CHICAGO — The first thing you should know about Andrew Wiggins is that he’s evolved.
The top basketball recruit in the class of 2013 is too laid back and chill to think it’s cool that thousands of grownups hang on his every move, but he doesn't despise the attention like he once did.
“It’s growing on me, I think,” Wiggins said of the media circus that surrounds him. “I don’t know. I used to hate it, but I know that it’s gonna be there. I know what these media guys want, so I just try and make it easier to get through, I guess. They spend the whole time trying to trick me into telling them where I'm going."
Wiggins, who is in town for the McDonald's All American Game (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), listed five other things – including “dominating someone in Call of Duty” – that he’d rather be doing than lounging in a red leather chair at the downtown Marriott talking about himself on a Sunday evening.
“I think everyone else is more worried about my recruitment than me,” said Wiggins, a swingman at Huntington Prep (Huntington, W.Va.). “Isn’t that funny? I mean I guess I understand, but it’s still kinda like, weird. I mean, why?”
A commitment from Wiggins, the consensus No. 1 player in the country, would bring national title aspirations depending on which school – Kentucky, Kansas, Florida State and North Carolina – he chooses.
Wiggins is a 6-foot-8, 210-pound slab of man with Pogo sticks for feet and the skill set of a seasoned NBA veteran. It’s no wonder why his coach, Rob Fulford, said he could start in the NBA tomorrow.
The full plethora of his game will be on display tonight when Wiggins' East squad squares off against the West at the United Center.
“I wish I could just play and that’s it,” Wiggins said. “I wish I knew where I wanted to go. Then it wouldn’t be as big a deal. I promise; I wish I knew where I wanted to go.”
Wiggins wasn’t born shooting 100 percent on the Nerf goal that hung on the back of his bedroom door. He wasn’t tearing down the rim during warm-ups at St. David’s middle school in Ontario, Canada.
Even with a father, Mitchell Wiggins, who played in the NBA, and a mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, who starred in track and field in the Olympics, Wiggins had to hone his skills on the hardwood.
After what he thought was a solid fifth-grade year, he rode the bench in the sixth grade playing out of position at center.
“A bunch of new guys came in and got all the minutes,” Wiggins recalled. “I left there and never talked to them again. I’m kidding, but I ended up leaving. I just kept working. I just loved to play.”
He’d often mimic the movie Like Mike, tying his shoes and reciting the line, “Make me like Mike” before games.
“I know that sounds corny,” Wiggins said. “But that was my thing. I used to do that all the time.”
His coming out party was in 2009 at the ScoutsFocus Elite 80 at Barton Community College in Wilson, N.C. He averaged 18 points per game against players such as C.J. Leslie and Reggie Bullock, who just finished their junior years at North Carolina State and North Carolina, respectively, and P.J. Hairston, who led North Carolina in scoring this season as a sophomore.
“Andrew was the best player in attendance as a 7th grader,” ScoutsFocus Elite 80 director Joe Davis said. “At that time, he hadn't played one game in the United States. His performance was impressive to say the least.”
The highlight reel from that showcase got more than four million YouTube views.
“It all got crazier and crazier after that,” Wiggins said.
Where’s he headed
Kennedy Meeks checks behind him in the crowded hall at the United Center Tuesday during media day to see if anyone is within earshot, then turns around and flashes a sly smirk.
It’s one of those smiles that screams, “I know something you don’t know.”
Meeks, Wiggins’ teammate on the East, does know. At least he thinks he knows.
“I think we’ll get him,” said Meeks, a center at West Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.) who is signed to North Carolina. “Me and Andrew are pretty tight and I have been working on him all week. I think I’ve got this thing done.”
Meeks seems a bit perplexed when he hears that Montverde (Fla.) center Dakari Johnson, who’s also teaming up with Meeks and Wiggins on the East, said that after talking to Wiggins he “just had that feeling that he was gonna be joining us at Kentucky.”
Even Tilton (Tilton, N.H.) wing Wayne Selden, who’s also suiting up for the East and is signed to Kansas, had a “good feeling” about the Jayhawks' chances after a brief chat with Wiggins when the players first arrived on Saturday.
So who's right? Only Wiggins knows.
“Drew’s gotten good at knowing what to say,” said Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Wiggins' best friend and high school teammate, who is signed to Florida State. “If Drew doesn't want people to know something, they won't know. He keeps a tight circle and always has this poker face on where you can't tell what he's thinking.”
It’s true. Wiggins is very calculated.
Sure, he’s as laid back as they come, but he’s well aware of the impact of his words and speaks accordingly.
“All those reporters ask the same boring questions,” Wiggins said. “I already know how to answer anything they say because it’s all the same worded differently. It’s boring, so I have to make it fun.”
