“Give it to Wiggins,” somebody in the crowd whispered, almost pleaded, as Huntington Prep brought the ball up-court in their exhibition contest on Sunday.
He didn’t say it to anyone in particular. It was as if the collective excitement of the over-2,000 people spilling into the aisles of the McMaster University gym had become too much to contain.
Canadian basketball sensation Andrew Wiggins, the 6-7 wing player ranked at the top of the 2014 draft class, had come home for one last game on Canadian soil with his high school teammates including a cast of talented Canadians; 6-4 combo guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, 6-5 small forward Montaque Gill-Ceasar, and 5-11 point guard Nevell Provo.
“Coming home back to Canada is always a good feeling,” said Wiggins. “The crowd showed me a lot of love. My family’s here - my grandma, my aunt, my uncle, my sisters and my dad get to see me and that doesn’t always happen.”
Wiggins brought the fans to their feet with at least three dunks in the first quarter. The game was quickly out of reach as Huntington seized a 24-8 lead over the United Leadership Academy team in the first frame.
After scoring 19 first-half points, Wiggins finished with 25 points on 77 per cent shooting, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 3 turnovers – letting his early explosions speak to his scoring ability and showcasing his all-around game. Teammate Rathan-Mayes of Scarborough, ON finished with a game-high 27 points in the 81-52 win.
For all of his experience with American competition, it is clear Wiggins is a proud Canadian. He cherishes his time spent at home and the opportunity to play with other Canadian talents while abroad. These experiences include his time spent with his Huntington teammates, but also extend to his time spent with the Canadian Junior National Teams that he has been a part of since 2010.
“It just brings me closer to everyone at Canada and representing them." said Wiggins. "It allows me to be a part of something special getting to travel with players I haven’t played with before – meeting new players around Canada and internationally.”
Rowan Barrett, the Assistant General Manager and Executive Vice-President of the Senior Men's Program believes Wiggins' international experience with the Canadian team has helped to grow his game.
"FIBA play has been good for him," said Barrett. "I know that he has a high basketball I.Q. and I think you could see that when he played for Canada Basketball. It's good for him to play in that environment because he's forced to use the other skills that he has outside of just his athleticism, like taking jumpshots and not attacking the basket. He showed the ability to execute on that stage last summer, which I think is great at this young age."
For Wiggins, it's vital experience that will help to prepare him for the next level of play, but it's also an opportunity he greatly appreciates.
“It’s always a pleasure representing Canada so I just cherish these moments that I have: being able to play for Canada Basketball and representing Canada.”
For a figure whose hype has become mainstream, Andrew remains level-headed and humble. It’s easy to forget he is just 17, but with the sporting hopes of a nation seemingly resting on his shoulders, he just wants to be able to see his family and play another game.