Marcus Smart: Wiggins needs to 'prove'

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:00
PM ET
Let's admit it: There's a chance Andrew Wiggins has us all out in front of our skis.

A lot of us -- and by "us" I mean any college basketball fan (or writer) inclined to (or paid to) offer their tepid predictions for the 2013-14 season -- will pick Wiggins as the preseason player of the year despite zero college hoops evidence to support it. Plenty of people still haven't seen Wiggins play period. No matter how good a recruit is, and Wiggins is as good as any, visiting this kind of expectation upon a freshman comes with a huge amount of risk. (And yes, in this instance, the "risk" mostly amounts to "being heckled on Twitter." But still.)

The freshman could struggle with a new role. He could take a month or two to assert himself. He could just flat-out not be as good as everyone thinks. None of this is likely in Wiggins' case, but it's certainly possible. You never really know.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Sam Forencich/Getty ImagesWill the hype for Kansas' Andrew Wiggins be a burden for the freshman?
Were I a very good college basketball player who had already staged an impressive freshman campaign and turned down a top-five draft spot to return to school for a second season, this same dynamic -- huge expectations, minimal evidence -- would probably make me a little bit peeved. So it was with Oklahoma State star Marcus Smart, who outlined as much in his typically diplomatic fashion to USA Today this weekend:
"They are saying he is the best college player there is and he has not even played a game yet," Smart said. "Of course that hypes me up. It is all talk. He still has to put his shorts on one leg at a time like I do. It is all potential. I am not saying he can't do it. But he has not done it yet.
"I wouldn't say he is overrated," Smart said. "I would just say there is a lot of pressure on him right now. He is under a microscope from the world that is bigger than anybody would think, bigger than he knows. Whatever he does will be magnified times a million, just because of the hype. Whatever he says, does, however he acts."

This might be the biggest factor in Wiggins' season: Coming to terms with the spotlight foisted upon him. Whereas Smart entered college 18 going on 35 -- where he embraced the attention and backed it up with die-hard gym work and leadership -- Wiggins arrives at Kansas the kid still hoping he can just play basketball and be left alone. In high school, Wiggins' attempts to remain low-key were charming, a refreshing contrast to most high-profile recruits. At the college level and beyond, there is no escaping the glare. So when Smart says something like this ...
"I am not going to back down from any challenge. Like I said, you are going to have to prove to me. I am a fighter; I will keep fighting and will never give up."

... or this ...
"I want to earn it, I don't want anything given to me," Smart says. "It has not been [given] at all. I want to work for what I have. If feel if you work for what you have instead of it being just given to you, people respect you a lot more because you understand what it takes, you've been there and done it. No one can just say it was easy because you took it. You didn't just get it. You took it. So all the power and credit to him [Wiggins]. Congratulations for the Sports Illustrated, all the hype, congratulations to him. But that's definitely a lot of pressure on him."

... you can almost see him hunched over in a defense stance, clapping his hands, smiling at Wiggins as Gallagher Iba rattles at the hinges around him. At this point, Wiggins' entry into the sport has been so feted that even the most celebrated players in the game are circling their calendars. He will get everyone's best shot.

Is he talented enough to win anyway? Without question. Is it a guarantee? For so many of the reasons that make basketball so fascinating, no. Not even close.

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