him. He just wants to come here and enjoy the summer. Hopefully people will allow him to do that.”
Self said he may ask former Kansas star and current Tulsa head coach Danny Manning to counsel Wiggins about life in the Lawrence limelight.
“Other than Danny, you’d have to go back to Wilt (Chamberlain) to find a guy that had this much fanfare coming in,” Self said. “He’s just a kid. I told him the other night that he hasn’t made a basket yet. The attention he’s received is based on potential. It’s not based on anything he’s done.
“But I think he should welcome the expectations. There’s no reason he should run from them.”
Fans at Wednesday’s scrimmage -- about half of them were kids attending Self’s basketball camp -- began chanting “We Want Wiggins!” shortly before KU’s newest star took the court. He threw down several effortless dunks during the layup line and also displayed the soft outside shooting touch that makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the court.
Wiggins’ slam on a two-on-one break in the game’s opening seconds caused an eruption in the stands. He dunked again moments later after stealing a pass at mid-court.
The rest of the contest was uneventful for Wiggins, who missed four of his final five shots. At times he seemed to lack energy, which is understandable considering a whirlwind last few weeks that included a trip to his native Toronto. The initial plan was for Wiggins to spend the majority of his summer there training for the Canadian National team.
But he changed his mind a few weeks ago and decided not to play for the squad.
“I know that college is a big step from high school,” Wiggins said, “so I wanted to make sure I was ready for it. Coming here early would (enhance) my chances of being ready for college.”
Wiggins said he’s also looking forward to spending time with his older brother, Nick, who plays for Wichita State.
“One of the reasons I came here is to be close to my brother,” Wiggins said. “Me and him are really close. I’ll be able to see him a lot this year. And when my family comes down they won’t have to travel a lot. We’re only (two hours) away from each other.”
Even though it’s likely Wiggins will only spend one season at Kansas, he said he’s confident he’ll enjoy his time in college. He said folks in Lawrence have “shown me nothing but love,” and he’s excited about getting to know his new teammates.
Kansas’ recruiting class is ranked No. 2 in the nation. Besides Wiggins, the Jayhawks signed a pair of potential future first-round draft picks in center Joel Embiid and wing Wayne Selden. Point guard Frank Mason should contend for a starting spot as a freshman and sharpshooters Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp will provide a nice boost off the bench.
The Jayhawks, who lost all five of last season’s starters, also added Memphis transfer Tarik Black, a senior forward who is likely to open the 2013-14 campaign as a starter.
“It’s an experience I can enjoy,” Wiggins said. “A lot of former players always say that college is a great basketball experience. The fans, going to school, being on campus ... it’s a great vibe. I’m looking forward to it.
“I want to win. I want me and my teammates to go as far as we can and to be the best players that we all can be. And hopefully win a national championship. That’s my main goal.”