By Tom Hurley | @TomHurleyKernel
CINCINNATI — The Andrew Wiggins show rolled into Cincinnati on Friday night, as Huntington Prep (W.Va.) dismantled Aiken (Ohio), 68-41, at the Play-by-Play Classic.
Earlier in the evening, Covington Catholic ground out a win over the host Withrow Tigers, and Dayton Dunbar edged out Summit Country Day in a tense encounter, but make no mistake, the night was all about Wiggins.
Posters advertising the evening bore his name, those entering the Withrow high school athletic facility spoke of how they “only came out to see Wiggins play,” and the program vendor excitedly quipped about how he hoped John Calipari would make the short trip from Lexington.
In a city that hosts two Division I basketball programs, dozens in attendance wore not the red and black of the Bearcats nor the silver and blue of the Musketeers, but instead the blue and white of UK, hoping to remind the No. 1-ranked recruit in the Class of 2013 that they would very much like to see him in a Cats uniform next season.
Eyes and cameras focused in Wiggins’ direction when he walked into the gym an hour before his team was due to take the floor.
Covington’s student section chanted for his attention rather than concentrating on their own school’s game while Huntington’s players sat courtside watching the Colonels’ game with Withrow.
That and the previous game were almost treated as an undercard. Only the Huntington Prep and Aiken players were allowed the privilege to have individual player stats displayed in the gym scoreboard. Heck, the national anthem wasn’t sung for the first time until the Express and Falcons lined the sideline hand over heart.
When the main bout of the evening finally did get under way, it didn’t take long for those in the gym to get on their feet, including the Cincinnati police officers who swapped patrolling the gym lobby for the baseline in order to get a glimpse of the Andrew Wiggins show.
Three and a half minutes into the game, Wiggins threw down a monsterous dunk that was met by “oohs” and “ahhs.” Soon after, another dunk was followed by a high-rising block on the defensive end.
While it wouldn’t be fair to say he was static, it would be fair to say Wiggins didn’t need to expend too much energy to dominate his opponents.
Any time the ball came his way or a teammate put up a shot, Wiggins sprung into action.
When collecting the ball on the perimeter, he’d dart into life, ducking and diving through the paint before creating space to put up a shot.
He battled with defenders — well, chose to nudge them out of the way, under the basket to get into rebounding position before soaring above his smaller defenders to grab the board or attempt to tip in the rebound.
Aiken’s 5-foot-10 guard A.J. Johnson tried to spin off Wiggins when the Canadian was boxing out at free throws, a tactic useless with the physical mismatch.
The crowd saw a glimpse of what Florida State fans could see plenty of next season if Wiggins spurns UK in favor of joining teammate and fellow Toronto native Xavier Rathan-Mayes at his parents’ alma mater in Tallahassee.
Rathan-Mayes, a former UK recruit who committed to FSU in October, broke down court with Wiggins and threw a lob to his teammate. Wiggins elevated from distance, collecting the ball 4 feet from the rim before being denied a spectacular slam by a strong foul from an Aiken defender.
It wasn’t just on highlight-reel dunk attempts that Wiggins was noticed, however. He rolled off screens with ease thanks to his muscular build, and dished to open teammates when he drove the lane and took two, three or even four defenders with him.
His legs appeared to be springs, and they needed to be. After comfortably gaining position around the basket, Wiggins would easily reach the rebound first, but his touch around the rim when not dunking needs some work.
Although, it’s not much of a problem when you’re a man playing against boys and can afford multiple tips before finding nothing but net or a ticket to the foul line.
In one play midway through the third quarter, Wiggins rose for a defensive rebound, then ran down the court like a rush-hour train. His defender, 6-foot-2 forward Anton Dean, was literally bowled over by Wiggins, who then followed through with a thunderous slam, before being called for the offensive foul — which was sheerly due to his opponent’s strength being no match for his own.
Dean, who was guarded by Wiggins for much of the game, was held to just two points all night. Later, Wiggins rose over both Dean and 6-foot-6 freshman Kameron Moore but couldn’t finish the dunk. That is until a teammate passed the rebound back to him seconds later so he could throw down a two-handed jam.
Down low, Falcons players were defending Wiggins as though he were an NFL wide receiver trying to break free at the line of scrimmage.
They simply couldn’t match his size, strength or power.
Da’Mon Harris, a 6-foot-2 junior, almost fell to the floor when trying to bump Wiggins on another effort to stop him going to the hole.
Shortly after Wiggins took his first rest of the night late in the third quarter with 13 points and 9 rebounds to his name (which triggered a mass exodus from the stands for the parking lot), Harris was the one making his opponent bounce off him when Rathan-Mayes drove the lane.
The FSU commit, along with teammate Dominic Woodson, a 6-foot-10, 290-pound Baylor commit, will need to spend some serious time in the gym to see big minutes at the next level.
One Huntington player who looks to be more than ready for the fall is 6-foot-10, 220-pound forward Moses Kingsley. The Arkansas commit impressed all night with his size, strength and rebounding ability.
Also helping out the Huntington cause was Tennessee commit Trevon Landry, who looked more than ready for his freshman season in Knoxville.
Another name to watch out for in the coming years is sophomore guard Austin Grandstaff, who played beyond his age, taking over the contest when Wiggins took a seat on the bench.
Grandstaff displayed a nice touch from the field, playing with poise and command that would suggest he was older than his 15 years.
The 6-foot-5, 175-pound Texas native finished with 12 points and, like Wiggins, was also prevalent in the boards and assists columns.
“My whole team is really strong and athletic,” Wiggins said. “So we tend to get a load of boards. We work hard offensively and defensively and our rewards are rebounds.”
When Wiggins came back into the game a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter, Aiken players resorted to tangling elbows with the 200-pound forward, realizing their inferior bodies could find no other way to prevent him driving to the bucket.
Three minutes later Wiggins came out of the game for good, sitting down with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.
“I think I played good,” Wiggins said. “(I) could have played better offensively. But on the defensive end, rebounding and everything like that, I did good.”
Perhaps the best way to summarize the hoopla surrounding the 17-year-old is when he had to cut short his postgame interview – the fact he had one and not one other player at the event did is telling in itself – because of the line of 50 people waiting to greet him outside the Express locker room.
Wiggins waited patiently, signing, smiling, shaking hands and posing for photos while his teammates looked on, until the last fan had gotten their piece of the most hyped high school basketball player since LeBron James.
Afterwards, the team bus hit the road for the next tour date of the Andrew Wiggins show, the Dunk 4 Diabeties Shootout in North Canton, Ohio.
In Saturday’s game against Mentor, Wiggins turned on the heat, proving that he can play at more than a stroll when needed against tough competition.
Scoring 30 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, swatting five blocks and collecting two assists, he helped the Express nudge their way to a 61-59 point win.
On Sunday, Huntington steamrolled Benedictine, 81-40, with the star of the show earning 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Were it not for the NBA’s minimum age rule, Wiggins would perhaps be the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Instead, he’ll be walking onto a college campus in the fall for surely one season of college basketball before departing for the big time.
With a decision on his commitment not expected until after he makes official visits to North Carolina, Kansas and UK following the last game of Huntington’s season on March 9, it remains to be seen where the Andrew Wiggins show will land next season.
If it does roll into Lexington and join the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in college basketball, get ready for daily chimes from the national media about how the collegiate leg of the tour will end with the hanging of a banner in Rupp Arena, before the show makes its way to the NBA.