Column: Andrew Wiggins the right choice for Big 12 Player of the Year

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins slaps hands with teammate Joel Embiid after Embiid's dunk against Texas during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is forward Perry Ellis.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins slaps hands with teammate Joel Embiid after Embiid's dunk against Texas during the first half on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is forward Perry Ellis.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Liars figure. Figures lie. Sheer numbers don’t tell the story in reaching the right conclusion as to Big 12 Player of the Year.

“With three games left, it’s starting to get down to it, but I do think everybody should refrain from drawing any conclusions on what they think until the season’s over,” Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self said Thursday. “There are still a lot of things that can happen between now and then that could tip the scales one way or another.”


Even with 17 percent of the Big 12 season remaining it’s difficult to imagine anything happening that could prevent Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins from winning the honor.

Defensively, he routinely holds his man well under his scoring average. It’s not uncommon for him to ask onto the other team’s hot shooter in mid-game so that he can shut him down.

Offensively, if he looked to score as much when a game already has been won as he does when one is on the line, he would have no problem leading the Big 12 in scoring.

As it is, he’s the leading scorer on the team that has a three-game lead on the pack with three games remaining.

“He’s had the best year on our team to this point,” Self said. “He’s been the most consistent and best performer on our team. That’s pretty good when you really don’t have upperclassmen to teach you how to do it and you have all this expectation and hype. At least from the outside looking in, to me it looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders to start.”

He hasn’t looked that way in a long time. Wiggins has shrunk his world and the expectations of others live in worlds outside his. He has improved by becoming more aggressive, by realizing that when he drives to the hoop, one of three things will happen and two of them are good. On the positive side, either he’ll score on a dunk or layup or he’ll get fouled. The third thing that can and does happen is he’ll be flying too fast and will either turn it over or take off one dribble too soon and miss the shot.

Such a quick first step and such a long, quick stride leave defenders in panic mode and they foul. He shoots .759 from the line, so that and the fact he forces teams into the bonus so early combine to make that result almost as productive as a basket.

“He’s handled it exactly the way he should have handled it based on who he is,” Self said of the hoopla. “He’s been really, really good. He’s been himself. He hasn’t tried to be something he’s not. And he’s not bought into what everybody else is saying about him.”

Teammate Joel Embiid, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane of Iowa State all have had terrific seasons. Kansas is 3-0 against WVU and ISU.

Embiid, like Wiggins has a huge positive impact on his team at both ends, but Wiggins has been a slightly more consistent force.

“No disrespect to Jo, but it’s a lot easier when there’s less pressure,” Self said. “Now, Jo feels the pressure Andrew’s been feeling this whole time. I think Andrew’s done really well.”

Wiggins is extremely competitive and drives himself to another level when a game is on the line or when someone has insulted him, which can be lost on those who focus on his easy-going personality and quiet body language.

“Every day he may be the most polite kid we’ve ever had here,” Self said. “He is so nice. And he’s nice to everybody. Sometimes you might question, ‘We don’t want him to be nice. Nice is OK, except for two-and-a-half hours a day.’ That’s not it. I think sometimes the way we see him in certain situations it looks like maybe he’s disinterested at times. Maybe he’s coasting, or what somebody else says should fire him up verbally when he talks to the media. None of that stuff affects him.”

It’s somewhat surprising, considering how young he is and how much room he has left to physically develop, that Wiggins is this good already. How well he has blocked out the ridiculous superlatives said of him leading into the season is less surprising. Nothing about the way he handled his signing announcement screamed self-important. Quite the opposite.

Before the season, Marcus Smart made sarcastic remarks about all the hosannas sent the way of Wiggins before he had played a college basketball game. Wiggins never threw a verbal counter-punch.

“He just plays,” Self said. “He doesn’t worry about defending himself. He doesn’t worry about talking about anybody else. He doesn’t do anything except, ‘Hey, let’s just go play.’ But I know it registers. And I know those things are used to motivate him.”

Such motivation almost always works for Wiggins. Almost always. When he had a chance to make Smart pay for his comments, Wiggins scored a season-low three points against the Cowboys in a two-point victory in Allen Fieldhouse. The rematch is Saturday in Stillwater. My guess is Wiggins will score more than three points.