LAWRENCE — The lines of communication had been dead for weeks. Andrew Wiggins had been in his own world, processing information, school by school, guarding his secret from a curious basketball world.
Bill Self was back in Kansas, waiting to hear if he would get the opportunity to coach a once-in-a-generation talent. On Tuesday morning, a few hours before Wiggins unveiled his college choice, Self reached for his cell phone and crafted one final recruiting pitch.
“Hey, man, I hope you have a great day today,” Self wrote.
When the message reached Huntington, W.Va., Wiggins, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the country, tapped in a two-word response.
It wasn’t much. But it was something. And at 11:09 a.m., when Wiggins unveiled that he had chosen to attend Kansas, it was Self that was ready to return the thank you.
“It wasn’t jubilation like you’d think,” Self said. “It was kind of a surreal feeling. I was so happy, but at the same time it was almost a humble happiness.”
Wiggins, a native of Thornhill, Ontario, picked the Jayhawks over finalists Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State, the school his parents attended.
“I just followed my heart,” Wiggins told reporters after a brief ceremony with his classmates and family at Huntingon Prep. “Kansas had my heart. So that’s where I wanted to go.”
The decision concluded one of the most highly anticipated recruitments of the last decade, ending weeks of speculation. And the decision could have lasting ramifications in Lawrence.
A 6-foot-7 small forward, Wiggins has been labeled as one of the top recruits of the last decade, an athletic specimen who elevates a rebuilding Kansas squad back into the national discussion after the Jayhawks lost their five leading scorers off a Sweet 16 team in 2012-13.
“He’s an assassin, an alpha dog. And we definitely need that when you have a whole bunch of young kids,” Self said. “I think he’s going to be not just a good player but have the chance to be a great one.”
The decision also burnishes Self’s credentials as one of the nation’s best recruiters. Back in October, Wiggins was still classified as a member of the class of 2014 at Huntington Prep — and Kansas was barely in the picture.
But Wiggins, who had attended two other high schools before Huntington Prep, would move back to the class of 2013, his original class. And soon, Self and assistant Kurtis Townshend took visits to meet him.
“I always thought it was a longshot,” Self said, “at least when we first got involved and everything. The more we kind of hung around, the more we kind of felt like he liked us.”
Wiggins slots in as a likely starter alongside soon-to-be sophomore power forward Perry Ellis and junior guard Naadir Tharpe. Wayne Selden, a McDonald’s All-American combo guard, could also project as a freshman starter, while incoming freshman guards Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene and center Joel Embiid are all ranked among the nation’s top 40 recruits.
But Wiggins, who has been called the best high school player since LeBron James and drawn comparison to Tracy McGrady, is no doubt the crown jewel, the alpha dog.
“I’m hearing the LeBron comparison,” Self said, “and I saw LeBron play some in high school, and I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison for anyone. From a pure athletic ability, he’s one of the better pure athletes that the college game has had in a while.”
Wiggins’ talents may actually delay his arrival to Kansas. Self said Tuesday that Wiggins would have the opportunity to play for Canada in multiple international events this summer.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody like him,” Self said.
By later on Tuesday afternoon, after Wiggins had signed his letter of intent, player and coach still hadn’t spoken. The celebration was still going on in Huntington, where Wiggins was surrounded by his father, Mitchell, a former NBA guard, and mother, Marita, a former Olympic sprinter for Canada.
“I’m just happy that I can put my heart back in my chest and we can go on,” Marita told reporters in Huntington.
In addition, Wiggins’ older brother, Nick, will be a senior at Wichita State, another selling point for Kansas.
“I just felt like that was the right place for me,” Wiggins said. “And my brother is right there.”
Throughout his recruitment, Wiggins had played things close to the vest. He simply wanted to weigh his options, and then take his time. By Sunday, he knew. He told his parents that day. And for two more days, he kept his secret.
When his future coach sent that text on Tuesday morning, Wiggins finally answered.
“I was so proud that we were able to land Andrew to go along with what is already a terrific recruiting class,” Self said. “If anything, it got me excited to get to work.”