Next Wednesday marks the 36th Annual McDonald’s High School All-American Game; a night I’ve been mentally preparing myself for almost as if it were the opening tip of the NBA playoffs. That evening in the United Center in Chicago, much of America, for the first time, will witness one of the better and more analyzed recruiting classes in years in an exhibition game touting the potential to turn this into a FGCU highlight reel-type party.
There’s Chicago’s own Jabari Parker – last year’s player of the year – who already has Duke fans whispering championship and they’ve yet to finish this year’s NCAA Tournament; and a kid who Windy City basketball analysts say could be the best home-grown talent the city ever produced. A rather awesome sentiment, indeed, considering the city stakes claim to names like Derrick Rose, Ben Wilson, Tim Hardaway and Mark Aguirre.
The new “Fab Five” marching into Kentucky this fall – Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Dakari Thompson and the cream of the crop Julius Randle – will be on full display and a reminder that whatever John Calipari is selling (money, women, Jay-Z and Drake affiliations, future millions, farm league for the NBA), kids are devouring. Coining Coach Cal to the Nick Saban of college basketball may not be the most exact comparison in sports. But the only reason we’re not seeing Kentucky reel off three out of four titles like ‘Bama is because his teams are only constructed to live for a year.
Speaking of Kentucky, the scary potential about Coach Cal’s recruiting bunch is that his mega-talented class could become historically better pending top overall recruit Andrew Wiggins says “screw it, let’s all do this, win a title and break bread together.” Chances are Wiggins – who reclassified to this year’s class – is not coming to that conclusion, but with UK one of his final four schools (pun intended), it’s not all that far out of the realm of possibility. Although, Florida State – the school his parents attened and also one of the finalists for his one year of service – are making arguably the breast pitch possible.
With so many names already circled in red ink as “must-see,” the incredibly reserved (some say shy) Wiggins – who also sports a 3.35 GPA – is the one highlighted, bolded and italicized.* Best believe not only will NBA scouts be fixated on the potential franchise-altering small forward and 2013 Gatorade Player Of The Year, marketing agencies will, too, in person. That’s how transcendent Wiggins has the potential to become.
It’s tough to say we’ve reached “LeBron in 2003” levels leading into the All-American game because by this time Bron was a household name amongst even casual basketball fans. Plus, he had the luxury of already having one foot in the NBA by that time. Yet, we’re nearing those “let me stop what I’m doing” levels to sit courtside in the event basketball’s next “it” guy is mutating before our very eyes.
Despite the neverending comparisons to James and Kevin Durant (for his quiet, yet relentless approach), Wiggins’ game is unique to only him, with his own true deficiency being he gets “bored” at times playing kids his own age, according to his high school coach Rob Fulford. Those not yet willing to sip the kool-aid on Wiggins should take a gander at this highlight mixtape.
It’s tough to invest too much stock into videos like this, but after keeping up with the kid’s game for a little less than a year now, no pipe dreams being sold here. The hype is real. The game is even realer. There’s room for improvement, sure, but the same could be said of any 17-year-old freakishly talented prospect of yesteryear. From a sheer athletic and offensive vantage point, as my good buddy Bryan Crawford says, “he has no equal.”** Andrew Wiggins – for lack of any other description – is that deal.
And while next Wednesday won’t make or break Wiggins, Parker, Randle or any high school senior suited up, calling the All-American Game a “stepping stone” is short-changing the power of the moment. Stages like this can and have accelerated the process of morphing phenoms into stars, and stars into walking, breathing brands.
* – For some perspective, his father, Mitchell Wiggins, was a first round pick in 1983. He was also a member of those infamous “what if” Rockets teams from the ’80s who fell victim to freak injuries, happenstance and cocaine – which he was suspended two and a half years for using. Not to focus totally on the negative though, he has been a constant figure in his son’s life helping him throughout this transition. So yeah, applaud the man for that instead of looking down on his past transgressions.
** – Remember how David Stern’s first draft class was in 1984 and he never really looked back after that? There’s no one happier and praying more the 2014 draft class hits the ground running in his first year as commissioner as Adam Silver.