Two teenagers meet, for the first time, in Toronto.
Two teammates take the court in Atlanta for the Final Four.
Two young men walk down a hallway at Koch Arena last Saturday, hours before they play a game for Wichita State toward the end of another historic season. Everyone they pass wants to reach out and touch them, seeking some connection – a handshake, a fist-pound, a high-five … just a second of their precious time. And they oblige each one.
Decades later, two old men sit on a porch, reminiscing.
Time takes on new meaning when you’re as close as Shocker seniors Chadrack Lufile and Nick Wiggins. Every moment is cherished. Every memory takes on its own grandeur.
“That’s my best friend,” Lufile said. “He’s like my brother. We’ve spent every day of the last two years grinding toward one goal, putting in all that hard work to make our dreams become reality. To be great players, to be great teammates … that’s what you work for every single day.”
Lufile and Wiggins, native Canadians, will take their last turn at Koch Arena on Saturday afternoon as No. 2 WSU (30-0, 17-0 Missouri Valley) tries to close out an undefeated regular season against Missouri State (19-10, 9-8).
Lufile, a 6-foot-9, 266-pound forward from Burlington, Ontario, met Wiggins (6-6, 192), a guard from Vaughan, Ontario, when they were teenagers.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Wiggins said. “It helped, this whole time, to have someone from back home that I’m so close with and that’s going through all of the same stuff.”
Having two Canadians on the roster isn’t just unique to WSU. There are 10 Canadians on rosters of teams in the Associated Press Top 25, with No. 15 Iowa State being the only other team with two.
And each of the 10 players is from Ontario, a point of great pride for those involved with the highest levels of basketball in Canada.
Greg Verner, the president of the Ontario Basketball Association’s board of directors, had Wiggins and his younger brother, Kansas star Andrew Wiggins, in a development program when they were children.
“We start, at a very young age, developing basketball players by teaching them fundamentals and showing them the basics of the game … we get a lot of our money from the provincial government in what’s called the long-term athlete development model,” Verner said. “They’re 4 1/2, 5 years old, we get them on six-foot rims, playing 3-on-3 set up on an area no bigger than a badminton court, then just go from there all the way until they’re in their late teens.
“What’s happened with (Lufile) and with Nicky and with all of these kids on the Division I level is a tribute to their hard work and commitment. And it starts on those Saturday mornings where there’s 300 kids learning the game.”
Six months and one grade ahead in school, Lufile reconnected with Wiggins while he was sitting out for his first year of college at Chipola (Fla.) College, a two-year school, and Wiggins had transferred to nearby Tallahassee’s Godby High for his senior season. Wiggins’ father, former NBA shooting guard Mitchell Wiggins, is one of Florida State’s greatest players.
Wiggins and Lufile played one year at Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College together in 2010-11 before both transferred for the next season – Lufile to Coffeyville Community College, where he was a second-team All-Jayhawk East pick, and Wiggins to Wabash Valley (Ill.), where he was a second-team NJCAA All-American.
“I signed (with WSU) first, and I think that’s when (Lufile’s) interest picked up,” Wiggins said. “We took different paths to get here, but still ended up together.”
Both were complementary role players last season on the way to WSU’s first Final Four since 1965, but those roles have expanded this year. Lufile has 11 starts, averages 16.6 minutes, 5.6 points and 4.9 rebounds. Wiggins averages 15.2 minutes and 5.2 points off the bench and is a vastly improved player on the defensive end.
And the bond between the two grows deeper every day.
“We’ll be friends the rest of our lives, that’s something I already know, something I have no doubts about,” Wiggins said. “Check back at 30, 40, 50, 60 years old and we’ll still be rolling together, laughing about the same stuff.”
Up for honors — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall and senior Cleanthony Early are finalists for U.S. Basketball Writers Association national honors.
Marshall is one of 10 coaches on the ballot for the Henry Iba National Coach of the Year Award. Early, a 6-foot-8 forward, is one of 15 finalists for the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year Trophy.
The coach of the year honor will be announced on April 14. The Robertson trophy will be awarded on April 4. Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins is also a Robertson finalist.
The other coaches on the list are John Beilein, Michigan; Tony Bennett, Virginia; Larry Brown, SMU; Jim Crews, Saint Louis; Mick Cronin, Cincinnati; Billy Donovan, Florida; Steve Fisher, San Diego State; Greg McDermott, Creighton; and Jay Wright, Villanova.
Joining Early and Wiggins are UCLA’s Kyle Anderson, Cameron Bairstow of New Mexico, Melvin Ejim of Iowa State, Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, Arizona’s Nick Johnson, Creighton’s Doug McDermott, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Florida’s Casey Prather, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Russ Smith of Louisville.
Turn on the cameras — The media pack chronicling WSU’s unbeaten season will hit another level this weekend.
Marshall did an interview with CNN on Thursday, as well as Yahoo! radio and the Washington Post. A television crew is doing a story on the Wiggins family, including WSU senior Nick Wiggins, for an NCAA Tournament feature.
ESPN’s Bob Knight will attend Friday’s practice and Saturday’s game against Missouri State. He will interview Marshall for ESPN’s coverage on Saturday during its college basketball programs. ESPN’s crew for the game will consist of Rich Hollenberg, Mark Adams, Sean Farnam and Holly Rowe.
Marshall admires Knight’s coaching career and wanted to coach against him. A loss to Gonzaga spoiled a chance for his Winthrop team to meet Knight’s Texas Tech team in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. He scheduled a series against Texas Tech in 2008 and 2009, but Knight retired and handed his team to son Pat Knight.
“It will be a real treat for me to get to talk to him,” Marshall said. “I know he’s going to go pheasant hunting while he’s here.” The only pheasant hunting currently available is on shooting preserves.
More candles — Marshall celebrated his 51st birthday on Thursday. From a basketball perspective, it is more fun than a year ago.
Last season, WSU lost to Evansville at home on his birthday, blowing a chance to clinch a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title. A planned celebration with friends from out of town wasn’t much fun.
“Then we didn’t win at Creighton the following Saturday, so I’m thinking … this 50-year-old deal is terrible,” he said. “Fifty-one is better. That 50th year turned around really, really well.”