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Monday, May 13, 2013
Handicapping the race for Wiggins

By Dave Telep

The long wait is finally almost over. Andrew Wiggins (Thornhill, Ontario/Huntington Prep), the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013, will announce his college decision at approximately 12:15 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Wiggins is down to Florida State, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. During the long course of his recruitment, each team has at various times seemed like the front-runner and the dark horse. Not only has his decision come down to the wire, it also appears to be a photo finish.

To try to make some sense of it all on the eve of his decision, we’re here to handicap the race, complete with why Wiggins would and wouldn’t pick each school and our unofficial final odds on each program’s chances of landing him.

Andrew Wiggins
On the eve of his decision, the race for No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins still appears wide open.
Florida State Seminoles
Odds of landing Wiggins: 35 percent

Why they can get him: That's the sound of crickets coming out of Florida State. However, that’s business as usual when it comes to Seminoles recruiting. They’re typically a less-buzz-the-better kind of program. Other programs see their recruiting play out on Twitter, but FSU keeps a lower profile. The only reason coach Leonard Hamilton’s bunch is in this position is because of the family's ties. Wiggins’ father, Mitchell, played in Tallahassee and went on to the NBA; his mom, Marita, ran track at Florida State and was a 1984 Olympic silver medalist for Canada in the 4x400 relay. From the start of this recruitment, those family ties stoked Hamilton’s fire and gave the Seminoles their entry into the sweepstakes. Once FSU added a commitment from fellow Canadian and high school and AAU teammate Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the Seminoles were set for the race by adding a strong friendship to the familial angle. More importantly, the family ties provided the Seminoles a unique hook and made them the biggest outlier of the four schools.

FSU loses its best player from this past season in Michael Snaer. It needs firepower, and this football powerhouse needs a face for the basketball program, even if he’s the equivalent of a rent-a-player of one season. Hamilton has invested the requisite time with the kid and was one of only two head coaches to go to Toronto last summer to watch him (Kentucky’s John Calipari was the other). One last positive for FSU: Wiggins doesn’t like the media attention. In theory -- though I don’t believe this will happen, given his profile -- Florida State offers Wiggins a respite from the national media coverage.

What concerns me: There’s a part of me that thinks Florida State’s uninspiring 18-16 season and first-round NIT loss (heck, its NIT appearance in the first place) are damning factors. During the early to middle part of this past season, my feeling was that FSU was a strong leader and the team to beat. If the Seminoles win this race, it’s because they’ve hung on and watched their competitors dismantle each other. This is the No. 1 player in the country and every program except FSU has a national title in the past six years. Could the best talent in the senior class pick a non-blueblood program simply because his parents went there and it signed his buddy from Toronto? It doesn’t look as if Florida State would win the ACC title next year even with Wiggins. Picking FSU would be a feel-good moment for the program, the region and the ACC, but it also would mean that playing for a national title was not the biggest factor in his decision. And my biggest concern of all boils down to one statement. Say it out loud and listen to the power of the words: Florida State would have to beat Kentucky, North Carolina and Kansas for Andrew Wiggins.

Kansas Jayhawks
Odds of landing Wiggins: 25 percent

Why they can get him: Free agency strikes college basketball every year now. Between the NBA draft and the transfer wire, there’s a revolving door of new faces. At Kansas, Thomas Robinson handed off to Ben McLemore, and now coach Bill Self wants to transition to Wiggins. This is a program with a rich recent history of playing up to its star power. There are stories of how Self stood in front of his team and empowered McLemore to take more shots this year; that’s the kind of stuff that ends up being told to a No. 1 recruit during an in-home visit. Kansas is traditionally one of the most talent-laced programs in the country. It already has No. 6 recruit Joel Embiid this year, but it could use a heavyweight recruiting victory. Josh Selby was a win and Xavier Henry was even bigger, but it’s time to usher in a transfer of power to a big name. Kansas has a plan, a path and a destination for Wiggins. One insider once told me that Wiggins favors his relationship with Self over the other coaches involved. If I’m Self, the sell is simple: “Look what I did for Robinson and McLemore, two players who weren’t McDonald’s All Americans.” Bonus: Wiggins’ brother Nick will be a senior at Wichita State next season. For one year, traveling to see the boys would be very convenient for family.

