Even for just one season, having the best player on your team is a highly salivating prospect. The intense machinery of recruiting, the process and factors involved can never be empirically enumerated. It can be a personal decision, a family decision, a career decision, a combination of all or none of these. No explanation is necessary, but plenty have been presented. Here’s a comprehensive rundown of the events and milestones in the pursuit of Andrew Wiggins.
Townsend’s first look at Wiggins came at an AAU tournament in Orlando, Fla. Wiggins was a high school freshman playing for CIA Bounce, an elite Canadian team, and his legend already was starting to grow.
“I couldn’t believe how good this kid was,” Townsend said. “I walked away going, ‘Oh my god, this kid is awesome.’”
Townsend started laying groundwork to recruit Wiggins, briefly losing the trail after Wiggins changed his cellphone number. They reconnected at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, the school Wiggins chose after achieving stardom in Canada.
In a stroke of good timing, Townsend was in Huntington to see another player, shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, when he learned that Wiggins had reclassified to the class of 2013. Moving up a class sent Wiggins’ recruitment into overdrive, and Townsend was there to make sure Wiggins knew he had a place at KU.
Wiggins reclassified in October, meaning much of his recruiting process would be compressed into a period of months. Townsend started gathering information and discovered that the player kept a small circle, confiding in few outside of his parents.
Wiggins is the son of a former NBA player and an Olympic sprinter, the kind of genetic lottery capable of producing a 6-foot-7 basketball star with speed and grace. Both parents, Mitchell Wiggins and Marita Payne-Wiggins, also attended Florida State, which made the Seminoles an obvious favorite to land their son.
Wiggins took an official visit to Florida State in December before announcing any other finalists, and Self said he initially felt KU was a long shot. But when Wiggins revealed his three other official visits in February, KU made the cut along with Kentucky and North Carolina.
Wiggins visited Allen Fieldhouse on March 4 for KU’s senior night against Texas Tech. The game itself wasn’t memorable — the Jayhawks won 79-42 — but it was appropriate to have Wiggins in the stands as KU recognized its seniors and probable one-and-done draft pick Ben McLemore.
All along, Townsend said, KU’s coaches felt their best pitch to Wiggins involved McLemore and the way he flourished as a freshman wing. Neither of KU’s previous one-and-done players, Josh Selby and Xavier Henry, achieved stardom in college or the NBA, but McLemore was the blueprint for how a talented wing player could cement his draft status in Self’s system.
Before KU’s seniors delivered their speeches, Self gave the crowd a moment to recognize McLemore at what was likely his final Allen Fieldhouse appearance.
“Don’t hold your breath,” Self told fans as they chanted for another season.
Wiggins and McLemore were cut from the same cloth, quiet stars who preferred to avoid the limelight. It was a good sign, KU’s coaches thought, that the two players struck up a friendship and started communicating on Twitter after the visit.
“We always thought that our sell to him was, ‘You could step right in here and fill in and do exactly what Ben was doing last year, at even a different level,’” Townsend said. “I think it was a pretty good sell for him.”
Wiggins didn’t say much during his visit, preferring to listen and pipe in with occasional questions. His mother was more inquisitive, asking about KU’s strength program and socializing with the coaches’ wives at Self’s house.
“I think she got comfortable with the wives and the families and feels confident that if he’s going to be away from home that she could trust these people with her son,” Townsend said.
If Self initially considered KU a long shot, Wiggins’ campus visit convinced him otherwise.
“After he left here, I felt like we were in the game and had a shot,” Self said.
Once Wiggins returned to Huntington, though, communication became cryptic again. If the visit changed Wiggins’ perception of KU, he wasn’t dropping any hints to anyone.
“I basically got the same response on all of them: ‘I liked it. It was good. It was fun,’” Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. “He just kept it all close.”
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Spring marked the start of the all-star circuit, which included the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic and the Nike Hoops Summit.
Wiggins was scheduled to conduct in-home visits with each of his four suitors upon his return but canceled at the last minute, citing fatigue from his travels.
The canceled visits sparked a flurry of rumors, including speculation that Wiggins would commit to Kentucky since Calipari had been the most recent coach to visit. KU’s coaches were concerned at first, but fears were assuaged after Self spoke to Wiggins on the phone.
“I think we were worried about it initially, but when he canceled everybody, we knew that’s just Andrew,” KU assistant Norm Roberts said. “That’s just how he was.
“He was like, ‘What more can you say to me? What are you going to say to turn me or make me think any differently about your school?’ Really, at this time of year, there isn’t anything.”
With only the decision remaining, rumors swirled in a vacuum. They persisted all the way up to the day of the announcement, when public sentiment appeared to favor Florida State.
Wiggins scheduled a small ceremony for Tuesday at his school. KU’s coaches met early that morning to share any last-minute information, but not much had been gleaned.
There was a sense of peace in the room, coaches said, that they had done everything they could. They had given Wiggins his space, respecting his wishes to communicate mostly via text. Some factors were outside of their control — Wiggins’ teams had always been affiliated with Nike, for instance, and KU was the only school of the four that wore adidas — but there were no regrets in the room.
“We started to look at like if we get him, that’s going to be awesome,” Roberts said. “We did everything we could.”
Self dashed off a text message to Wiggins, telling him to enjoy the day.
“Thank you,” Wiggins replied.
In Huntington, Fulford was coordinating final logistics and making sure no uninvited media had infiltrated the school. Wiggins sat down a few minutes early, looked at his coach and realized there was no point in waiting.
In Lawrence, video coordinator Jeff Forbes popped in the room with the tweet indicating the announcement was only minutes away. Townsend got a call from a Rivals.com reporter who’d received first word and put the call on speaker.
“All of a sudden our phones started to blow up,” Roberts said. “It’s the most I’ve ever seen after getting a recruit.”
Recruiting is a cold business, but it can be a funny one, too. Men who make millions huddle around Twitter feeds, waiting for a few words from the mouth of a teenager that could change the course of a program.
“We were all pretty happy in here, because we know that just took us up to another level,” Townsend said. “He’s that special of a player.”