Expectations can either make or break a person. On one hand, they can make you reach deep within yourself and perform at your highest ability, or they force you to crack under the pressure. The world of sports is a perfect example of this. We often thrust immense praise upon prodigious talents based on what we project them to be in the future instead of the great talents they are at the present moment in time.
Along the years, many heralded young ballers have made their way into the conscious of the general public. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James are a few that come to mind when we think of the biggest success stories of the finished product matching the hype. Just last year, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins was deemed as next in the lineage of great prep stars who went on to impact the pro game in a big way. A relative unknown two years ago, after a breakout junior season, his athleticism and sky high ceiling made him a wanted man amongst college coaches and made various bottom feeding fan bases make “Tanking For Wiggins” the phrase du jour in 2013.
But after about four months as a college player, Wiggins hasn’t exactly dominated the comp. In his last game, against Texas, he was 2/12 from the field and as of February 2, he’s averaging 16.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg, respectable numbers for sure, but not quite what you’d expect from a guy that nabbed the cover of Sports Illustrated before he even signed his letter of intent.
Which brings me to another former SI cover boy, Felipe Lopez.
In 1994, Lopez was considered the number one high school basketball player in America, even drawing comparisons to Michael Jordan as an athletic, high-flying swingman at NYC’s Rice High. Winning the ’94 McDonalds All-American Game MVP and sweeping the National Player of the Year award circuit, the South Bronx golden boy decided to keep his talents in NYC and attend St. Johns for what everyone believed would be a two-year stay at best before heading off to stardom in the NBA.
The news of the hometown kid staying home was so big the Daily News ran a six-page article, something that usually doesn’t happen for the average high school kid. Needless to say there were high expectations, but few questioned whether Felipe would falter under them. But oh boy, were they wrong.
Appearing on the cover of SI for their Big East conference preview, he was mentioned with reverence in the same breath as future NBA stars Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse (his eventual matchup against Iverson in particular was highly anticipated.)
Writers heaped praise such as “the things Lopez does can’t be taught, only refined” and “the bottom line is, the kid from the Dominican Republic is the real deal. St. Johns may get only two years out of Lopez before he goes to the NBA, but by the time he’s gone, he figures to put a stamp of finesse and grace on the Big East that hasn’t been there since the golden era of Chris Mulling, Ed Pickney, and Pearl Washington.”
Felipe would go on to have had solid, yet inconsistent freshman season, averaging 17.8 ppg, but failed to lift St. Johns to the NCAA Tournament despite high rankings in pre-season polls. He was alienated by teammates who were put off by his top billing and ripped in the press for not living up to the hype.
In an article published through Sports Illustrated from Felipe’s sophomore season, SI – the very publication that hailed him as the chosen one – went as far as juxtaposing his diminishing stock and lackluster play with the rise of his former Rice teammate Reggie Freeman, who went from afterthought to standout player at the University Of Texas.
Even his former coach in high school publicly called him out for a “lack of work ethic.” Needless to say, Lopez didn’t exactly set the college game on fire that season and never would, seeing his stats decline yearly during his career at St. Johns and only making the NCAA Tournament once.
While he eventually was selected as a first round pick in the NBA Draft, Lopez was far from the superstar he was initially projected to be and flamed out after only four years in the league. Many of the same knocks on Felipe’s game have been applied to Andrew Wiggins through his first few months as a college player: Average basketball IQ. Can’t Shoot. Merely a runner and jumper.
Not to mention the nation has turned it’s attention to Kansas teammate Joel Embiid, who is now being projected in most circles number one pick in the draft if he decides to declare. While I’m not saying that Wiggins will have a NBA career as uneventful as Felipe Lopez did, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve been let down after believing the hype. Only time will tell, but hopefully when all is said and done, Wiggins will be more LeBron James than Felipe Lopez.