USA TODAY High School Sports is featuring the 12 athletes in the running for the Gatorade National Athlete of the Year, which will be announced July 16 in Los Angeles. Today's spotlight: Andrew Wiggins (boys basketball).
Few players in recent history built and lived up to the hype the way Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.) wing Andrew Wiggins did.
For a solid two years, Wiggins has had to live in the proverbial glasshouse as the player every expert, analyst, reporter and fan dubbed the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Wiggins’ senior year – in which he averaged 23.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.5 assists, posted a 30-3 record and a No. 7 ranking in the USA TODAY Sports Super 25– was a circus.
Sold out games every week. Hundreds of fans lingering after the final horn for the chance at a picture or autograph. Mind-boggling dunks. NBA threes. Devastating posters he handed out on a regular basis.
It all culminated in Wiggins winning the 2012-13 Gatorade National Basketball Player of the Year award.
Now off the grid at Kansas as he prepares for his highly anticipated freshman season, we asked Wiggins’ coach Rob Fulford to reflect on Wiggins’ final high school season; everything from the greatest moments to the weirdest interactions with overzealous fans.
What were your expectations for Andrew coming into the season?
Fulford: Obviously, we knew that the expectations were gonna be extremely high, but he played extremely well. He really took his game to another level in spite of all of the comparisons to great players and the scrutiny and attention.
What was the biggest obstacle he had to overcome this season?
Fulford: The biggest thing was adjusting to all of the attention that surrounded where he was going to college. That whole process was the biggest thing; the basketball part was easier for him. Just constantly having to answer the same questions made him a little uncomfortable, but he adjusted and handled it well I think. We talked to him about knowing ahead of time that these questions were gonna come after games and there wasn’t anything that he could do about it. It was just a taste of what he’s in store for with the road that he’s headed down. I think he understood that and, like I said, made the proper adjustment.
What was his greatest moment as a senior?
Fulford: I definitely think it was the day the Sports Illustrated article came out that sort of went at he and his family and questioned his character. He dropped 57 points in the game that day. I tweeted out earlier that day that he would go for 50 points and I hadn’t even talked to him about it. I knew that really bothered him because it was so negative and wrong. It was one of those moments where you’re like ‘Why doesn’t he do that every night?’ It was just one of those nights where everything was falling. It was crazy to watch. His teammates really had his back on it. They knew it was gonna be a special night and they kept feeding him.
What about a specific play that just turned you from coach to fan for a split-second?
Fulford: He honestly had one of those every game. I’d turn to my assistants and say, ‘Did he really just do that?’ Just everything from dunking over people to that spin move he always does. It was just fun to watch him work. You can’t teach that stuff that he does.
Is Andrew the best player you’ve ever coached?
Fulford: He’s by far the best player I’ve ever coached.
How do you see his freshman year going?
Fulford: I think he’ll excel. I don’t think that all the pressure and hype will get to him. I think he’ll have ups and downs like every freshman. He’ll have to adjust to the speed and things like that. He’ll have to adjust to even more scrutiny. I think one of the reasons that he picked Kansas was because he didn’t think there would be as much media attention, but he is seeing now that it just follows him. The expectations will be through the roof. He’ll get the good, bad and ugly every game, but I think he’ll have a great year with what they have there.
How’s he handled the pressure of being the probable No. 1 pick next year?
Fulford: Andrew is such a humble kid he never talks about that stuff. He doesn’t really like to talk about himself like that. He’s not the kid that loves the spotlight. I do believe that he knows how good he is and, at the end of the year, he started to understand how much of an impact his name has. But he takes it all in stride.
What was the craziest interaction with a fan that you witnessed?
Fulford: We were at our last tournament of the year and we had just finished a game and we were standing outside and saw this man with a bunch of things to sign. Andrew told us that he didn’t want to sign anymore autographs and we were trying to get him out, but the guy came over to us and said ‘I’m gonna be real with you; I just got out of prison and I’m gonna sell these autographs to get money.’ We all just looked at each other and Andrew ended up saying, ‘Well, yeah, since you told the truth I’m gonna sign them.’ It was pretty funny. None of us were expecting that man to say that. We had a lot of craziness with fans all year.
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