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|Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford|
By LARRY VAUGHT
GEORGETOWN — Even for the nation’s No. 1 recruit, having Kentucky coach John Calipari and two of his assistants watching him can be cause for a little anxiousness. Throw in about 2,000 Kentucky fans at Scott County Sunday who also came to see Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout Andrew Wiggins and it was easy to understand why he might not have had his best game.
Not that he was bad. It’s just that he’s so good that a 17-point, 11-rebound performance in a 61-45 win over Christian Faith Center did not compare to the 29 points he scored in his team’s first two games. Still, he had a powerful tomahawk dunk on an offensive rebound that made the crowd erupt into a “Go Big Blue” chant, nailed a fallaway 3-pointer just before the first half buzzer and ran the court well even with Calipari leaning over the rail at the second level of the gym to watch his every movement.
“All the fans loved me, supported my team. It’s a great place to play basketball. Here people love basketball if you work hard. The desire for the game, so I appreciate that,” said Wiggins, who recently reclassified to the 2013 recruiting class and went to the top of the 2013 recruiting rankings. “I love Kentucky fans. They are crazy for basketball players, but I know there we just here to support me.
He said the UK fans didn’t add pressure. “They were just here to support me,” he smiled and said.
Still, Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford knows it did matter.
“This is a great experience for him and our other kids,” Fulford said. “He is not a kid that likes crowd. It’s kind of like interviews. He does well, but he doesn’t like them. He doesn’t like having the attention on himself.”
Fulford tries to tell him he better get used to it because he won’t be sheltered from all the attention like he is now when he leaves Huntington whether it is for Kentucky, Florida State, Kansas, Ohio State, North Carolina or another school recruiting him.
The 6-7 Wiggins was 6-for-18 from the field and probably “settled” for outside shots too much early in the game. He was scoreless for 13 minutes before scoring 10 points in the next three minutes. However, he seldom forced shots and was more than willing to pass. He had five turnovers — several came when he appeared to be fouled driving to the basket — but he can handle the ball.
“I can shoot the ball. I’m better at getting to the basket. I can find my open teammate. I can dominate the ball, and I can dominate the game without having the ball in my hands,” Wiggins said.
His biggest flaw is that he sometimes takes plays off.
“People tend to say I take breaks on the court, so it’s always working hard, always putting all my effort into both offense and defense,” Wiggins said when asked what he needed to do better.
Did he notice Calipari and assistants Kenny Payne and Orlando Antigua watching so intently along with UK players Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson and Brian Long?
“It’s an honor that they’re coming out to watch me play and show the love and support they’re giving me,” Wiggins said.
He said the UK coaches “pop up at a game ever now and then or shoot me a text” and always tell him what big things he can do at UK.
“They said we’d basically be unstoppable if all of us, all the great players playing there, if I come next year to 2013 and you’d get the team to beat,” Wiggins said.
No kidding. Kentucky has already signed twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. That’s probably already more than enough to assure Calipari of having a fifth straight No. 1 class.
“I think it’s great. The Harrison twins — I’ve never really watched them play in person, but I’ve seen highlights of them. They look unselfish, great teammates. I wouldn’t mind playing with them,” Wiggins said.
His teammate, Xavier Rathan-Mayes who was briefly recruited by UK before committing to Florida State, had 21 points Sunday. Wiggins says they are “close” and have a strong relationship and it could impact his college choice in the spring.
What about talk that if signed with Kentucky that it would be the greatest recruiting class ever? Does he pay attention to that?
“No, I’m just trying to live my life and play basketball because the season just started, and just cherish every moment I have in high school for now because I know college is coming up soon,” Wiggins, who said it was not a hard decision to reclassify, said.
What about the UK fans? Could they impact his choice?
“I still have the same look at Kentucky from what happened today. I still know that the fans are crazy, and I know they’re always going to be able to support me,” Wiggins said. “It’s a basketball school. The fans support you. The atmosphere every game is crazy. They treat you like rock stars there. And the coaching staff is great. It’s just a great atmosphere to be in. I want to go to a school where I’m wanted, I’m loved and the fans support me and has a good coaching staff.”
One thing that won’t impact his decision is who is at Kentucky. He’s not worried about which current players may or may not come back or what spots players in UK’s recruiting class wil play.
“Great players can play with other great players, so I wouldn’t mind playing with them. It would just make me better playing against them in practice every day,” Wiggins said.
If Kentucky gets Wiggins, it would do the same for other players, too, because going against him daily would make anyone better.
“He’s a rare talent,” Fulford said. “You don’t find many like him.”
Just don’t try getting Wiggins to brag on himself about being ranked No. 1.
“It’s an honor to be ranked No. 1, but I know other people are coming for my spot, so I’ve just got to keep working hard every day in practice and just keep playing my game, staying humble. I know any day that life can be cut short, so I just stay praising God and hoping I stay healthy,” Wiggins said. “It’s not important to me because rankings are just somebody’s opinion.”