SLAM 167′s cover story: Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are the most-hyped prospects since LeBron James.
Parker, according to his father, enjoys studying classic NBA games. Yet basketball is what the teenager does, not who he is. Whether it’s visiting kids in hospitals, doing volunteer work at the local Salvation Army or serving as the President of Student Representatives at the local school council, Parker knows he has the opportunity to make an even bigger impact away from the hardwood. “I just want to be a role model,” says Jabari, who is “heartbroken” by the violence plaguing his native South Side Chicago. “It’s time to be a good guide for these kids.”
If you could create the ideal athlete using ideal genes, you’d probably come up with someone like Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins’ father, Mitchell was the 23rd pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. The 6-4 shooting guard averaged 7 ppg for the ’86 Houston Rockets team that made it to the NBA Finals. What’s more, Mitchell hit the winning shot in Game 3 of that series, which Boston eventually won in six games. As if that’s not enough, Andrew’s mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a Canadian track star who participated in two Olympics and, at the ’84 Summer Olympics, won two Silver medals.
“They blessed me with amazing genes,” Andrew says. “I know where I get my athletic abilities. If I ever have questions or need anyone to lean on in that area, I can always go to them for words of encouragement or guidance.”
Wiggins says he gets most of his athleticism and legs from his mother, while crediting his dad for his “natural strength.” On the mental side, though, he’s still working to reach his dad’s level. ”I don’t have that killer mentality like my dad,” Andrew readily admits. “He’s a killer on the court and wants to win all the time. I want to win all the time, too, but I think he loves the game more than I do right now.”
After Mitchell, who served a two-year suspension in the middle of his NBA career for a positive cocaine test, opened up with us about Andrew, his boy’s long-time love affair with the game becomes clear. The youngest of three boys—Andrew’s brother Mitchell Wiggins Jr is a junior guard at Southeastern University in Florida and Nick Wiggins is a junior guard at Wichita State—Andrew had a basketball in his hands by the age of 1. By the time he was 9, he was playing organized basketball. A few short years later, Mitchell saw the first signs of greatness in Andrew. “Probably when he was 12 years old, when he went to camp at Florida State,” says Mitchell, who along with Marita, lettered at FSU. “I remember my older sons were participating in the elite camp. Andrew played with them and played well. I could see him as a different player, playing against college players and playing well. It was probably at that point I realized.”
Not long after, Andrew told his parents he wanted to go to the United States and play with the best. So in the fall of ’09, at age 14, Andrew left his parents and Canada behind for Christian Faith Academy in North Carolina. It is there where Huntington Prep head coach Rob Fulford first saw Andrew play and reached out to Mitchell about getting him to Huntington some day. After just one semester in NC, Andrew returned home and attended Vaughn Secondary School. In the summer of 2011, Mitchell called Fulford to let him know that Andrew would transfer to Huntington Prep. The day the announcement hit the news, Fulford recalls, Andrew was a trending topic on Twitter.
The web helped facilitate Andrew’s spreading notoriety. YouTube has numerous highlight reels of him in action, with one from 2009 counting more than four million views and serving as emphatic viral proof of his potential. People quickly got familiar with the name and the freak athleticism, explosiveness, spin moves, handles and unguardable perimeter game that come with it—all of which Andrew has shown while having to face zone defenses designed to stifle the star player. “They’re all focusing on me. When I have the ball at the top, they’re all packing in the lane waiting for me. So I just try to create for my teammates,” says Andrew, whose favorite player is Kevin Durant and who is averaging 22.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 4.3 apg and 3.1 bpg. “But in the NBA, you’re surrounded by great players so you can’t really help off anybody like that and play defense like that.”
As is the case with Parker, Wiggins already has a large fanbase. At the Marshall County Hoop Festival in Kentucky last November, where about 6,000 UK Wildcats fans (hoping to influence Andrew’s college choice) were in attendance, Wiggins stuck around for an hour after a game and signed autographs for every single person who asked. Fulford says he tried rescuing him by pulling him away, but Andrew told him, “It’s fine, I’ll finish them.” By the end of the two-day tourney, Fulford estimates that Wiggins had signed more than 1,000 autographs.
Andrew doesn’t mind kicking it with fans–especially if they’re kids. “I’m happy that God blessed me with the talent, abilities and leadership role to be a leader for little kids,” he says. “I don’t mind signing autographs for younger kids because it’s just for the love of the game. It’s not to be sold or anything like that. That could make a kid’s year.”
In a way, hailing from a country far better known for hockey prodigies than hardwood ones creates even more attention around Wiggins. After all, Canada has a growing faction of hoopheads who are dying to see one of their own take the game to another level. Steve Nash was one thing, recent first-round draftees Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph another, but now people are talking about a “Canadian LeBron.” Andrew doesn’t shy away from big-upping the Great North’s basketball future. “Yeah, I think we’ll be able to give [Team USA] a good game,” he says. “I’m confident that we can win a championship—an Olympic Gold medal—in the next 10 years. Anything is possible.”
With Wiggins’ college decision expected any day now—he’s considering Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky and UNC—Fulford says he gets between 15 and 20 media inquiries daily regarding his star’s future. For Andrew, though, the attention is something he tries to embrace. “I don’t mind it, but sometimes it can be a lot,” he says. “I know it’s all for the good. When you’re an elite player like me, and God has blessed you with talent, you just have to do what you have to do.”
It shouldn’t really matter who is ranked No. 1 in the Class of ’13. Whether it’s Jabari or Andrew, Andrew or Jabari, to be as good and as well-grounded and as humble as the two of them are speaks volumes to how special both of them can be, on and off the court, for years to come. They’ve both had to grow up faster than your average teen as a result of their extraordinary talents—handling media, fans and all the baggage that comes with being a prodigy. But with the maturity they embody, both players have handled it like the pros they’re soon to officially become.
It’s only fitting that their graduating year marks the 10-year anniversary of LeBron’s senior class and the change it brought upon the ways in which we measure high school prospects. The bar was raised exactly 10 years ago, but few prospects have been able to reach it. Wiggins and Parker represent a new decade. A new era. They’re the ones you’ve been waiting for.