Andrew Wiggins, basketball saviour?

Andrew Wiggins (left) taking a shot during the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Boys Game. (TonyTheTiger / Google Images Commons)

This is Canada. You know that. You live here. We are a country notorious for a lot of things – the cold, maple syrup, and our generally exceptional politeness among them. While the truth of these stereotypes varies, there is one perception about Canada that cannot be overstated and that is our passion for hockey.  For all intents and purposes, the competition for the country’s athletic loyalties is a one-horse race.

That is why it is somewhat out of the ordinary that 18-year-old basketball prodigy Andrew Wiggins calls this hockey-crazy country home. The fact is, he isn’t just a basketball star: the 6’8”, 205-lb Toronto native is the basketball star. Wiggins is the consensus number 1 player in the graduating class of 2013 in all of North America and the most highly touted high school prospect in over a decade. His career has been a firestorm of news and internet coverage but he has yet to blink in the face of such unrelenting pressure, exceeding expectations along the way. His college recruitment was a national media frenzy: after choosing to spend his one mandatory year of college basketball at The University of Kansas, he is expected to be the first overall selection in the 2014 NBA draft.  It’s all quite a feat for someone who hails from hockey town.

Wiggins has been on the radar of basketball scouts since he was 13. He has spent the last few years honing his skills at Huntington Preparatory School in Vaughan, West Virginia, where athletic priorities in the United States allow him to find a higher level of competition and exposure than can currently be found for basketball in Canada. Where he plays, however, isn’t nearly as important as where he’s from, because where he’s from could eventually change the landscape of where other Canadian prospects like him choose to play.

It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Canada is currently experiencing a boom in young basketball talent. There are currently over 100 Canadians playing for Division 1 programs in the United States. UNLV’s  Anthony Bennett and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk are projected to be lottery picks in the upcoming 2013 NBA draft. This can be contributed in no small part to the back to back NBA MVP awards won by Canadian legend Steve Nash in 2005 and 2006.

These accomplishments brought an immense amount of attention to the sport within our country. It has always been easy to find a Canadian hockey player to look up to. A large percentage of the NHL is from the great white north. However, suddenly our youth had a Canadian role model to look up to in basketball, and kids were inspired to throw that no-look, behind-the-back pass just like Steve. Wiggins’ influence could be a thousand times greater. The exposure that he will bring to the sport of basketball within Canada and among Canadian youth will be immeasurable. For the kids of our country to see a young, talented, exciting player of Wiggins’ calibre displaying his skills on an international stage will be invaluable in growing the sport in our country.

It will take quite some time, but the potential is there: basketball can expand and evolve within Canada to the point where our top prospects may not need to cross the border to get the highest level of competition and media attention. The weight of an entire country sits on the shoulders of one 18-year-old; as of yet, he has not disappointed any expectations.

A compilation video of Wiggins’ most impressive hoops is available for viewing on YouTube for your enjoyment.