Nothing brings out the best in a Canadian like being criticized in America.
As days in the life of the 17-year-old Great Canadian Hoops Hope go, Thursday had to be somewhere in the top third for Andrew Wiggins. On the same day that Sports Illustrated basketball writer Pete Thamel penned a semi-scathing look at Wiggins and Canadian basketball that cast "Canada's Michael Jordan" as having to "outrace a country's reputation for producing can't-miss prospects that miss," Wiggins went off for 57 points in his Huntington Prep's team 111-59 cakewalk over the Marietta College JV Pioneers. In other words, give a take a basket either way and Wiggins would have outscored Marietta by himself.
The game was a mismatch from the opening tip, but anything to prove a point. Wiggins, who will play his last high school game on Canadian soil in Hamilton on Feb. 17, got his 57 on 24-of-28 shooting from the floor, along with 13 rebounds and four blocks.
Wiggins might have played down the S.I. piece for reporters ("when the article came out, I didn't pay it too much mind"). But he made it known how he felt.
From Tariq Sbiet (@Tariq_NPH):
In an article written earlier in the day, shots were taken at “The Canadian Jordan” as he was referred to.
“He was 100 percent pissed at the SI article degrading former players from Canada, his family and him personally,” Huntington Head Coach Rob Fulford told SNY.tv.
This report resulted in a Wiggins eruption, something he is capable of doing on a consistent basis (to some degree).
Such a major talent will have many obstacles in his career, and as his name continues to be magnified, so does his performance.
All the greats have been tested…from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to Lebron James; all have answered.
Wiggins answered tonight. (North Pole Hoops)
Thamel's take was not a takedown piece. It was really a backlash against blind hype with a twist of jingoism. There could stand to be more of the former when it comes to the coverage of the latest teenager who is proclaimed to be the future of his sport. It just cut too deep.
For instance, nothing on the order of, "He also gets paralyzed by discussions of his recruitment and is annoyed by the amount of coverage his college choice is getting" ever seems to be written about a hockey player of the same age, at least in Canada. Top NHL draft prospects such as Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones might not show it to the public, but they probably get wary and weary of doing a lot of media too. What teenaged athlete is not going to be self-conscious about constantly getting attention that might cause resentment among his teammates, the people he should feel the most accountable to?
The only real beef with Thamel's tone was seizing on Wiggins' backstory (his former-NBAer father Mitchell Wiggins' heavy hand in his son's recruitment and their ties to notorious Ro Russell) to paint a negative picture of Canadian hoops. What does, "How such a talented player potentially could be sent to such a volatile situation epitomizes the futility of Canadian basketball for years" even mean?
Update: Nolan Shulman, the former basketball recruiting expert quoted in the S.I. piece, also contends that his quotes were taken out of context.
To sum up...
All sorts of fault lines loom for talented young basketball players. Who thought Wiggins would be above that, or above having his father calling the shots on his recruitment? Is it valid to call attention to the fact grassroots basketball has a seamy underbelly and Canadian ballers with NBA dreams can be as much at risk of trusting the wrong people as the American counterparts? Of course. It's a problem, eh.
What's unfair is to single out one future NBA superstar and imply it could all go awry for him because he's Canadian. At least Thamel affirmed the sky's the limit for Wiggins. You can take that to the rack.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.