Thirty years ago, Kansas Jayhawk head basketball coach, Larry Brown, hired Ed Manning as an assistant coach. Manning, who was living in North Carolina at the time, moved his family to Lawrence, Kansas. Ed’s son, Danny, just happened to be the top high school player. He soon committed to Kansas. The rest is history.
Danny Manning was the top prep player, but he did not have to deal with the level of hype and expectations that are being heaped on the shoulders of the Jayhawks’ newest star recruit, Andrew Wiggins. Manning’s freshman season was in 1984-1985 and there were no cell phones, no internet, no instantaneous mass multimedia, and certainly no bloggers.
Even sports talk radio was in its very infant stages. If you wanted sports news, you pretty much had to wait for ESPN Sportscenter, or if you didn’t have cable, the 10:00 evening news. In some cases, you may have had to wait for your Sports Illustrated to arrive in your mailbox for any in-depth analysis.
Manning also had the luxury of joining a team loaded with good, experienced upperclassmen, including the likes of Mark Turgeon, Ron Kellogg, Calvin Thompson, Cedric Hunter, and Greg Dreiling. Manning didn’t have to be the star, even though he was the second leading scorer on that team, behind Kellogg.
In those days, Kansas was Kansas, but not like it is now. Coaches Larry Brown, Roy Williams, and Bill Self have elevated the program to absolute elite status. In the last 30 years with these three men at the helm, Kansas is 853-204 (.807%), have appeared in 29 of the 30 NCAA Tounaments (were on probation in 1989, Williams’ first season), have won 19 regular season conference championships, and 12 conference tournaments. They have appeared in 19 Sweet Sixteens, 12 Elite Eights, 8 Final Fours, and have won two National Championships.
The Jayhawks are one of the very top dogs in college basketball and are under the intensified mass multimedia at all times. Manning didn’t have to live under those circumstances his freshman year.
Andrew Wiggins will have to live under those conditions. It is the world he lives in.
There has been so much hype surrounding Wiggins, from his talent to his college recruiting. There have been comparisons to Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The number one overall pick in this past NBA draft, Anthony Bennett, even mentioned Wiggins in his post-selection interview, as the number one pick for 2014. That is a lot of attention focused on one teenager.
Kansas is in the heartland of America, far from the glaring lights of coastal media centers. When it comes to Kansas basketball, location does not remove the Jayhawks from the national spotlight, especially when a player of Wiggins’ evident talent decides to don the KU blue. Kansas, with its deep and highly touted freshman class, will be drawing national attention all season.
The local limelight probably shines even brighter. Expectations from rabid Jayhawk fans are always extremely high, but this season, they will be even more lofty. Kansas fans expect perfection, however unfair that burden is to a bunch of college kids. Add in a player of Wiggins’ skill and fans are going to expect prime performances, a ton of victories, and championships – conference and national.
Basketball is a team sport, and Bill Self is the ultimate team coach. Seldom do single players score a high percentage of points in a single season. Wiggins’ fellow freshmen are a talented bunch as a group. Wiggins shouldn’t have to be the guy who scores 22 points every game. This group promises to be one of Self’s most athletic groups. On paper, this group looks very deep and very talented. Except for junior guard Nadir Tharpe, transfer senior forward Tarik Black, and seldom used senior forward Justin Wesley, this team is filled with freshmen and sophomores. There is very little actual collegiate game experience.
Will pure talent and sheer athleticism be enough to beat the likes of Duke, Florida, Georgetown, and Oklahoma State? Will this team, with Wiggins in the spotlight, be able to bring home a 10th straight Big 12 regular season championship and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament?
Has the hype, nationally and locally, surrounding young Wiggins, pushed expectations to an unreasonable level that may be impossible to reach? As a team, the answer to that is no. Conference championships and Final Fours are the expectations for every single Kansas basketball team, fairly or not. It doesn’t matter who is playing, or coaching – that is what Jayhawk fans expect.
How about Wiggins as an individual though? How good does Wiggins have to be to meet those expectations? Will he ever be able to play as well as the hype has trumpeted? If KU wins 30 games and gets beat in the Elite Eight and Wiggins averages 20 points and 7 rebounds a game, will he and his teammates be judged as failures. What if KU makes the Final Four but Wiggins only averages 12 points a game? Is he a failure then?
With so much hype and such high expectations, can Wiggins ever play well enough, as an individual or as a key cog on a young team, to justify the maelstrom that surrounds him?
To be honest, probably not. Wiggins will have to score a bunch of points and KU will have to go the the Final Four for him not to be judged a disappointment by most fans. That is totally unfair to the young man. There is a lot of pressure on this kid to be THE MAN. To be the number one overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. To lead a bunch of other young, inexperienced kids to the collegiate basketball promised land.
Kansas fans need to be patient with Wiggins and his team this season. Reign in the urge to declare him the greatest player to wear a Jayhawk uniform since Danny Manning, before he even plays a minute. Manning was very hyped for his day but nothing compared to this kid. He isn’t Danny Manning. He won’t be staying 4 years. He won’t be on any top ten career scoring or rebounding lists for Kansas.
He is most likely only going to be here for just this one season. Fans should just be supportive and enjoy watching him and his teammates play. Expect team wins but not Superman-like performances. Teams win at Kansas, not individuals. Keep in mind, Andrew Wiggins is a teenager. He has just one more year to be a kid.