Bob Lutz: Wiggins will leave on one of his worst days

03/23/2014 6:51 PM

08/08/2014 8:17 PM

ST. LOUIS – The one-and-done college basketball player needs to disappear. Oh, wait, that seems like what they do. Here one minute, gone the next.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas’ prize freshman, will disappear to the NBA after this season. And apparently to get practice, he disappeared Sunday during KU’s 60-57 loss to Stanford.

Call it a season for the Jayhawks. Call it a career, abbreviated as it was, for Wiggins, the latest victim of a college basketball system that robs from its own integrity so a flash in the pan can stick around for a season until he gets to do what he really wants to do, play for money.

Blame Wiggins if you want. There’s reason to do so since he made one basket and scored four points – to go with four turnovers – during his incredibly long and painful game against Stanford.

He was terrible and his legacy will forever be tainted by this performance because it’s the only way for us to judge him. Wiggins didn’t come to Lawrence to help the Jayhawks win another Big 12 championship, impressive as winning conference titles are. Bill Self brought Wiggins in to help hang a much more significant banner from the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.

“It’s the toughest loss I’ve ever had,” Wiggins said barely above a whisper. “If I would’ve done my part, and helped the team like I was supposed to help them, we would’ve beat them. We would’ve won the game. But I didn’t do what I usually do, what my team wants me to do. I let my team down, my coaches, my fans, Kansas fans, everybody.”

There will be no chance for redemption because in a few months Wiggins will be perhaps the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. He won’t come back next season to atone for Sunday’s performance. Nor should he. The system is the system.

And the system lets college basketball fans down.

Either let Wiggins go to the pros when he’s finished with high school or require him to stay at KU for at least two seasons. This system has taken the “student” out of the student-athlete equation and created basketball mercenaries who barely learn what building houses the English department before they’re packing to leave.

I feel sorry for Wiggins, really. He had a bad game. A terrible game. And this is what he’ll most be remembered for.

Wiggins would be better off to spend another season at KU become a better, more consistent basketball player. But the system doesn’t reward players for doing the best thing for their games. It rewards them for doing the best things for their bank accounts.

Stanford gets a little credit here. The Cardinal threw up a zone defense that frazzled Kansas and its coach. Self couldn’t seem to decide whether he wanted to attack the Stanford 1-3-1 with shooters or go to full-court pressure with a quicker team. He went with the latter for most of the second half, a decision that will forever be questioned because it left suddenly-hot Conner Frankamp on the bench.

Until late, when Frankamp made a pair of three-pointers and had a look at one at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime had it gone in. It didn’t.

Normally, Wiggins would have been that guy to score. He had been scoring a lot of late, including 41 and 30 in back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Iowa State this month. His six points Sunday, though, was his lowest production since scoring three against Oklahoma State on Jan. 18. His six shots were the fewest since that game, too.

Self said Stanford’s size caused problems not only for the 6-foot-8 Wiggins, but his entire team. But especially Wiggins.

“They bothered him with length,” Self said. “And I think he had an off-game, too. But certainly he put himself into position to make some plays and didn’t make them like he normally made them the majority of the year.”

With a one-and-done type like Wiggins, though, it’s not the year that matters. Fair or not, it’s the NCAA Tournament that defines a player like him.

“The advice that I would give – everything is a learning experience with these young kids,” Self said. “And, you know, this isn’t the worst thing that’s going to happen to him in his life. If it is, he’s had a charmed life. So you’ve got to learn from it. When you get into these positions again, maybe do something a little differently maybe to put yourself in the game.

“But still, I don’t think today should offset what he’s done for 34 games, 34 other games in which he’s been terrific.”

It shouldn’t, but it does. It does because Wiggins isn’t coming back. He’s leaving before being developed as a basketball player. Don’t blame him, he just had a bad game. It’s too bad he’s not coming back to Kansas to have a bunch more good ones.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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