Like last week, when he said that Kentucky would “win it all” if he decided to go there.
“I knew they would take that and run with it,” Wiggins said. “But I do think that though. I mean come on now; me, Julius (Randle), the Twins (Andrew and Aaron Harrison), James (Young), Marcus (Lee), Dakari; who’s stopping that?”
Wiggins says he has "great" reasons to like North Carolina, Kansas and Florida State, too, making his decision all the more difficult.
“What do you do when you can’t go wrong no matter what you choose,” Fulford said. “Can you imagine that?”
Then there’s Wichita State, where Wiggins’ brother Nick Wiggins plays.
Normally that wouldn’t even be noteworthy, but the Shockers’ spirited run to the Final Four and Nick’s recent tweet urging Wiggins to “shock the world” with his commitment prompts a rather obvious question.
— NW15 (@Wiggys_WORLD15) March 31, 2013
“Me? Join Wichita State?” Wiggins said with a laugh. “Hey, if God tells me to put them on the list, I may just have to listen. It is Easter Sunday, but I haven’t heard anything yet.”
He whips out his cell and shows off Nick’s tweet again. Wiggins laughs and shakes his head then reads the words “shock the world” aloud.
“Hey, anything’s possible ya know,” Wiggins said. “None of these other schools are coming off a Final Four. But, right now, I’m only considering the original four. But you see, that’s what I mean; people see that tweet and run with it. Some of the stuff is crazy.”
He was quick to point out one instance after his official visit to Florida State in December when a Seminole coed tweeted: “If my girls and I didn’t convince you to come to FSU last night I don’t know what would!”
“That was so blown up and taken completely the wrong way,” Wiggins said. “It was innocent and taken out of context. It’s stuff like that where I’m like ‘what in the world?’ Like is that really a national story? Wow. But I learn from it all. That’s what it’s about.”
That and being prepared for the NBA, which Wiggins says is the primary goal for his year-long stint in college.
“And winning,” Wiggins said. “Coach (John) Calipari said we’d win games by a lot if I came to Kentucky because no one could play help defense. I love that because I love to dominate. Who doesn’t like to win by a lot? But I have to be prepared for the league. I’m really focused on that. Just gotta figure out where that preparation will happen.”
Wiggins rockets a pass over to Selden on the left wing and watches him launch a deep 3-pointer during Tuesday’s practice session.
Instinctively, Wiggins jab-steps to get past his man and darts into the lane to crash the boards.
When the ball pops off the back of the rim, Wiggins flies up, catches it just above the middle of the square on the backboard and brings down a ferocious dunk that sends the right side of the bleachers, which are filled with media and family, into a frenzy.
When he lands, Wiggins is emotionless as he tries to steal the inbounds pass.
“He’s not as impressed with himself as other people are,” Fulford said. “I think that’s one of the best things about him. He’s really a genuinely great kid. Really. And, sad to say, that’s rare for a kid in his position. He’s just got gifts.”
It’s more than the now legendary reverse, between-the-legs, 360-dunk that collectively dropped the country’s jaws during the POWERADE Jam Fest slam dunk contest Tuesday night. It’s more than his 57-point outing in February in response to an article that he felt negatively portrayed him.
WATCH: Dunk contest highlights
It’s physical poetry. It’s art. It’s ethereal.
“He’s just that good,” said ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi. “Now here’s the irony; he’s easy to guard because he’s almost always going to shoot from about 15 feet and in, but you just can’t stop him. If he gets drafted by an NBA team that doesn’t have an all star at the small forward spot, he’ll start. He’ll be the No. 1 pick next year.”
This past season, Wiggins, who was named to the preseason American Family Insurance ALL-USA Team, led the Express to a 30-3 record after averaging 23.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.5 assists, despite playing alongside four starters who are all signed to major Division I colleges.
“I want to be the fifth,” Wiggins said. “Trust me.”
Don’t expect an announcement date or an elaborate plan to let national cameras into his gym while he sits at a table with four fitted caps. But don’t not expect it either.
Confused? Wiggins likes that.
“I’m a confusing guy sometimes,” he said. “And unpredictable.”
As Wiggins gets up to leave following an interview that has lasted more than an hour, he picks up his black McDonald’s All American backpack and pauses suddenly as if he’s forgotten something.
He smiles. Silence. Blank stare. Hesitation.
“But I just want to end by saying that I love all the schools," Wiggins says matter-of-factly. "They’re all the same. At the end of the day, I just wanna play ball, man. I just wanna win at all costs. I wanna win a lot next year.”
And by a lot.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.
For more on Wiggins, click on the hotspots below to explore the interactive image. (Original photo courtesy of McDonald's All American Game)