He is only 17. Well, Andrew Wiggins turns 18 this Saturday, but you get the point.
The Canadian basketball phenom returned to his native land last Sunday, giving an overflow crowd of more than 2,200 at Hamilton's McMaster University gym, including every major media outlet in the country, a look at the talent that is the No. 1-ranked prep hoops prospect in the United States.
After winning the opening tip for Huntington Prep against a team made up of top Hamilton-area high school players, Wiggins demonstrated the level of that talent over the next few minutes. He dunked for the game's first points and generally stood out the way he has in two years worth of YouTube videos: like a man playing against boys, his opponents and teammates relegated to resembling extras in a movie -- not unlike how early 1980s video of Wayne Gretzky comes across.
Yet as quick as we saw those flashes of brilliance, the 6-foot-7 Wiggins moved into an even more effortless mode, easily passing out of double teams and letting his teammates do more work.
After dropping 19 points in the first half, he sat for a good chunk of the second in what was an 81-52 Huntington rout, finishing with 25 points (unofficial, of course, as there was no official scorer) on what those in the media section counted as 10-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds and two blocks.
So here enter the questions about Wiggins as critics search for potential holes in his game. Is his motor in question or has he simply lacked the proper level of competition, even on the U.S. prep school circuit?
Smarter money would be on the latter. After Sunday's game, with Wiggins and the media cramped into a small room under the stands of McMaster's football stadium, he was asked when was the last time he played against somebody who was better than him.
"I don't know," Wiggins replied, offering a shy grin.
'An elite player'
Observers agree that the next step, to the NCAA level, will be big for Wiggins. Just don't ask him what school he's to going yet.
"I don't want to talk about commitment," Wiggins said when the expected question came about possibly joining his childhood friend and fellow Canadian at Huntington -- Xavier Rathan-Mayes -- at Florida State this fall.
Some of the thought process among Canadian media going into Sunday was that perhaps Wiggins was uncomfortable with his growing celebrity status. That's not true.
"It comes with being an elite player," he explained.
What does clearly bother him is the public dissection of the recruiting process.
"He just hates it," Huntington coach Rob Fulford was quoted as saying in the now-infamous critical Sports Illustrated article to which Wiggins responded by scoring 57 points on 28 shots (and earning props in a tweet from future Team Canada boss Steve Nash.
It's understandable too. When Huntington goes to Kentucky for road games, thousands show up in Wildcat blue (Wiggins is down to deciding between Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina). Wiggins, who has about 33,000 Twitter followers, must also deal with the daily barrage of constant "come to our school" tweets. It's expected when he does make a decision in the next month and a half, he'll simply send out a text message and avoid a media conference.
So when asked Sunday what about him he wishes people could know, Wiggins said: "That I'm only 17."
'Once in a lifetime'
Rathan-Mayes has been close to him for many of those years. Their life stories are strangely similar for two guys born and raised in the Toronto area. Wiggins' father Mitchell and Rathan-Mayes' father Tharon Mayes both played at Florida State, although a few years apart, and in the NBA before moving north and marrying Canadian women (in Wiggins' case, former Olympic track and field silver medallist Marita Payne).
"Mind-boggling," Rathan-Mayes said of Wiggins after Sunday's game. "Someone with that kind of athletic ability comes along once in a lifetime."
Rathan-Mayes, a standout guard in his own right, actually outscored Wiggins against ULA. The two friends like to lay low and play video games. And if you forget the basketball for a second, that's what you see, just two regular kids from suburban Toronto.
"His work ethic is tremendous," Rathan-Mayes added. "And just a humble guy."
That's why Kevin Durant is Wiggins' favourite current NBA player.
"KD's humble, just like me," he said.
And seeing as "humble" is an archetype this country loves to bestow upon its hockey players, if everything falls into place, there's no reason why Wiggins can't become one of the most popular athletes, if not the most popular athlete, from Canada. And music to the ears of jaded observers of the Canadian national senior men's program, he holds the opportunity to play for his country in very high regard.
"It allows me to be part of something special," Wiggins said of his turns with the Under-17 and U-18 teams. "It's one of the most cherished moments I have, the opportunity to represent Canada."
'I'll be okay'
Of course, as far as that icon status goes, everything does have to fall into place and he knows there is work to do.
"I'm a long way from there," said Wiggins, who, thanks to his father's connections, has received words of encouragement from names like Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
"I think I need to get a little bigger and tighten up my handles and I'll be okay."
Wiggins is acutely aware that hyper-intense criticism will come with the territory and whether it's questioning his mechanics or asking whether he can beef up his 205-pound frame without losing something, he appears wise enough to see over it.
"[Criticisms] mean nothing to me," he said. "It's not going to help me in the long run."
Like the kid said, he is only 17, until Saturday anyways, when he turns 18 and legally becomes an adult. And as most can tell you, life as an adult gets a little more complicated, even for those not anointed the next, best basketball player on the planet.
Either way, it should suit Andrew Wiggins fine.
"I was raised well," he said. "So I know how to handle a lot of stuff."
Follow John Chick on Twitter @roofthatpeach
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