When you watch Nick Wiggins play basketball and you see that sweet stroke and that incredible range, you start daydreaming about some of the great Wichita State shooters in history.
Then, just when you’re having a pleasant thought about Aubrey Sherrod or Sean Ogirri, you remember there’s another end of the basketball floor, one where the 6-foot-6 Wiggins has not flourished so much.
Lackluster defense leads to lacking minutes when you play for Gregg Marshall. The Wichita State coach recognizes what an offensive force Wiggins can be, as he was during a Reggie Miller-like four-minute stretch in the second half of the Shockers’ 73-39 win over Bradley, which did its best impression of offense-challenged Northern Illinois, on Saturday night at Koch Arena.
“But you’ve got to be tough,’’ said Wiggins, who admittedly wasn’t prepared for the rigors of being on a team where defense is the first-, second- and third-most important facet. “You’ve got to be willing to put your body on the line every possession, to play hard every possession.’’
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Wiggins is coming around. He was on the floor for 16 minutes during the second half of the Shockers’ win and was one of the biggest reasons for the lopsided score.
His 11 points during a 4:01 stretch helped WSU increase its lead from 11 points to 26. He made three three-pointers, one from the second-base bag at Eck Stadium, and had a steal and dunk.
Wiggins leaves fans wanting more, but has too often tied Marshall’s hands with lackluster defense and inattentiveness to detail.
The starter at the small forward spot, 6-2 sophomore Tekele Cotton, doesn’t come close to Wiggins’ abilities offensively. But Cotton, who couldn’t have a more misleading last name given that he’s about as soft as a brick wall, plays basketball the way firemen run into burning buildings.
“I’ve got two tremendously talented players who play the same position and they are as different as night and day,’’ Marshall said. “Cotton probably plays a little more to my liking. But man, that stroke Nick has is beautiful.’’
Even a coach with such defensive demands can appreciate a shooter’s gift, and Wiggins’ cup runneth over.
He is 22 of 43 (51.2 percent) from the three-point line, far and away the best shooter on a team that needs all the perimeter shooting it can get. Wiggins’ offense can be instant and it can be lethal, but Marshall has been reluctant because of the sharp pain in the side Wiggins gives him at times when trying to play defense.
“He’s gotten better,’’ Marshall said. “And he’s going to continue to get better.’’
Wiggins averaged 17.3 points last season at Wabash Valley (Ill.) Junior College and was a second-team All-American. His father, Mitchell, was a big-time scorer at Florida State in the early 1980s and played for six seasons in the NBA.
Any expectations Nick Wiggins had about becoming an immediate impact player at Wichita State, though, were thwarted early on.
“It’s been a big adjustment,’’ he said. “Coming from junior college, there’s not really a demand to do a whole bunch of stuff. But here, you’re demanded to do a whole bunch of stuff that you’ve never done. You learn what the most important things are.’’
In Marshall’s system, scoring is down the list. He likes his basketball players tough and gritty.
“We’ve got two big-time junior college recruits, C.J. Lufile and Nick, and they could pout and lament their situations,’’ said Marshall, who has given them 9.1 and 13 minutes per game. “But what they’ve done is be unbelievable teammates and brothers to the guys playing in front of them.’’
Wiggins and Cotton are buddies, and though he’s a year older, Wiggins isn’t ashamed to admit he’s learning something about toughness from watching the fearless Cotton play.
“He brings it every day in practice,’’ Wiggins said. “He’s always positive, always trying to teach me stuff. I’ve learned a lot from him over the past few months.’’
Conversely, Wiggins has something to show Cotton, who is shooting 40.5 percent and has made three of his 23 three-point attempts.
“We shoot together most days in practice and before games,’’ Wiggins said. “I’m trying to get him to just hold his follow-through. And sometimes he leans back on jump shots, so I tell him just to stay straight and stuff like that. Keep his balance.’’
Wiggins knows shooting and gives the Shockers a weapon that is in short supply. WSU is only a 32.6 percent three-point shooting team and outside Wiggins’ 3-for-3 performance Saturday, the Shockers made 3 of 12.
“His flurry of shooting tonight in the second half was really good,’’ Marshall said. “He did have a couple of defensive breakdowns, which he’s going to have.’’
Fewer and farther between would be nice, and Wiggins is getting there.
“I’m getting a lot tougher than when I first came here,’’ he said. “When I got here, I wasn’t Gregg Marshall-tough.’’
That’s what every Shocker has to be.