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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Wiggins wait was worth it for Kansas

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

According to its website, Canada's version of the Central Intelligence Agency, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, is "at the forefront of Canada's national security establishment, employing some of the country's most intelligent and capable men and women."

If only the CSIS -- which spends most of its time working to squash North American terrorist threats -- could offer an NBA salary.

On Tuesday afternoon, the best high school basketball player on the continent -- the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, and probably the best, too -- proved he is possessed of not only otherworldly basketball gifts but also a preternatural ability to keep the world from knowing a singular piece of information.

Wiggins' parents, both former Florida State athletes, were reportedly in the dark as late as Tuesday morning. Even the Kansas coaching staff could do little more than cross its communal fingers until the final phone call. According to ESPN senior recruiting analyst Dave Telep, the Jayhawks not only didn't know; they hadn't even been in "much contact recently" with the player who, in the matter of a few words in a West Virginia gym, would morph KU from a promising but inexperienced group into one that will compete for the 2014 national title.

Andrew Wiggins
At his high school's gymnasium, Andrew Wiggins made the announcement we've all been waiting for.

Somehow, in a grassroots basketball world where everyone is friends or cousins with someone who knows a guy who knows the kid -- in a recruitment that lasted until the final two days of the spring signing period, no less -- even the most plugged-in college basketball people had no clue what Wiggins would do until he told them.

In another life, Wiggins could have been the Canadian James Bond. In this life, he's a future NBA lottery pick -- and, for one season, a Kansas Jayhawk.

Indeed, the only thing more impressive than the kid's public relations discipline might be his ability on the basketball court. At 6-foot-7, 205 pounds, Wiggins melds the skills and grace of a guard with the power and size of a forward. He isn't just an athletic specimen who can do things like this (although I highly recommend you spend the rest of your afternoon with Wiggins dunks on YouTube); he's also a speedy, tightrope ball handler with court vision and a consistent perimeter shot. Scouts believe he could play the 2, 3 or 4 at the college level; he will be every opponent's matchup nightmare no matter where he lines up.

His signing would have had a massive impact on any of his four final choices. At Kentucky, it would have given John Calipari -- who already has the best recruiting class in the history of the game -- a chance to pursue not only national title aspirations but even loftier legacy goals. At FSU, Wiggins would have made the Seminoles an instant ACC contender and intriguing national sleeper. At North Carolina, Wiggins could have catapulted an already-talented-but-flawed team into bona fide national title contention.

It does just as much, if not more, for Kansas. The Jayhawks began this offseason in an unusual position, as close to rebuilding as Kansas ever gets. All five starters from a 31-6 Big 12 title team -- seniors Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Kevin Young, Travis Releford and freshman phenom Ben McLemore -- were gone. Only three contributors remained: sophomore-to-be reserves Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor and shaky veteran guard Naadir Tharpe. Kansas coach Bill Self, who has won nine straight Big 12 titles by developing three- and four-year players like Withey more effectively than any other coach in the country, would be forced to start and rely on freshmen.

Fortunately, those freshmen are good. Even before Wiggins, Self had signed top-ranked center Joel Embiid, fourth-ranked small forward Wayne Selden and highly regarded four-star guards Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene. Several of them would have to start; all of them would play big minutes. When 2013 National Freshman of the Year Marcus Smart returned to Oklahoma State, it looked as though the Jayhawks might finally see their incredible Big 12 title streak end. At the very minimum, they looked vulnerable.

Wiggins changes all that. He doesn't make KU any more experienced, sure, but he does make it as talented as any team in the country that didn't either (A) just win a national title and return its leading scorer (Louisville) or (B) stockpile eight McDonald's All-Americans (that would be Kentucky). Self will be able to center his young group around the new signing, whose 2-3-4 positional flexibility can be used to take pressure off both a young backcourt and an unproven frontcourt. Kansas will be able to play big or small and lose very little in the transition.

For his part, Wiggins gets the best of both worlds. He'll get to be the monolithic star the way he could have been at Florida State without sacrificing minutes or touches to compete for a national title at a blue blood, which could have been the case at Kentucky.

Self, meanwhile, may have to do his best coaching job ever. The Kansas coach has always been willing to take on talented one-and-dones, but he's never had a team as young and as talented with so few slow-roasted veterans, returning starters or inherently defined roles as this one.

That's why projecting KU's one year with Wiggins is not quite as simple as it might seem. It's surely worth issuing the standard disclaimer: Freshmen are, by their very nature, unpredictable. There's a chance Wiggins doesn't take college basketball by storm in November. There's a chance he is more Harrison Barnes than Anthony Davis -- a great prospect but a limited one. There's a chance he is every bit as good as we think, but the college game, or even the Jayhawks' system, isn't open enough for him to show it. There's a chance it takes a few weeks or a couple of months for the whole thing to come together. There's a chance it never will.

Those chances all seem awfully small. If any player in the one-and-done era is destined to live up to his immense hype, it's this one. Self is too good a coach not to maximize his eight months with the future No. 1 overall pick, too savvy and too ruthlessly competitive not to modify his system wherever and whenever he should. Wiggins is too versatile and too overwhelming to fall flat. Whether Maple Jordan is a generational talent, an NBA All-Star or merely very good remains to be seen. The number of NBA teams already planning how best to tank their own 2013-14 seasons should give you some indication, but anything could happen. You never know.

For now, we can be certain of at least five things:

1. Kansas wasn't a national title contender -- or even the favorite to win the Big 12 -- before Tuesday. That has changed.
2. Thousands of KU fans nearly lost their jobs from screaming and dancing in their offices Tuesday.
3. Thousands of Florida State, Kentucky and UNC fans did the same, but for decidedly different reasons.
4. Kentucky won't be as mind-bendingly, planet-devouringly good next season as Wiggins would have all but guaranteed, but the Wildcats will remain a national title contender. Probably even the favorite.
5. In the infinitesimal chance Wiggins doesn't spend the next 20 years of his life being paid to play basketball at the highest level, he can always fall back on a career in counterintelligence.

But a friendly tip for the Canadian CIA's human resources department: Don't hold your breath.