For months, Andrew Wiggins kept people guessing, never providing a hint of where he might play what likely will be his one and only season of college basketball. The speculation and drama ended Tuesday when Wiggins selected Kansas over North Carolina.
Kansas during the past two seasons ended UNCs season in the NCAA tournament.
This time, the Jayhawks dealt the Tar Heels a difficult blow in recruiting. Wiggins, a 6-foot-7 Huntington (W.Va.) Prep forward, is considered the best high school prospect in years.
Even so, given Wiggins penchant for privacy and reluctance to share his thoughts throughout his recruitment, it was difficult to gauge how seriously he considered UNC.
In addition to Kansas and UNC, Wiggins also considered Florida State and Kentucky. Those two schools had long been viewed as the favorites during an extended recruitment that captivated the attention of the college basketball world, while also leaving it wondering.
It was so difficult to read, Dave Telep, the ESPN national college basketball recruiting analyst, said Tuesday. I really think it was a situation where nobody had their expectations for (getting) this kid through the roof.
Among the four finalists, Florida State might have been the most disappointed. Wiggins parents met at Florida State, where they were both athletes. His father, Mitchell, played basketball for the Seminoles after growing up outside of Kinston and dreaming of playing for Dean Smith and the Tar Heels.
Wiggins arrival at Florida State could have elevated the Seminoles into the role of ACC contender. Had he chosen UNC, the Tar Heels likely would have entered next season ranked among the top five nationally. As it is, though, Kansas is now surrounded by significantly higher expectations than it was on Monday, before Wiggins announcement.
The lone positive for schools that missed out on Wiggins, Telep said, is his decision came so late it didnt affect their ability to recruit other prospects. By now, recruiting classes were mostly set, and the four finalists were merely waiting to find out whether their incoming classes would become stronger with the addition of Wiggins, a Canadian-born player who some consider the best high school player since LeBron James.
If this were the fall, youd be crushed because you just missed out on a whole lot of other prospects behind him, Telep said.
After difficult defeats, UNC coach Roy Williams often says moral victories dont interest him. But thats what he was left with after Wiggins chose Kansas.
Williams has won his share of high-profile recruitments, but the Tar Heels past three classes havent included many top-10 prospects. According to ESPN.coms rankings, UNC has signed just one top-10 prospect forward James Michael McAdoo, who will return for his junior season during the past three classes.
During the same span, six schools Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kansas and Baylor have signed multiple top-10 prospects, according to ESPN.com. Kentucky, which used a freshmen-dominated lineup to win the national championship in 2012, signed five top-10 prospects in the class of 2013 alone.
Williams has said repeatedly his recruiting philosophy hasnt changed, and he wouldnt hesitate to recruit players who are likely to remain in college for only one season. The Tar Heels next season, though, will rely heavily on McAdoo and fellow junior P.J. Hairston, who led UNC in scoring and averaged more than 18 points per game after becoming a permanent starter more than halfway through last season.
UNCs cupboard is hardly bare without Wiggins. In addition to Hairston and McAdoo, the Heels return starting point guard Marcus Paige, senior guard Leslie McDonald, and sophomore forwards Joel James, Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto.
In addition, UNCs incoming three-man recruiting class which includes Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks, who are considered the two best prospects in North Carolina is ranked 17th nationally, according to ESPN.com. Its difficult to consider Wiggins a recruiting miss for the Tar Heels, given he never provided an indication of where he ranked UNC relative to his other finalists.
Even so, his decision caused jubilation at Kansas, and caused others from Tallahassee to Chapel Hill to wonder what might have been.
New nemesis Kansas has delivered another blow to UNC:
Tuesday: Andrew Wiggins picks Kansas over UNC
2013 NCAA third round: Kansas 70, UNC 58
2012 Elite 8: Kansas 80, UNC 67
2008 Final Four: Kansas 84, UNC 66
Andrew Wiggins likely would have started from day one no matter where he chose to play in college next season. At UNC, he could have been the kind of versatile wing player the Tar Heels lacked a season ago, after Harrison Barnes departed for the NBA two seasons early. UNC still returns two of its best three players from last season, though. Heres a look its projected starting lineup:
PG: Marcus Paige, Soph.
Paige steadily improved throughout his freshman season. Becoming physically stronger will remain an offseason priority.
SG: Leslie McDonald, Sr.
McDonald was an effective sixth-man for UNC after P.J. Hairston entered the starting lineup more than halfway through last season. Hes a capable shooter whose offseason priority is likely to improve his ability to create shots off the dribble.
SF: P.J. Hairston, Jr.
When Hairston was on last season, he was the Heels best player. Hes UNCs best shooter, and hes also difficult to defend when hes slashing to the basket.
PF: James Michael McAdoo, Jr.
McAdoo isnt a prototypical back-to-the-basket post player, but he still has an enviable combination of size and skill that should make him one of the most difficult-to-guard players in the ACC next season.
C: Brice Johnson, Soph.
As was the case a season ago, the frontcourt spot beside McAdoo will remain a question mark entering the season. Fellow sophomore Joel James and freshmen Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks are all likely to be used, some at different positions, to complement McAdoo.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter