LAWRENCE — Andrew Wiggins remembers sitting in the bleachers of Allen Fieldhouse long after the final whistle, watching as the crowd showered the departing Kansas players with love.
It may not have been that exact moment that the nation’s No. 1 recruit decided he would play his only season of college basketball with the Jayhawks. But the outpouring of support on senior night certainly played a role in his decision, one that he doesn’t regret for a moment.
“It went too quick,” Wiggins said late Wednesday after his own version of senior night, tucked away in a small room not far from those stands where he sat a year ago.
“I wish I had more time to stay here and do my thing, just be here with the team and the coaches and all these wonderful fans,” Wiggins said, thoughtfully. “That’s one of the reasons I committed here. I came here on senior night and the fans were so loyal.”
Kansas coach Bill Self stayed true to his promise after an 87-52 victory over Texas Tech, reserving most of the senior day traditions for his seniors. Tarik Black, Niko Roberts and Justin Wesley were honored with framed jerseys prior to the game, and each of them was given a microphone afterward to address a sellout crowd that once again stuck around long after the game.
But the coach who has guided the Jayhawks to 10 straight Big 12 titles also made sure to note what everybody already knew: The latest of them probably wouldn’t have happened without Wiggins.
So before turning the microphone over to the seniors, he asked the crowd to give the rest of the team a round of applause, and then told Wiggins and fellow freshmen Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid — both of whom will have their own NBA decisions to make after the season — to stand up and be acknowledged. The crowd stood with them, giving them a thunderous ovation.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. That’s how quick everything went by,” Wiggins said. “It feels like just yesterday we had our late night, so I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
Wiggins arrived at Kansas with nearly unattainable expectations, yet he’s lived up to just about all of them. He’s averaging 16 points and nearly six rebounds, numbers that may seem modest at first glance but are even more impressive considering the way he shares the ball.
Then there’s the Big 12 championship ring that will soon be slipped onto his finger.
And there are still plenty of more memories to be made. The Jayhawks wrap up their regular season Saturday at West Virginia, and will have the No. 1 seed in next week’s Big 12 tournament, played just down the road from campus at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Then the NCAA tournament, where Kansas is still in the running for a top seed.
Along the way, Wiggins is sure to pick up a handful of awards. Self thinks he’s the favorite for Big 12 player of the year, which The Associated Press will announce next week.
“It’s almost a logic no-brainer,” Self said. “I don’t believe his numbers will blow anybody away, but to be the best player on the best team that’s had a fair amount of success in the league — I don’t think you could go any other direction.”
To be perfectly clear, Wiggins has never led anybody on. He made it clear from the outset that he would head to the NBA next season, and after having one of the best freshman campaigns in Kansas history, he’s certain to be a lottery pick if not the No. 1 overall choice.
Still, in listening to him, it seemed for a brief moment that he wished he could put life on hold — the millions of dollars, the endorsements, the business that will become basketball — and keep playing the game with his close buddies a little while longer.
“I think it’s all puddled up,” Wiggins said. “I’m happy, sad, my last game. But I just enjoy my time here. I’m thankful for everything. I can’t ask for more. I’ve been blessed by a good team, great coaches and the greatest fans a team could ask for.”