Wichita State guard Nick Wiggins spotted his father, former NBA shooting guard Mitchell Wiggins, down the hall from the Shockers’ locker room after Tuesday’s 78-67 win over Southern Illinois.
“What’s up with y’all?” Nick said. “Come on down here, OK?”
Mitchell gave his son a nod, smiled and approached with the rest of his family. Father and son did the thing old friends do – the patented handshake/half-hug – then Mitchell went ahead and did the dad thing.
“You see what I was saying, about leaning back on free throws?”
Mitchell mimicked a shooting motion.
“Every single one you missed, you’re leaning back.”
His mother, two-time Olympic silver medalist sprinter Marita Payne-Wiggins, stood a few feet away and nodded.
“You’re right,” he said, laughing. “You’re right. Just like you told me.”
And arm-in-arm the three of them went, back toward the locker room.
It was a small, welcome critique for a player on the rise and a key component in No. 4 Wichita State’s undefeated season. Wiggins scored 10 points on 2-of-4 shooting, but was 4 of 8 from the free-throw line in 22 minutes off the bench – the second-most time he’s seen on the court this season behind the 23 minutes he played against BYU on Nov. 26.
“Coach (Gregg) Marshall didn’t recruit me to be a shy player, I know what I can do and I’m confident in my abilities,” said Wiggins, a 6-foot-6 senior. “I want to bring this team to another level, like everybody else, and I think my ability to score and the fact that I’ve gotten better on the defensive end in the last year helps us.”
Wiggins averages 5.4 points and 15.4 minutes, but he’s stepped up his production in Valley play, with all three of his double-digit scoring performances coming against league foes – he scored 13 points at Southern Illinois on Jan. 2 and 11 points against Drake on Jan. 25.
He was an All-Valley bench player last season during the Shockers’ run to the Final Four after transferring from Wabash (Ill.) College, but saw extended periods of time on the bench, including three games he didn’t play at all, because he was considered a defensive liability.
“(Marshall) wants us to make a big impact when we come off the bench,” WSU forward Darius Carter said. “We all understand that, and Nick just wants to help us keep winning. And off the court, he’s fun to be around. He’s really laid-back, somebody who keeps everybody laughing.”
Wiggins credits WSU strength and conditioning coordinator Kerry Rosenboom, and a lot of yoga, for his defensive improvement.
“The work I did in the offseason with Kerry and with yoga is why I’ve gotten better defensively,” said Wiggins, a Toronto native. “I worked on keeping my center, keeping my balance … yoga, especially, was great for me, which was something I never thought I’d do. I thought it was stupid and it ended up really helping my game.”
He credits his parents for his laid-back approach — they were in Manhattan on Monday to watch his younger brother and Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, a top NBA prospect, play in a loss to Kansas State. Andrew also struggled from the free-throw line, going 8 of 15.
“I gave the same advice to Andrew that I gave to Nick about the free throws,” Mitchell said. “All my boys grew up in the gym, and I give them all the same advice when it comes to basketball. Whether you play your greatest game or your worst game, just look like you’ve been there before and you can handle it.
“Nick played great tonight; he came in and made a difference. I know sometimes he’s frustrated with playing time, but he’s got Final Four experience already, he’s playing on a good team for a good coach and the team is much better than last year ... they just seem more athletic. I know how much he loves his teammates and I know how glad he is to be here right now.”
Nick takes that advice to heart.
“Everyone is a little nervous before you play, everybody, but you’ve got to have some fun out there,” he said. “It’s still a game … you’re still doing what you love. My parents taught me that.”
Having fun doing what he loves on Tuesday meant a big game in front of his parents and the debut of some rather unique socks — custom-made Shocker socks with Wiggins’ No. 15 emblazoned on them — ordered from an online company that Carter found.
The Shockers play their next two games on the road, at Evansville on Sunday and at Loyola on Wednesday, but Wiggins said the socks would be back for at least one of WSU’s final two home games.
“I saw those, man, I saw he had those on,“ Carter said, laughing. “I’ve got a couple of pairs, too, but I haven’t worn them in a game yet.”