Philadelphia, PA – Although the Kansas Jayhawks lost all five starters from their impressive 2012-13 squad, they seem to be the heavy favorite to collect a 10th consecutive Big 12 Conference championship next season after Tuesday's signing of prep phenom Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins had narrowed his list of possible college destinations to Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State over the course of a lengthy recruiting process before delivering news that he is headed to Lawrence. The 18-year-old Canadian forward will be the featured piece for the Jayhawks, who have been instantly thrust into the national title contender discussion.
Coach Bill Self's second national championship was within his reach this past season. Kansas earned one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and surpassed the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive season.
The Jayhawks had a strong inside-outside game with senior Jeff Withey's sensational defensive ability pairing nicely with the high-scoring and explosive nature of freshman guard Ben McLemore. After Kansas had its season end with a heartbreaking overtime loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16, it appeared the program would have trouble continuing its dominance of the Big 12.
Kansas seemed to be a long shot to land Wiggins as his recruitment process neared its end. He played his hand very closely, which consistently kept fans guessing. The fact that both of his parents went to Florida State had many thinking he would be sporting a Seminoles jersey.
Wiggins would have given Kentucky the best recruiting class in the history of college basketball had he chosen to play for John Calipari in Lexington. The prospect of Wiggins next to North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo in Carolina blue had Chapel Hill tuned in on Tuesday as well.
It does not take long to figure out why Wiggins is considered the best high school prospect since LeBron James graduated from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Ohio in 2003.
"We think he's as good a prospect as we've ever had," Self said. "We're excited about it. He brings some athleticism, length, scoring ability and he's also an assassin, an alpha dog and you definitely need that when you have a whole bunch of young kids. I think he's going to be not a good player, but has a chance to be a great one."
Wiggins comes from an excellent pedigree, being the son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and Canadian Olympic track and field sprinter Marita Payne- Wiggins. It is clear he inherited a great deal from his parents as he frequently sent crowds into a frenzy with gravity-defying slam dunks during his senior season at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.
Wiggins is not just an athlete, though, he is a complete basketball player. He has a great feel for the game and the versatility to play multiple positions right away. His jump shot is accurate enough to keep opponents honest and he executes the euro-step to finish off drives so well you would think he served an apprenticeship under Manu Ginobili.
The Jayhawks already had a very strong class of incoming talent before Wiggins officially joined the fold. Joel Embiid, the top-rated center in the class, and swingman Wayne Selden gave Self a pair of All-Americans to begin his rebuilding process.
Self also bolstered his backcourt with Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene. Frankamp's touch from 3-point range and overall basketball savvy made him the best high school guard in the state of Kansas, while Greene built his own reputation as a marksman from beyond the arc.
Frank Mason also joined the class to add depth at point guard.
The addition of Wiggins will only enhance what the group of incoming freshman is able to do. He will be the focal point of the opposition's defensive game plan each game, which should free up Frankamp and Greene for plenty of open shots. Selden's team-first approach to the game can stay the same as he will have less pressure to put up big numbers right away.
The combination of Wiggins and Embiid is a dream pairing for Self's high-low motion offense. The rookie duo will create mismatch problems for opposing forwards.
There will be a lot of pressure on Wiggins to succeed due to the mountains of hype that have been constructed over the past few years, but it is very unlikely he will leave too many disappointed.
Wiggins delivered a solid performance on the grand stage in the McDonald's All- American game in early April when he paced the East squad with 19 points in 24 minutes. He has already become a celebrity at a very young age despite his preference to shy away from the spotlight.
Wiggins became a fan favorite during his days in Huntington. Mayor Steve Williams even proclaimed it was Andrew Wiggins Day in the city on March 28 when he was acknowledged as an All-American.
He hasn't let the enormous amount of attention go to his head, either. Instead of a big press conference to announce his intent to become a Jayhawk, he elected for a low-key, private ceremony at St. Joseph Central Catholic School in front of a small group of classmates, family and close friends with very limited members of the media invited.
Although it would have been fun to see Wiggins participate in the ACC or join Calipari's recruiting class, he made a very wise decision. Self's system plays to his strengths, and while Wiggins will be the go-to-guy, he will still have plenty of help around him.
While no one can be sure as to exactly how successful Wiggins will be at the next level, it is an absolute certainty that Allen Fieldhouse will be buzzing on a nightly basis.