Charlotte Hoops Challenge

Nation’s top basketball recruit makes stop in Charlotte

Wiggins, whose choices are down to Kentucky, Florida State, North Carolina and Kansas, scores 17 points in win

dscott@charlotteobserver.comNovember 24, 2012 

Andrew Wiggins started things off with what the fans came to see Friday night: a dunk on the first possession of the game that rattled the rim and set the crowd to roaring in Waddell Language Academy’s hot and stuffy gym.

“It always motivates me when I see a crowd’s reaction like that,” said Wiggins, the nation’s top high school basketball prospect. “That’s what they want to see.”

Wiggins is in Charlotte with his top-ranked Huntington (W.Va.) Prep team for this weekend’s Charlotte Hoops Challenge. After a 60-50 victory against Winston-Salem’s Quality Education Academy on Friday, Wiggins plays again Saturday at 2 p.m. against Charlotte’s Kennedy Charter.

Wiggins is a 6-foot-8 forward with the kind of sublime basketball skills that colleges crave – although it appears that only Kentucky, Florida State, North Carolina and Kansas have a shot at them (and then that will be likely for just one season). He combines graceful movement around the court with explosive forays to the basket. And although he was limited by a Quality Education zone defense that held him to 17 points Friday, he’s as dangerous around the basket as he is on the perimeter.

“On the basketball floor, he’s a great talent – plus one – in every category,” said ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep, one of several reporters on hand to watch Wiggins in Charlotte this weekend. “He’s got explosion. He shoots it easy. And he has that extra gear in every part of that game. He’s a sky walker. He was a couple of inches away a few times from getting to the rim.”

Wiggins comes by his talents both instinctually and naturally. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was an Olympic silver medalist for Canada in the 1984 Olympics who also ran track at Florida State. His father, Mitchell Wiggins, is a Kinston native who played in the NBA after a collegiate career at Clemson and Florida State.

“He inherited some pretty good genetics,” said Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford.

Said Telep: “He’s almost the bionic recruit. You take a Canadian sprinter, marry her to a Florida State basketball player, and they’re both pretty near the top of their games. They have this kid who’s 6-8 and can pretty much sample from mom and dad. How can this not be the perfect storm of a prospect?”

Wiggins was raised in his mother’s home country of Canada (he has a French-Canadian lilt to his accent). But he elected to leave home and play at Huntington Prep – a school that uses local host families to board its students – to improve his basketball skills.

“My parents have been a big influence – they were both pro athletes who have been there and done that,” said Wiggins. “So from a young age, they’ve given me advise that’s (always been valuable).”

Wiggins has something else going for him, deciding in October to cut short his high school career by one year by “reclassifying” his class status at Huntington Prep from a junior to senior. He was only one credit short of graduating heading into this, what would have been have been his junior season.

“Andrew didn’t need to be in high school another year,” said Fulford, whose team is ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today.

It also condenses the recruiting process. Wiggins didn’t make his college decision during the early-signing period that ended Wednesday. So Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton was at Waddell on Friday to watch Wiggins. North Carolina coach Roy Williams recently visited him in West Virginia. Several fans wearing Kentucky and North Carolina T-shirts were in the gym. Fulford said Wiggins will begin scheduling official visits to the four finalists in December.

“I’m seeing which school and which coach I can be situated with,” said Wiggins, who has a teammate – guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes – who has already committed to Florida State. “And we’ll take it from there.”

Telep, who compares Wiggins to former NBA star Tracy McGrady as a prospect, thinks he has an idea.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if the words ‘Florida State’ or ‘Kentucky’ come out of his mouth at some point. He’s got a real strong pull to Florida State. And Kentucky is Kentucky.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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