HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Top prep basketball prospect Andrew Wiggins told a small gathering of family and friends at his high school gym Tuesday that he will play at Kansas.
Then the Huntington Prep star signed his letter-of-intent and officially became a Jayhawk. No big speech. No bands, live TV coverage or props.
Just the way Wiggins wanted it.
And just like that, Lawrence, Kan., became more of a focal point for the upcoming college basketball season.
“I’m looking forward to getting there and just doing my thing,” Wiggins said.
The 6-foot-8 Toronto native chose Kansas over Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State. Wiggins said there wasn’t one particular selling point, taking into account each school’s coaching staff, players and program.
“I just followed my heart,” he said.
He’ll join one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
“I really thought it was one of those long shots, at least when we first got involved,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The more we hung around, the more we felt he liked us. There was (a) little bit of a connection.”
Despite the loss of Ben McLemore to the NBA draft, four of Kansas’ five recruits are considered to be in the top 50 nationally, including guards Conner Frankamp and Wayne Selden, forward Brannen Greene and center Joel Embiid.
Wiggins’ parents both attended Florida State, and the Seminoles had signed his Huntington Prep teammate and fellow Toronto native, Xavier Rathan-Mayes.
Wiggins’ father is former NBA first-round pick Mitchell Wiggins. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a Canadian Olympic sprinter and silver medalist. Older brother Nick plays guard at Wichita State and another brother, Mitchell Jr., plays at NAIA school Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.
“Florida State was great for mom, it was great for dad,” Mitchell Wiggins said. But he recalled telling his son, “it’s your time. It’s not 20-30 years ago. And Florida State (would have been) a great choice.”
But the father said Kansas will “be a great fit. Hopefully Andrew stays humble, stays hungry. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Tuesday’s brief ceremony ended the frenzied pursuit of Wiggins, who averaged 23.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season.
Rather than turn his announcement into a spectacle, Wiggins wanted a private signing ceremony where he attends classes at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School in Huntington.
“I didn’t really want to open it up to the public,” he said. “I knew it would be jam packed in here. I wanted people who appreciated me and people I appreciate to be here watching me. I wanted a lot of people I knew.”
Initially rated as a 2014 prospect, Wiggins shot to the top of recruiting charts when he decided last October to reclassify into his original high school class of 2013. The four major recruiting services rated Wiggins as the No. 1 overall recruit.
Interest grew in recent weeks. As one fan put told Wiggins in a Twitter post, “You’re driving 4 schools and 4 fan bases absolutely insane.”
Wiggins had kept quiet on his intentions. He had yet to even make a verbal commitment and delayed his signing until almost the very end — Wednesday is the deadline for recruits to sign with NCAA Division I schools.
“This is the way I like it to be done — on my own time,” he said. “I’ve got a weight lifted off my shoulders. I can relax now.”
Self said Wiggins “did exactly what we said he was going to do. He told us he was going to take his time. He was going to process everything. So him taking his time wasn’t a shock. ... I thought it was a classy, cool way to do it, when kids are seeking more attention these days.”
Wiggins’ game did the talking. He has the ability to make shots from all angles and distances, blow past defenders to the basket and reach the rim at eye level. Wiggins was the recipient of this year’s Gatorade Boys National Basketball Player of the Year and Naismith Foundation national awards. He has been called the best prep prospect since LeBron James.
“I’m hearing the LeBron comparison and I saw LeBron play some high school, and I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison to anyone,” Self said. “But from a pure athletic ability, he (Wiggins) is one of the most pure athletes the college game has had for a while.”
Wiggins participated in several postseason all-star games, most recently playing for the World Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit April 20 in Portland, Ore.
Wiggins cited fatigue from the Oregon trip for canceling scheduled visits from Self, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. Wiggins instead talked to them by phone. Kentucky coach John Calipari had visited Wiggins in Huntington on March 28.
“When he announced it, it wasn’t the one I thought he would pick,” said Wiggins’ high school coach, Rob Fulford.
who felt the player would choose Florida State. “But I wasn’t surprised. All four have advantages over the others in some way.”
Wiggins said he planned to relax at home and train with his brothers and some friends during the next few months. Self said he’s not sure when Wiggins will arrive in Lawrence because of the possibility of Wiggins’ involvement in some Canadian national teams over the summer.
LSH escapee caught in Utah