Andrew Wiggins is the talk of the basketball world. Sports Illustrated cover boy whose journey to the NBA includes a brief stopover in Lawrence, where he’ll play for Kansas this season.
Meanwhile, in Wichita, older brother Nick is intent on staying out of Gregg Marshall’s doghouse.
You won’t find a more pleasant guy than Nick Wiggins. And you might have to look hard to find someone who shoots the basketball better.
But as he’ll tell you, adapting to Marshall’s style of basketball, in which shooters are great but only if they do the other, less-glamorous jobs, is not easy.
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Some do better than others. Wiggins, though, found the transition from junior college to Division I almost too much.
Wait just a minute, says another juco transfer, Cleanthony Early. He would like to clarify something.
“The transition from junior college to D-I is different than the transition from junior college to Gregg Marshall,” Early said.
So if you’re wondering why Wiggins, despite his sweet shooting stroke and 6-foot-7, athletic frame, didn’t get more than the 12.8 minutes he averaged last season, remember what Early said.
“I honestly didn’t feel like this was the right fit for me,’’ Nick Wiggins said. “I’m not saying anything about the organization, the team, things like that. I loved Wichita State when I visited here. But from a basketball sense, the transition for me was tough.”
Wiggins was always a score-first player. He had no idea how to play the defense Marshall demands. And he lacked the strength to figure it out. Wiggins averaged less than two rebounds last season and that doesn’t cut it with Marshall.
“But now I feel like I’m a different player,” said Wiggins, who will get his first shot at showing us Saturday when the Shockers take on Oklahoma Baptist in an exhibition game at Koch Arena. “I know the system a lot better. I feel like I’m going to make a better and bigger impact than I did last year.”
Wiggins could be a great weapon. He was at times last season. But too often, Marshall was reluctant to keep Wiggins on the floor because of what he was giving away defensively and on the glass.
“He’s better now,” Marshall said. “Nick’s very talented, skilled, athletic. He just needs to rebound and defend a little better and he’s trying to do those things. He’s really focused on it, you can tell.”
It’s up to Wiggins, really. If he’s really better, really a more focused defender, then he’ll get minutes. If not, Marshall has enough depth to plug the gap.
“We’re a very deep team,” Wiggins said. “I know that. But the coaches all know I can shoot the ball and they know I’ve improved my defense. I’m trying to step up for the seniors we lost from last year. I’m playing angry. That’s what they want to see, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Wiggins’ teammates believe in him. They know what a weapon he can be.
“Everyone thinks Nick is going to improve,” Early said. “How much he improves is up to Nick. We all want to see him get a little greedy out there, get a little grimy. Put somebody down.”
There were times last season when Early’s minutes were reduced because he wasn’t playing as well defensively as Marshall demanded. No one is immune.
“You have to take pride in yourself,” Early said. “You have to tell yourself that you’re going to go out there and get it done, work your butt off. No one is going to out-work you. It’s about all that passion and hunger inside of you.”
Basketball has never sounded so barbaric. The Shockers, though, are used to it.
It’s the way Kansas plays, too. No doubt, Nick’s brother, Andrew, is getting an indoctrination.
Nick said the two speak on the phone frequently, but there probably won’t be many opportunities to get together until after the basketball season is over.
“He’s a big kid now, 18 and about to be 19,” Nick said. “It’s not really that strange to see all of this hype around him because everybody knew it was coming. I think he’s been ready for it.”
Andrew has been around the Shocker players a few times, sophomore guard Ron Baker said.
“He seems just like Nick, a good kid with a solid head on his shoulders and very humble,” Baker said. “I’ve never gotten a chance to play with him or against him, but I’ve seen him on video. And video doesn’t lie. He’s quite the player.”
Andrew’s big brother has talent, too. And now, Nick insists, he has the desire.