Andrew Wiggins drives to the basket during last month's Nike Hoop Summit (Sam Forencich, Getty Images)Chances are, Andrew Wiggins would be a bigger deal in his homeland if people knew how the basketball phenom is fuelled by his Canadian identity.
Hoopheads across Canada have kept tabs on Wiggins' progress since he was an adolescent tearing up the parquet in his native Thornhill, Ont., a Toronto suburb. It should only be a matter of when the astonishingly gifted 17-year-old small forward becomes a household name on par with any teenaged hockey prodigy whom Canadians have anointed The Next One. Rivals.com has ranked Wiggins as the best player in his 2014 high school recruiting class. That means there's a chance he could be a top NBA pick come 2015 — or sooner, since he could fast-track the last two years of high school. Last year, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson became the first Canadian NBA lottery pick when he taken No. 4 overall. Wiggins might improve on that mark.
As Eric Bossi at Yahoo! Sports' Rivals.com illustrates, there need not be a question mark attached to headlines proclaiming that Wiggins is Canada's next hoops phenom.
Wiggins has a blend of skill, athleticism, feel for the game and desire to win that is unmatched in the sophomore class. The top spot is something that he doesn't take lightly.
"It's an honor coming from Canada and being classified as the top prospect in another country," Wiggins told Rivals.com. "I just try to stay humble and it means another year of hard work for me because I know there are other hungry kids out there who want to be No. 1, too." (Rivals.com)
There's ample reason for Canadians to get on Wiggins' bandwagon beyond the obvious, which is that he's really, really good.
When it's a hockey wunderkind, Canadians tend to get emotionally invested like they had a hand in making him. That's just evidence of how puck-crazed Canadians are, or at least how puck-crazed the Canadian media is. It holds whether it's the phenom du jour, Nathan MacKinnon, or John Tavares a few years ago, Sidney Crosby a few years before him, Eric Lindros in the early 1990s, Wayne Gretzky in the late '70s and early '80s or Bobby Orr in the '60s. People see that can't-miss kid and fixate on how hard he worked, conjuring up a mental image of a boy getting up before dawn to practise on a backyard rink.
That romanticism can surely be applied to roundball, too. Those aforementioned hockey geniuses all hit the jackpot in the genetics lottery much the same way as Wiggins. The fact his parents were both elite athletes — mother Marita Payne-Wiggins won two relay silver medals for Canada in the 1984 Summer Olympics and his father Mitchell Wiggins was an itinerant NBA guard in the '80s and '90s — doesn't mean it's easy for him. It doesn't detract from his drive. The fact he's honing his game in the U.S. at Huntington Prep in West Virginia should not be a deal-breaker; why, didn't Crosby and MacKinnon each attend an American prep school before playing junior hockey?
Plus Wiggins has also put the Maple Leaf in his heart whenever he's been on the big stage. Last month, before the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., a showcase event for top high school players from throughout the world, Wiggins told SB Nation's Ben Golliver that he gets more aspersions cast on him than the typical anointed future star due to nationality. People just don't think a Canadian can be that good, even when there's proof to the contrary. (Wiggins ended up being top scorer for the victorious World team in the game even though he was the youngest man on the floor.)
He feels like a target, like anyone would in his situation, and he feels he gets it even worse because he's Canadian.
"[Americans] think less of us," he says, before stopping himself. "Well, not less of us, but like we're not as good as America. Put it that way."
Then he pivots: "I'm proud I'm from Canada. But especially because I'm from Canada and ranked No. 1, people might kinda hate on me ... people think Canadians aren't as good as Americans. Over the past couple of years. we showed them with our talent, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Steve Nash, I think we probably exposed that Canada has talent. We can go against the U.S.A."
A moment later, he is pointing out that Huntington Prep was not invited to the ESPN Rise National High School Invitational tournament. You can see that greatness gene — the ability to find slights anywhere and use them as fuel — beginning to form. (SB Nation)
Sure, there's probably some media coaching behind that, but it has a ring of sincerity. One can place Wiggins within the overall rise of Canadian basketball, which should hit a peak in 2016 when the senior men's national team reaches its first Olympics since Sydney in 2000. Ballers from north of the border have long had a tough road to respect, but mass awareness has gradually come that Canadians can play with anybody. Now there might be one Canadian who has more potential than any who has preceded him.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.