Commentary

Pressure now off Wiggins? Hardly

No. 1 recruit picks Kansas, but long-awaited decision only the start of scrutiny

Originally Published: May 14, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

On his Twitter page, @22wiggins, Andrew Wiggins says that he is "Just a average kid trying to make it."

My niece is an average kid. She has 384 followers.

Wiggins has 80,000 followers and counting, mostly because on the basketball court he is anything but average. In fact, he is freakishly amazing, a generational talent ranked the top player in his recruiting class.

On Tuesday, the average kid declared that he would play at Kansas. He did it quietly -- no television appearance, no grand gestures of tinkering with various ball caps before making his choice.

That didn't stop the news cycle from churning out thousands of words (this column included) about his decision, following up on the tens of thousands of words written in advance of his decision.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew Wiggins is off to Kansas, carrying a load of expectations with him.

Most of those were spent speculating what Wiggins might decide … as if any of us really knows what a teenager is thinking. To me, teenagers are like the dog in "Up," following along on a normal train of thought and then suddenly, and easily, distracted.

Squirrel!

But I digress like a teenager.

Now that we know where Wiggins is headed and the party has officially commenced in Lawrence, we can move on to the next phase of the Andrew Wiggins Experience: seeing whether he can live up to the hype.

Which is, of course, preposterous. He would have to be a mad scientist's concoction of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James to complete the expectation-to-ability ratio.

That he chose Kansas, where high-profile players are typical, instead of, say, Florida State, where he would have been a cape-wearing savior, helps ease the burden to a degree -- but only slightly so. Within minutes of Wiggins' decision, the Twitterverse elevated the Jayhawks from a possible second-place finish in the Big 12 to conference winners and Final Four contenders.

Of course, the very culture of this entire process is preposterous, and yes, I fully admit that I am a card-carrying member of the culture, complicit in the preposterousness of it all.

On Monday, I read a story about a young woman who died of cancer at age 25. Before that, she managed to report on the effect of HIV/AIDS on children and sex workers in Thailand and live with an itinerant population in California known as Slab City.

I spent Tuesday morning waiting for a teenager to announce where he's going to college, the decision given all the attention of the papal chimney.

But what really struck me in all of this was not the reaction by the media or the fans.

No, what really struck me in all of this was the way these big decisions and announcements are approached.

The kids, frankly, can't win. There is plenty wrong with "kids today." Many of them are entitled or, worse, coddled, raised in a world where everyone gets a trophy and the word "no" is as foreign as nyet. The summer-league showcase circuit has forced us to value competition at the expense of fundamentals.

This, though? This isn't their fault.

Wiggins was the last top-100 player to announce his decision, and he's been chided in some circles for dragging things out.

But shouldn't he take his time with this decision? It's a big one. High school seniors all across the country wrestled with their college choices, some waiting until the day before deposits were due to make their pick. That's how it should be. Whether Wiggins goes to college for one year or four, it's his future.

Yet by waiting and making a deliberate decision, Wiggins has singled himself out from the pack for more scrutiny. A year ago, Sports Illustrated tabbed Jabari Parker the best high school player since James. Parker announced he'd go to Duke in December.

No one's talking about Parker anymore, except to point out that he and the Blue Devils will play Wiggins and the Jayhawks next season in Chicago.

No, everyone is and has been talking about the star from Canada -- called by many the best high school prospect since that LeBron guy.

[+] EnlargeNoel
Mark Zerof/US PresswireNerlens Noel handled the media crush well in his only season at Kentucky.

A year ago, Nerlens Noel was Andrew Wiggins. He announced that he would attend the University of Kentucky on April 11, memorably carving the letters UK into the back of his famous flattop.

Figuring out which letters to razor into his head, though, wasn't easy. Noel had the usual factors to consider for himself personally -- where he felt comfortable, what was best for his own future -- but it was the outside pressures that really hit him.

"People had my face on a Fathead, so you knew how bad they wanted you at their school," Noel said. "That made it really hard to decide. You didn't want to let anyone down."

Invariably he did, as has Wiggins. Three schools walk away empty-handed in this sweepstakes, which undoubtedly will lead to the social media vitriol that has become the endgame of these things.

Six minutes after Wiggins' announcement, there was a "go to hell," a #worstmistake hashtag and a lovely "I hope you tear an acl you idiot" post.

Because, naturally, it makes perfect sense to despise a kid who had the gall to choose where he wanted to go to college.

How dare he.

Of course, the pressure didn't stop for Noel last April 11, nor will it for Wiggins now.

One game of three points and two rebounds, one blocked shot -- God forbid he's ever posterized -- and he will be a bust, a joke, overrated and washed up before he's 20.

Noel remembers that, too. In his first collegiate game against Maryland, he had four points and nine rebounds while the Terrapins' big man, Alex Len, had 23 and 12.

"It's always on your mind," Noel said of the expectations. "It just made it that much harder to do what you had to do."

Twenty-four games and one torn ACL later, Noel has answered the bell of expectation, still projected as the NBA's top pick.

It was just 13 months ago that he was sitting in the same crosshairs as Wiggins is now, the object of everyone's affection and attention.

"It seems like a long, long time ago," Noel said, sounding more like a wizened old man than a 19-year-old.

Then again, this college choice thing will do that to a person.

It's not easy being an average kid.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball