GAINESVILLE, Fla. — By almost any measure, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins is off to a nice start to what will be a brief college basketball career.
Wiggins, though, is held to a standard even a 6-foot-8 18-year-old with a 44-inch vertical leap cannot reach.
Such is the curse of being one of the most-anticipated freshmen in college basketball history and the projected No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“People hear about him and when they go watch him play, they’re expecting 50 points, 25 rebounds, 10 assists and all sorts of crazy dunks,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said Monday. “But he’s a very good basketball player. The thing I respect about him is he seems to be a very good team guy.
“He seems to play very consistent, and he seems to play very well with his team.”
Wiggins will be the headliner, but just one piece of a loaded Jayhawks squad that will be next up during a demanding nonconference stretch for the Gators. The two teams square off at 7 p.m. Tuesday night in Gainesville. The game will air on ESPN.
Following a 65-64 loss at the buzzer at Connecticut, the No. 19 Gators (6-2) will learn a lot about themselves, with a third loss looming by Dec. 10 for the first time since Donovan’s first season in 1996-97.
While a packed-house at the O’Connell Center will show up cheer the Gators, many also are coming for a glimpse of the high-flying Wiggins.
“The bottom line with Wiggins is this, he’s easy to find but he’s hard to stop,” ESPN.com’s director of basketball recruiting Paul Biancardi said. “Where are you going to find him? Just look in the paint. He’s going to be in the paint or at the foul line.
“That’s his game.”
Wiggins’ game already has taken him to place few players can imagine.
Before he’d played a minute in college, Wiggins had been named first-team All-America by the Associated Press and appeared on multiple national magazine covers, plus a shirtless appearance in the pages of GQ.
Before he’d chosen a college, Wiggins’ recruiting process generated headlines for months until he chose Kansas over Florida State. The Seminoles were in the mix because his parents both are former FSU athletes.
Once Wiggins arrived in Lawrence, the soft-spoken athlete was an instant celebrity and the subject of 62,000 tweets in October, more than any college athlete other than Johnny Manziel.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self said in October he had never seen anything like it, and immediately curbed media access to Wiggins.
“He can’t go anywhere without getting bombarded,” Self said at the time. “I’ve never felt for the players in regards to things like that, but I do feel for him because he hasn’t asked for one bit of it.”
Yet, Wiggins’ game is too loud to miss.
In his second college game, a 94-83 win over Duke, Wiggins broke open a two-point game in the final 90 seconds with a step-jack jumper followed by an open court dunk that drew the fifth foul on freshman phenom Jabari Parker.
A late-game dunk by Wiggins on Saturday at Colorado left Gators center Patric Young dumbfounded.
“There wasn’t even a hole,” Young said. “He just went straight through the guy’s chest and finished. I thought that was a pretty bold move because the guy could have taken a charge.”
No. 13 Kansas (6-2) would lose the game 75-72 on a 30-foot buzzer-beater.
Wiggins, who averages 15.3 points, would finished with a game-high 22 points. He also would miss a key freethrow in the final 20 seconds.
The ups and downs of a freshman phenom with just eight college games are sure to continue on Tuesday night in Gainesville. But so are the highlights of a player who does not come around too often.
“He’s very, very gifted and a very, very talented player,” Donovan said. “He’ll be in the NBA next year.”