Posted: 12:27 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
I promise this is not entirely a gloating post, but Andrew Wiggins committing to Kansas is everything I would have hoped for had I thought he had a chance in the world of committing to a school other than Florida State or Kansas today. I've already written up what Wiggins' commitment to Kansas means to college basketball for the mothership, but, obviously, I had to cut out the bits about what Wiggins would've meant to Florida State and Kentucky from that piece.
Fortunately for y'all, they're still fun for us to read, so here they are:
Wiggins has the potential to deliver a national championship to any of the four schools he picks. But he will improve Florida State more than any other program, and has the chance to change the trajectory of that program more than any other.
Florida State has been squarely within the range between decent and very good under Leonard Hamilton, with 2011's Sweet Sixteen berth and 2012's ACC Tournament title punctuating the only four-year string of NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. Florida State fell back to earth in 2012-13, losing in the first round of the NIT, but Hamilton has made the Seminoles respectable as a basketball program, something no coach had previously done for more than one or two years.
Of course, that still means that Florida State's tradition is practically light years behind the tradition of the other three blue-bloods Wiggins is considering. The extent of FSU's previous basketball history? Florida State made it to the national championship game in 1972, losing to UCLA, made the Sweet Sixteen in 1992 and 1993, and made the Elite Eight in 1993. In the span between Florida State Sweet Sixteen appearances from 1993 to 2011, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas have each won national titles, with North Carolina claiming three, Kentucky two, and Kansas one; Kansas and Kentucky each played for one more.
Wiggins would instantly become the most talented player in Florida State history, and has already been viewed as a savior from the second people realized both of his parents having attended Florida State meant that Wiggins would seriously consider coming to Tallahassee. (Florida State having fellow top-30 recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes in the fold has also helped: he's one of Wiggins' high school teammates and best friends.)
He would give Florida State the most talented player in the ACC in 2013-14, and set up major matchups with Duke (and fellow top-five recruit Jabari Parker) and North Carolina (James Michael McAdoo) over the course of the season. Florida State might just wrest some of the Sunshine State's basketball spotlight from Florida, despite Billy Donovan's team being as loaded as it's ever been, and will certainly have a spotlight trained on Hamilton, whose rep as a defensive guru is about as secure as his point guards' grasp of running offense is troubling.
Nowhere will Wiggins have to carry a team more than at Florida State, but nowhere would the credit for doing amazing things with that team mean more to a fan base: the threshold for becoming a legend at Florida State is low, and Wiggins has to beat out Dave Cowens and Sam Cassell to become the best Seminole ever. Florida State is the best low-risk, high-reward play for Wiggins, where his worst-case scenario is being Kevin Durant-at-Texas 2.0 and his best-case scenario is doing something unthinkable.
Tomahawk Nation is already up and drinking, and, for once, that has nothing to do with Jimbo Fisher's play-calling. That might be the best indication that Wiggins has already started changing the culture: one player can sometimes be enough to make a football school into a basketball school, at least temporarily.
No team in the running for Wiggins needs him less than Kentucky. John Calipari already has the best class in the history of recruiting; adding the best recruit in history would seem unfair.
Wiggins would join an unimaginably loaded 2013-14 roster at Kentucky if he opts to join Big Blue Nation, one that could conceivably have about half of the 2014 NBA Draft's top 10 if Wiggins, Julius Randle, Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, and Willie Cauley-Stein all leave after this year. Draft Express has Wiggins, Randle, and the Harrison twins in its 2014 top 10, and Cauley-Stein at No. 14. And this is all before a bunch of future NBA players practice together against each other for a whole year, steel sharpening steel: many thought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was NBA material, but few assumed he'd be the No. 2 pick until he teamed with Anthony Davis to win a national title, and John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins assuredly helped each other out by teaming up.
This, the idea that teaming up with the Justice League makes you no less of a superhero, is the allure of Kentucky that strikes me as the most tempting, beyond all of the many other things that come with being a superstar at the most fanatical basketball school in the country. In one of the first tweets he sent after "The Decision," LeBron James paraphrased a Rick Ross bar: "So I JFK / joined forces with the kings, and we ate all day!"
Wiggins only has to spend a year waiting to be eligible for the NBA Draft because of a stupid NBA age limit, but if he's killing time, why not do so where it will be the most fun? Wiggins would have to do less at Kentucky than anywhere else, splitting minutes and duties with blue-chip brothers, and, even if he has a terrible season for some unforeseen reason, he's not going to get passed up by any of his Big Blue brethren.
But while Wiggins would make Kentucky an overwhelming favorite to win the 2014 NCAA Tournament, he'd also firm up the lineup for the Traveling Wilburys of college basketball in an era when supergroups have to live with 24/7 scrutiny on Twitter. Scouts would probably rather see Kentucky practice than Kentucky play games against minor foes, and both Kentucky's quest to go undefeated and the exhausting media coverage of it would commence with the opening tip of Midnight Madness. Before he even plays a minute, you would be sick of Andrew Wiggins, who has done almost everything in his power to this point to not overdose on or overwhelm himself with attention.
Kentucky presents the easiest road to the attention, glory, access to the NBA, and coaching that improves players (Calipari is perhaps the best recruiter ever, but is also a great coach) that I think most elite basketball players want. Wiggins is, undoubtedly, not like most elite basketball players — and yet, if he picks Kentucky, would be confirming that there is no better place for an elite player to go.
That would be a testament to just how much John Calipari has rigged college basketball in Kentucky's favor, how great it is to be a Kentucky fan, and how unfair it seems to be a fan of any other team.
In sum: Florida State missed on a program-changing player, and probably the only No. 1 prospect it will ever have this good a shot at, and Kentucky missed on adding the best player available to what still remains the best class in college basketball. Meanwhile, Florida fans still get to see Wiggins in that December 10 game against Kansas at home, and get to laugh at Florida State fans and breathe a sigh of relief about Kentucky.
This has already been a damn good day for Florida basketball, and Chris Chiozza hasn't committed yet.