Not long after arriving in Lawrence last summer, Andrew Wiggins explained to reporters what he wanted to accomplish at Kansas before turning pro.
"Hopefully win a national championship," Wiggins said. "That’s my main goal.”
That goal is now certain to go unfulfilled since Wiggins confirmed at a press conference on Monday he will enter this June's NBA draft, but Kansas' round of 32 NCAA tournament flameout against Stanford doesn't make the freshman's time in Lawrence a bust. Not only did Wiggins deliver one of the better freshman seasons in the storied history of Kansas basketball, he and Joel Embiid also thrived enough under coach Bill Self to help the Jayhawks land future elite recruits.
Wiggins earned second-team All-American honors and averaged a team-high 17.1 points per game this season, more than any other major-conference freshman in the nation except Duke's Jabari Parker and Fordham's Jon Severe. The 6-foot-8 small forward also showcased elite athleticism, from his ability to defend mulitple positions, to his explosive secondary jump around the rim, to his knack for finishing in trasition.
The criticism of Wiggins remains that he doesn't always take full advantage of his tools because he isn't assertive enough all the time. In Kansas' stunning NCAA tournament loss to Stanford, he scored just four points and attempted only six shots, inexplicably seeming content to float around the perimeter against the Cardinal's zone rather than trying to attack off the dribble or via the high post.
There's no doubt Wiggins has a tendency to coast through games and that Kansas might have won a few more if he were more consistently aggressive. There's also no doubt his performance was good enough not to diminish his NBA stock.
If Wiggins was the consensus choice to be the No. 1 overall pick in this June's draft before the college season began, there's still a good chance he'll go first five months later. Embiid and Parker have emerged as potential candidates to go No. 1 as well, but scouts and draft experts believe it's unlikely Wiggins would fall past No. 3.
What also makes Wiggins' season in Lawrence a success is that Kansas will be better off as a basketball program because of his presence.
First and foremost, the Jayhawks may not have kept their 10-year streak of Big 12 titles alive if it wasn't for Wiggins' scoring, rebounding and defensive presence. Secondly, the fact that he enjoyed his experience at Kansas will make him an ambassador for the Jayhawks in the future, especially if he goes on to have an illustrious NBA career.
One of the few ways other coaches could negatively recruit against Self previously had been to point out that one-and-done-level prospects haven't always enjoyed success at Kansas. For every Thomas Robinson or Jeff Withey, who developed from under-the-radar recruits to NBA prospects under Self's tutelage, there's a Josh Selby or Xavier Henry, who entered college with sky-high expectations and didn't meet them.
Ben McLemore's lone season at Kansas last year put a dent into that criticism of Self. Wiggins and Embiid could help Self eradicate it completely.
At his news conference on Monday, Wiggins spoke at length about how much he enjoyed his experience at Kansas, actually going so far as to say, "I just wish I had more time. College goes by so fast."
Of course, the obvious joke is that college does go by fast when you only stay less than a year. Chuckle at that if you like, but also recognize Wiggins accomplished quite a bit in his short time.
He didn't produce superhuman scoring numbers like Kevin Durant at Texas or Michael Beasley at Kansas State. He didn't carry his team to a national championship like Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse. What he did do was withstand the pressure of intense scrutiny and unrealistic expectations and deliver a season that should be regarded as a success, not a bust.
- - - - - - -