By LARRY VAUGHT
There was not one specific reason that Huntington (W.Va.) Prep standout Andrew Wiggins was named the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Instead, Chad Konecky of USA Today says a variety of reasons made it easy for Gatorade to choose him over other talented players this season.
“To get on the radar for this award, it takes athletic ability and performance. To stay on the radar it takes the rest of the resume including academics and character. Then in the end it comes back to athletics,” said Konecky after watching former NBA star Alonzo Mourning — a former Gatorade national winner — surprise Wiggins with the award at school Wednesday.
Konecky says production and impact on the current season are the biggest criteria for picking the national winner. Wiggins is considered the nation’s top recruit and had already won the Naismith Award as the nation’s top player.
“For a guy to play that schedule that Huntington Prep does, which is arguably the toughest in the nation, and lead them to 30 wins, average a double-double on a team with other guys who could produce and do it in about 25 minutes per game was remarkable,” Konecky said. “He has 22 double-doubles. He shot 58 percent inside the 3-point arc. He was always arguably the best defender on the floor. He has great basketball IQ and court vision.
“Take all those things and from an athletic perspective, he had a hell of a year. Throw on top of that he is a B+ student and gives back to his adopted community and they embrace him the way they do and he was an impressive winner.”
Not much surprises or rattles Wiggins, who has no date set to announce whether he’ll play his college basketball at Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas or Florida State. However, Konecky said when Mourning came into Wiggins’ history class, he was startled.
“He is soft spoken and very understated, but you could tell he was excited,” Konecky said. “He doesn’t say a lot, but you could tell this award stood out to him because of everything it takes to win it. He said it was also very big for Canada. He had that sense that being the first Canadian native to win this award was special and he knows how big a moment today was.”
Not big enough, though, to let anything slip about recruiting and whether he would join what is already considered the all-time best recruiting class at Kentucky and give coach John Calipari seven McDonald’s All-Americans in one recruiting class. He led his team in points, rebounds and steals, averaging 23.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game this season.
“He continues to be relentless with the answer that he is undecided about college,” Konecky said. “But we are getting close to knowing.”
The USA Today writer says he was “leery” of trying to project how good Wiggins — who is already No. 1 on 2014 NBA mock draft lists — might be in college.
“What stands out most to me is that when he decides to go to the basket from 15 feet away or in transition when he gets a step, I have not seen anyone stop him. That will serve him well in the NCAA,” Konecky said. “When you combine his skill set with his sense for the moment and tremendous intensity and desire to win, I would not be surprised if we were not talking about him as much next March as we are Florida Gulf Coast now. He is that gifted.”
Florida Gulf Coast is the No. 15 seed that stunned Georgetown and is now in the Sweet 16. However, put Wiggins at Kentucky and the Cats become an overwhelming favorite to win the 2014 title because they’ll have the No. 1 recruit at every position and the top overall player in Wiggins, a small forward with versatility.
Given that Wiggins seems a cinch to spend just one year in college, winning a championship has to be a priority. Also having a chance to practice against the most talented players daily for one year could help prepare him for his NBA career. Could that not favor UK?
“Kentucky certainly has tremendous appeal, and that is speaking personally, not for Gatorade or USA Today,” Konecky said. “You can find a lot of reasons he could end up there. When you do get him in a moment where he lets his guard down a little bit to the extent he does, he is really composed and articulate. If a compose, thoughtful, articulate guy is surveying his future options, you can certainly make a strong case that Kentucky is where he’ll be next season.”