Friday, November 8, 2013

Andrew Wiggins: Hype and Patience

The story of college basketball this year? A kid who has yet to play his first game. The latest in the line of freshmen blessed to have the spotlight on him and given all the praise. Andrew Wiggins. The Golden Child who makes his debut tonight for Kansas.

He's also set up to be the latest in the Hype Machine. You know that machine right? Where 24/7 media can amplify the noise and shape the conversation whether it's fair or not. Where legend transcends fact and facts become enhanced like plastic surgery. Where patience is sacrificed for the right now.

I knew about Wiggins last year but you know who I knew about more? Jabari Parker. In case you forgot, Parker was the SI cover boy about 18 months ago as the clear cut best basketball player in his class. He was the latest Chicago product following the line of greats like Derrick Rose, Nick Anderson, Ronnie Fields, Ben Wilson and others.

All a sudden, he became an afterthought due to him getting hurt his senior year. But to me, he's every bit as good as Wiggins. I've also spoken to colleagues who also say Julius Randle, the best freshman in Kentucky's new stable, is just as good as both too. And don't sleep on Arizona's Aaron Gordon either, who I've seen tear up Cali since he was a sophomore. Case in point, we have a very good freshman class where Wiggins is the star.

Andrew Wiggins is the centerpiece but don't sleep on Julius Randle (left) or Jabari Parker (right) having a similar impact.
This isn't sour grapes, these are facts from people who are deep in the high school scene to say that as great as Wiggins is, he's not that far above his peers. But thanks to the magazine covers and LeBron comparisons, he's expected to be the second coming. And Wiggins has NBA game written all over him as well as great poise to handle the pressure.

I thought we would've learned from Harrison Barnes not to put another freshman on the Preseason AP All-American team. Barnes was solid his two years in college but some felt he was disappointing due to the hype. Nevermind that his moments of brilliance (the 2011 ACC Tournament) were incredible and his game has translated very well to the NBA.

It's a great accomplishment for a freshman but it speaks to the microwave nature of rushing greatness and expecting it to come out right away. Even if Wiggins balls out in Game 1, struggle will come because that's how greatness is forged. Unfortunately, sports culture now wants you to keep forgetting that.

I'll give a great example of freshman hype. 2000 and 2002, I watched two different freshmen light up Madison Square Garden in their first collegiate game. Both set a school record for most points by a freshman and both had plenty of promise.

The 2000 freshman? TJ Cummings (right), who failed to consistently live up to that promise his next four years at UCLA. 2002? Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to the national title.

Wiggins has a lot of hype to live up to. Forget LeBron, he's got to live up to Kevin Durant, who had the best freshman season I ever saw. He has to live up to Derrick Rose and Kevin Love, who led their teams to the Final Four and Rose was minutes from winning a title. He has to live up to Michael Beasley, who was the best freshman in the same year as Love and Rose.

That's before you even get to Melo and Anthony Davis. But I don't rate freshmen on winning rings, I rate them on game and how they dominate. Wiggins has to live up to the Big 12's freshman standards of Durant, Beasley, Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart, who'll still be around this year for what should be a fun battle.

I heard ESPN's Scott Van Pelt make this point the other day. "Sports fans lately have this mentality of expecting finished products." We've been spoiled lately with rookies dominating out of the gate and it's being forgotten that players have to struggle before they succeed.

There's a saying when somebody is tearing it up in sports called "Let them cook" or so-and-so is "cooking". All the hype means you rob Wiggins of doing that. Cooking takes time. It's a journey to let something marinate and mature before you add the heat and watch it go to work.

I fear that if Wiggins struggles, folks are going to rain hate on him unfairly instead of discussing where he can improve or remind people that transitioning from high school to college is hard. I saw it with Shabazz Muhammad and Harrison Barnes and I saw it with Beasley going from a cold college player to somebody's who's struggled to make a consistent NBA impact.

All I'm saying is let Wiggins be Wiggins. Allow him to struggle. Let him cook. Marvel at his greatness. Listen to the hype and temper your expectations. It's okay to be patient and let the hype be fulfilled over time instead of from Day One.

No comments:

Post a Comment