LAWRENCE — Andrew Wiggins is finding it hard to be everybody’s Super Bowl.
That was the way that Kansas coach Bill Self described the up-and-down season of his talented freshman forward. One day, Wiggins will be pouring in 26 points against Florida, the next day he will be struggling to get his shot off against UTEP.
It’s already been a season of growing pains for the No. 1 recruit in last year’s class, and while the eighth-ranked Jayhawks are starting to soar, Wiggins is still searching for his stride.
“He’s so naive in so many ways,” Self said. “I don’t think he thinks about the fact he’s everybody’s Super Bowl when they have a chance to play against him.
“We’ve told him,” Self said, “but I don’t think he’s felt that yet.”
After easily knocking off No. 24 Baylor on Monday night, Kansas (14-4, 5-0) has roared to five straight wins and first place in the Big 12. The last four of them have come against Top 25 teams, making the Jayhawks the first to accomplish that feat since North Carolina in 1997.
Wiggins has been a big part of that success, of course. He scored 22 points against Kansas State, and poured in 17 against Iowa State and Baylor. But he also was held to nine points on 2-of-9 shooting against Oklahoma, and a season-low three points against Oklahoma State.
Taken together, those are solid numbers for just about any freshman in America.
Wiggins isn’t just any other freshman.
Ever since successfully dueling with Duke star Jabari Parker at a summer tournament, Wiggins has been anointed the next big thing. NBA scouts have flocked to Allen Fieldhouse to see him — there were 28 in attendance last Saturday, when the Jayhawks knocked off the Cowboys. And he’s done enough to prove that he could have a big future in the professional ranks.
But he’s also left many of those scouts, his coaches and just about every fan who has filed into the Phog hungry for more.
“I think he’s done well,” Self said. “I also think there’s another step he can take. He leaves me wanting more, so when people say certain things, I can’t be upset. I want more, too.”
Self has tried to treat Wiggins like anybody else, in part to temper some of the other-worldly expectations. The prized forward has only done two one-on-one interviews with the media — one of them with The Associated Press in December — since the start of the season, and unless he has a big performance, Wiggins generally isn’t made available to reporters following games.
“It’s a no-win, everything lose situation,” Self said. “There’s no way to live up to the hype.”
When he does have a chance to speak, Wiggins has acknowledged that he didn’t expect college basketball to be so hard. Players are bigger and stronger, faster and more athletic.
There are no nights off, especially with Kansas playing the nation’s toughest schedule.
“Yeah, I think so,” Wiggins said, when asked whether he’s starting to figure things out. “I’m trying to be more aggressive right now, driving to the basket, getting good shots.”
Self said that some of the criticism leveled at Wiggins is unfair. After all, his stats — 15.2 points, 6.1 rebounds per game — are similar to those of Ben McLemore, who was the seventh overall pick in the draft after his only season playing in Lawrence.
Then there’s this difference: Wiggins will turn 19 next month, while McLemore had to redshirt a season and was two years older than Wiggins during his own freshman season.
“It’s just a different world,” Self said. “These kids are entering school with the hype and in a lot of ways he’s handled it beautifully in how he’s deflected it, but in some ways he hasn’t understood or we haven’t done a good job of explaining to him, because of the society and the media hype, if you don’t produce, you’re going to be the most talked-about person.”
Self would be fine if Wiggins is the most talked-about person at Kansas, of course, provided it’s for his accomplishments rather than his shortcoming.
“So many times people get hung up on overall stats and things like that,” Self said. “He’s just young, and with all the hype coming in, anything he did was going to be less than what the hype said he should do. And the bottom line is he figured it out, and he’s playing his natural position, and he’s learning to impact the game more and more.”