HAMILTON – Wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, red and black Jordan 13s shoes and a backpack, Andrew Wiggins looked like so many other teenaged boys.
Sitting down to face the media, his towering frame and long arms were hidden under a table. He could have been any prep basketball player speaking with reporters after a big game.
Until the questions started rolling in.
“How does it feel like to hear people say that you could be on Kevin Durant’s level?” and “How does it feel to be one of the faces of the future of Canada Basketball?” are not questions that many 17-year-olds will be asked. These are questions reserved for the number one ranked high school prospect in the world.
When asked what he would like people to know about Andrew Wiggins, the person away from the basketball court, he says, “That I’m only 17.”
The weight that comes along with his ranking was obvious to anyone in attendance for Wiggins and his Huntington Prep team’s exhibition game against Hamilton’s United Leadership Academy at McMaster University on Sunday afternoon.
The university gymnasium was packed with students, adults and children, all trying to catch a glimpse of the Vaughan, Ont., native who dropped 57 points last week in response to a “Sports Illustrated” article that questioned his motor and work ethic.
Wiggins put up 25 easy points, going 10-for-13, as Huntington Prep cruised to an easy 81-52 victory. He had a handful of rim-shaking dunks, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots, but what stood out most was the distance between Wiggins and every other player in the gym.
The athleticism, length and quickness that makes six-foot-eight Wiggins the most intriguing prospect that Canada has ever seen was on full display from the opening tip to final buzzer, even as the game appeared much too easy for the 17 year-old.
Teammate and fellow Canadian Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who recently committed to Florida State, described Wiggins’ talent as “mind boggling” and that “his athletic ability is something that comes once in a lifetime.“
Rathan-Mayes isn’t a friend that is exaggerating, either. A reporter asked Wiggins the last time he played an opponent who was better than he is. Thinking for a moment, Wiggins said, “Me … I don’t know.”
While critics point to his calm demeanour and the stretches of games where it looks as though he is in cruise control to question his competitiveness, Wiggins says those opinions don’t bother him.
“Their word means nothing to me,” he said. “It’s not going to help me in the long run.”
Rathan-Mayes explained that the detractors are mistaking Wiggins’ demeanour and pegging him incorrectly.
“His work ethic is tremendous,” Rathan-Mayes said. “(He’s) just a humble guy. You don’t see too many players that are ranked number one in the country that are as humble as he is. Just a down to earth type of guy. Video games, movies, stuff like that. He doesn’t like the limelight too much.”
Through the speculation about where he will play next season — Kentucky, Florida State, Kansas and North Carolina are possibilities he is considering — and the ever-growing media contingent at each of his games, Wiggins has a quiet confidence that belies his age.
He is prepared for the questions and expectations and knows that from here on out the spotlight on him is only going to shine brighter.
“I know being an elite player, being at the top, people are going to try to bring me down,” Wiggins said. “I just keep my cool.”