You’ve heard him called a freshman phenom, the next Danny Manning and perhaps the best high school prospect since LeBron James. He’s been on the cover of ESPN the magazine and graced the front of Sport Illustrated with Kansas legend Wilt Chamberlain all before his 19th birthday. He is Andrew Wiggins, and he brings with him an insane amount of expectation expectations and unmatched hype to the O-Dome tonight (7 p.m., ESPN) for a much anticipated non-conference matchup against the Florida Gators, who know that defending the phenom won’t be a one-man job.
“I think for us defensively, when you are dealing with any talented player, any good player, you’ve always got to rely on help,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said Monday. “Being in the right position and realizing that for us defensively it’s never a one-on-one situation where we are just playing him one-on-one and this guy is guarding him and he’s on an island by himself.”
Wiggins is the son of former Florida State standout and NBA player Mitchell Wiggins. Andrew grew up in Canada but finished his high school career at Huntington (WV) Prep where he wowed the scouts — both college and NBA — who came to see him play. Many preseason publications considered Wiggins a candidate for college player of the year before he ever played his first game. Through his first eight collegiate games, the 6-8, 200-pound Wiggins is averaging 15.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
His best game was the nationally televised showdown with Duke — won by Kansas, 94-83 — where he scored 22 points. That was part of the “Champions Classic” in Chicago where Wiggins was matched up against Duke phenom Jabari Parker.
Donovan has been impressed by what he’s seen of Wiggins so far and understands that the expectations of fans are through the roof.
“He’s extremely explosive and athletic,” Donovan said. “I think he’s smart. He lets the game come to himself. I think sometimes when you haven’t seen him play, people here about him and when they go watch him play they’re expecting 50 points, 25 rebounds, 10 assists and all sorts of crazy dunks, but he’s a really good basketball player.”
Florida’s blueprint of blanketing Wiggins with multiple defenders may be challenged most prominently by the threats posed from the talented players around him. Guard Wayne Selden Jr. along with forwards Tarik Black and Perry Ellis are all shooting better than 50% from the field. As a team, Kansas is hitting 50.5%, good for 16th in the NCAA. There is certainly more than just Wiggins to deal with on the Jayhawks roster, but Florida still has a tremendous amount of pride in trying to shut him down.
“Obviously, you don’t want a guy to come to your house and get off against you,” forward Michael Frazier II said. “It’s not just one guy. It’s our whole team. We’re going to play our defense, and we’re going to play hard.”
Wiggins will split out on the wing forcing Frazier to guard him in specific situations. At those times, the onus will be on him as it is the rest of his teammates to defend without fouling, something every college basketball in 2013 has had drilled into their minds thanks to stricter enforcement of hand check rules.
“You’ve just got to move your feet,” Frazier said. “You’ve got to play smart. Just trust your teammates, trust that everybody is going to be in the right positions, right help positions. Just try to keep him out of the lane.”
For Frazier and the Gators to hamstring the freshman, it will take intelligent team defense rather than reliance on just one player. If the Gators are able to keep fresh legs and live bodies on Wiggins the entire game, they will have a chance to slow him down and bring those insane expectations down to earth.