What concerns me: Some may point to the fact that Kansas is an adidas-sponsored program and Wiggins hails from a Nike-affiliated background. That’s not a game-changer from what’s been bantered about behind the scenes. However, KU is the only non-Nike program involved, and if Wiggins is thinking endorsements -- and we can reasonably assume someone within his inner circle is -- it might be easier to just stick within the comfort zone. Also, let’s say he makes a decision predicated on winning a national title. Of the three possible title contenders on his final list of four, KU would -- on paper -- have the most difficult ascension to the top.

Roy Williams
UNC and Roy Williams are missing that one superstar player Andrew Wiggins would provide.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Odds of landing Wiggins: 20 percent

Why they can get him: You mean aside from incoming center Kennedy Meeks telling me at the McDonald’s All American Game that they were getting Wiggins? In all seriousness, North Carolina has a compelling case. Wiggins’ dad grew up in Tar Heels-friendly Kinston, N.C., and there’s family still in the area. Kinston, by the way, is the same town that produced Reggie Bullock and Jerry Stackhouse. The colors are decidedly light blue in that town. Those factors aside, North Carolina is in a position it generally is not used to. Coach Roy Williams has a lot of pieces -- some very good -- but he doesn’t have a superstar who commands attention. James Michael McAdoo is a good player, but barring a commanding uptick in his game, North Carolina doesn’t have that one bona fide star who directs the national conversation its way. What it does have is a positional need and a lineup that is wide open for a mega talent to come in and play a huge role for a team growing into its identity. The Heels also have the best pure point guard situation of any school on this list with Marcus Paige. And if I’m Wiggins, that matters to me.

What concerns me: Will a pair of highly decorated Florida State graduates really send their son to a school that plays in the same conference? It would seem like such an un-alumni thing to do to dis your alma mater and hand over this scoring weapon to a team within the same league. A bigger concern is finding the person behind the scenes in Wiggins’ inner circle who is going to push North Carolina. Could it be family from the Kinston area? That seems like a stretch and puts too much stock into the non-parental corner. North Carolina has the need, the stage and the swagger to get this done. But do the Heels have someone behind the scenes helping sway the vote?

Kentucky Wildcats
Odds of landing Wiggins: 20 percent

Why they can get him: There isn’t a more NBA-centric program in the country right now. It’s so easy for an elite player to say “yes” to Kentucky at this moment. Wiggins will be sitting in the NBA draft green room next year and so, too, will Calipari. The only question is whether they will be sitting at the same table. From a player’s standpoint, the idea of preparing for the NBA draft while competing against lottery picks on a daily basis is enticing. There’s no other program that will challenge him individually the way Kentucky could next season.

A nod to UK also would mean a seat on the bus for what could become a special team and a magical year. Kentucky has more freshman basketball talent coming in next season than any college hoops program in history. The chance to play with so many guys his own age in similar one-and-done scenarios for a team that also is returning two potential first-round picks is compelling. The attention at Kentucky is at an all-time high. Wiggins is not a fan of the media attention, but UK would assist him in handling the hype and preparing him for the next step.

What concerns me: Let’s dismiss the notion that Wiggins is worried about playing time. He’s not, nor should he be. Yes, UK is stocked, but this isn’t a normal All-American. However, because of the timing of his decision, Wiggins would be a luxury-item recruit for the Wildcats. I know that sounds ridiculous to say, but we’re talking about an all-time class in Lexington without him. Don’t get me wrong, Calipari and his staff have chased Wiggins hard, but the other teams need him more.

Chemistry is a concern for me as well. A few months ago, we hit on what happens with uncommitted recruits during the postseason all-star games. In my opinion, it didn’t appear the UK recruits went hard to persuade Wiggins -- and if there was a bond formed, it was top secret and behind the scenes. When you have this many good players already coming, it takes a special group to open its arms and welcome in another top player. I haven’t seen that in my travels. It’s not like other schools’ recruits were palling around with him ad nauseum either, but in order to join a brotherhood this large and this talented, you look for signs of inclusion from the other alpha males in certain settings. Those signs weren’t there for UK. Finally, Kentucky will be the epicenter for media attention next season. There will be more reporters per capita stationed in Lexington than any other city. Does a kid who shies away from attention say yes to that fishbowl?