Andrew Wiggins sat on a chair in the mixed zone at Ricoh Coliseum, where a steel gate separated him from a small but tightly packed group of reporters all tasked with getting the soon-to-be 21-year-old to open up about his role in Friday night’s Rising Stars game.
Wiggins, like fellow Canadians Trey Lyles (Utah Jazz, Saskatoon) and Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks, Toronto) received a huge ovation from the crowd at the Air Canada Centre when he was introduced and quickly went to work. He finished with 29 points, one fewer than New York rookie Kristaps Porzingis, Denver rookie Emmanuel Mudiay and Zach LaVine, the game MVP and Wiggins’ teammate with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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The reigning rookie of the year is the face of the incredibly bright future of basketball in this country and for the Timberwolves, who had Wiggins, defending dunk champ LaVine and this season’s top rookie lock Karl-Anthony Towns taking part in Friday’s game.
The challenge for the group of reporters, who apologized profusely as they drove their elbows and camera equipment into each other as they leaned in to catch what Wiggins was saying, is that he doesn’t say a whole lot. At least not yet, anyway.
Wiggins emerged on the radar of Canadian basketball fans and college scouts alike around the time he was 14 years old. The amount of reporters in front of him has varied over the years, but the exchanges have often been very similar. It’s cordial, but not exactly rewarding.
He bristled at the idea of trash talk existing between himself and LaVine and Towns, both of whom were playing for Team USA on Friday night. Pressed on topics like bragging rights, Wiggins, who won the MVP in the event last year with a 22-point effort, smiled a tiny bit.
“You’re so Canadian,” a reporter actually said to Wiggins. “So nice.”
“I try, I try. Thank you,” Wiggins replied.
Had a Mountie passed by on a horse, the exchange could have ventured into Heritage Minutes territory.
Some athletes, especially those who have been under the scrutiny Wiggins has in his development, build up a wall with the media or they find the forced nature of the interaction too much to humour. Wiggins can’t be this quiet all the time, can he?
“He’s not as quiet,” said Powell, who has known Wiggins from the time his star started to rise and who played with him last summer for the national team. “He’s still a funny guy, he’s still one of the guys, especially when you get him around the team, he’ll open up. But he doesn’t waste words.”
“He’s the pinnacle of a teammate. He thinks of all of us first before himself,” Towns said. “He’s everything. He’s everything to us. His personality shines with us and it’s one of those things where the aura goes up when he’s in the gym because of his energy, his positivity.”
The chant of Wiggins’ name as the game wound down switched to M-V-P as he shot free-throws in the final minute of the game. He was 13-for-15 from the floor, playing a controlled game when many would have sought the MVP or a 50-point night.
“He doesn’t have a big head, doesn’t have the crazy ego that you might expect from a player of his calibre,” Powell said. “He’s just a nice, humble Canadian kid that is willing to work and loves the game.”
“You definitely get used to it,” Wiggins said of the attention he has commanded over the last few years. “I see it all the time, get the same questions.”
He’s happy to be back in Toronto, though he admitted Friday morning there was disappointment he’s not playing Sunday. He has improved from last year, and with Towns creating havoc in the paint for the T-Wolves, Wiggins won’t have to carry the load for the team as it grows and moves forward. Both young players could be in the all-star game next year in Charlotte.
“(Not being an all-star is) motivation to try and see myself in the game next year,” Wiggins said.