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Commentary Bob Lutz: KU’s Wiggins is being given big shoes to fill

  • Published Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, at 7:42 p.m.

From Wilt … To Manning … To Wiggins?

That was the headline on the cover of “Sports Illustrated” a couple of weeks ago. Wiggins, the prize freshman at Kansas stood with his back to the camera, his No. 22 the center of attention. To each side were old photos of Chamberlain and Manning, the two greatest KU players of all-time.

And all I could think was: Can we let this kid play a game?

Wiggins, it has been said, is the most complete basketball prospect since LeBron James. Those who have seen him in pick-up games at KU are amazed by his athleticism.

But is a torch really being passed at Kansas, which is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today coaches top 25? That’s what the cover of SI proclaimed.

Wiggins, by all accounts, is likely a one-and-done player at KU. And the sure-fire top pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.

It could happen. Wiggins might be that good.

But am I the only one out here who wants to wait and see before starting to toss around superlatives and predictions? Am I, Bob Lutz, suddenly the voice of reason? This is not a role with which I’m comfortable. I am the king of hyperbole, the master of overdone praise. It usually takes me about 35 seconds to decide whether a player is good or not.

When it comes to Wiggins, though, I’ve been trumped. The basketball world has wigged out over Wiggins. SI had to hunt for superlatives because the magazine used so many, proclaiming Wiggins as a “once-in-a-generation talent.”

I do know this: KU fans are in such a frenzy that not only are they not paying attention to football, most have forgotten the location of Memorial Stadium. Lawrence is a Wiggins town, even though Lawrence is probably nothing more than a layover for the 6-foot-8 superstar.

Believe it or not, Wiggins will be sharing the stage for the Jayhawks this season. He might even let some other Jayhawks take over lead vocals at times.

Kansas is loaded with newcomers whose fresh faces caused a near riot outside the doors of Allen Fieldhouse before KU’s Late Night event a couple of weeks ago. These fans are literally losing it over Wiggins and his band of fellow-freshmen-phenoms Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Frank Mason and Wichita’s own Conner Frankamp. Not to mention Brannen Greene and redshirt freshman Landen Lucas.

Wiggins, Selden and Embiid are predicted to be taken first, sixth and eight in next year’s NBA Draft by none other than NBAdraft.net. Kansas has seen the Kentucky formula and raised.

It’s One and Done Heaven at KU as coach Bill Self grooms the best recruiting class he’s ever enticed. Bar none.

For all of Self’s success at Kansas, the Jayhawks have not produced a bunch of NBA stars. Most of the Jayhawks wandering around the NBA are doing just that. Wandering and hoping to stick to a roster.

This group could be different.

There’s Selden, a 6-foot-5 guard who can shoot, sure, but is said to be at his best slashing to the basket.

There’s Embiid, a still-raw 7-footer whose biggest value to the Jayhawks might be in swatting shots away. If he was going to be around two or three years, the sky could be the limit. But the NBA clamors for 7-footers, whether they’re ready or not.

Self believes Mason is capable of pushing incumbent Naadir Tharpe for the starting point guard position and Frankamp will be the kind of secret weapon you only see in James Bond movies.

Then there’s 6-9 Memphis transfer Tarik Black, who will start at power forward. And sophomore Perry Ellis, who has Thomas Edison to thank for the light bulb that went off in his head two-thirds through last season. And sophomore guard Andrew White III. And sophomore forward Jamari Traylor. The list goes on and on and on. There are 18 players on the Jayhawks’ roster, including walk-ons who will become proficient at carrying bags and filling water cups for the players/rock stars ahead of them on the depth chart.

Even on this team full of promising prospects and proven producers, Wiggins stands out. He’s made an SI cover. He’ll be the most written-about, talked about, tweeted about, out and about player of the preseason.

There is a great picture in “Sports Illustrated” of Wiggins tying the shoe lace on his left shoe. It’s a re-enactment of an old Chamberlain photo, taken as Wilt was tying his significantly larger left shoe. The Chamberlain photo is positioned next to the Wiggins shot and both players are smiling as they look up and beyond the camera.

The Chamberlain picture was taken more than 50 years ago. He would go on to become one of the most iconic players in the history of basketball, one of the most famous athletes in the history of sports and one of the most famous people in the history of America.

Not much to live up to, is it?

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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