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One Year Later: Grading the Andrew Wiggins Signing

Last May Andrew Wiggins decided to play his lone season of college basketball for the University of Kansas. Looking back we evaluate the effects of that decision.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

At this time last year all of Lawrence was abuzz with anticipation of seeing the next prodigal basketball talent: Andrew Wiggins. Dubbed the greatest player to come out of high school since LeBron, and nicknamed by some "Maple Jordan" - the hype was at a fever pitch.

By most accounts, Wiggins was very good in his lone season playing for Kansas. But events such as this do not exist in a vacuum; there are always ripple effects, collateral damage and ancillary benefits. Here I attempt to examine not only the on-court results but also the cause and effect relationship with other aspects of the program.

Personal performance: A-

Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Wiggins performed about as well as could reasonably be expected in his lone season at Kansas. He led the Jayhawks in scoring with 17.1 points per game, setting the single season freshman scoring record in the process with 597 points, surpassing Ben McLemore who had broken Danny Manning’s long held record the season prior. He also led the team in steals (41), ranked second in blocks (34), and third in rebounds (205). Defensively, Wiggins was regarded as the team’s best on-ball defender.

Wiggins garnered several awards along the way, including first team All-Big 12 and second team All-American.

Wiggins may not have lived up to the hype, or been as good as say Kevin Durant was during his lone season at Texas, but it’s hard to find much fault in his game. Perhaps the only knock on him was that occasionally it was speculated as to if he had enough "alpha" mentality in him to take control of games, although he certainly displayed that ability at times.

Team accomplishments: B-

Wiggins helped lead an extremely young Kansas team to its 10th consecutive Big 12 regular season title. However, the loss to Stanford, and in particular his performance, put a damper on his season as a whole. Certainly the loss of Joel Embiid at the end of the conference season played a large role in the Jayhawks not advancing further in the NCAA tournament, but for a player of Wiggins’ ability, and considering his role on the team, finishing with 4 points on 1-6 shooting in 34 minutes played was disappointing.

Roster ramifications: C

By bringing in Wiggins, the immediate impact was that the available minutes at the small forward position shrunk to scraps. The players affected the most were sophomore Andrew White III and freshman Brannen Greene. Both players averaged just over 6 mpg on the season. Many times the two would not see any game action, and when they did it was often in mop-up duty. Greene eventually found somewhat of a regular role with the team, but White did not. This led to White transferring out of the program at season’s end.

The long term repercussions here are that Self is without White next season, who would have been in his third year in the program and likely would have looked to assume a regular rotation role. It also means that Greene steps into next season with far less game experience than he would have gained without Wiggins keeping him off the court.

Recruiting ramifications: B+

While Self has certainly had little difficulty on the recruiting trail of late, landing the #1 prospect in the land and having him succeed relative to expectations (unlike former #1 recruit Josh Selby, who’s collegiate career was derailed by an early suspension and nagging injuries throughout) is simply another feather in Self’s cap that he can use while visiting future recruits. Having Wiggins go #1 in the NBA draft doesn’t hurt either.

It is fair to speculate that Wiggins signing, and the general consensus that he was leaving after one year, opened the door for 5 star recruit Kelly Oubre to sign with Kansas in last year’s early signing period. Knowing that playing time was going to be opening up, and that there would be no incumbent players with significant playing experience blocking him, was perhaps a contributing factor.

The roster ramifications and recruiting ramifications grades are purely predictive, as it is too early too tell definitively the long term effects of his tenure with the Jayhawks. I gave the roster ramifications grade a "C", meaning it didn’t move the needle much one way or the other. There were benefits and drawbacks, but overall I don’t think the next year’s team is significantly better or worse for having him here last season. I was more optimistic with the recruiting grade, but stopped short of giving it an "A" because really…how much better of a job can Self do than what he has done the past couple of years in this respect?

Exposure: A

Let’s face it, Kansas doesn’t hurt for national exposure when it comes to college basketball. Short of picking the university up and placing it on the east coast (perhaps in the ACC), there isn’t much more room left for the program to elevate in this regard. However, because of the immense hype surrounding Wiggins, last year’s team did indeed experience an up-tick in exposure. Everything was magnified. "Late Night" saw an unprecedented number of media members in attendance. Websites had regular "Wiggins Watch" sections (along with a few other members of last season’s heralded freshman class).

The added attention also helped to shine the spotlight on blossoming teammate Embiid, who went from being a kind of diamond in the rough at the time he signed with KU to a player in the running for #1 overall pick in the NBA draft before a foot injury dropped him to #3 (still not too bad!). I’m not exactly saying Embiid couldn’t have ascended to such heights on his own, but it certainly didn’t hurt that people tuning in to watch Wiggins or pro personnel attending games to scout him were also treated to the Cameroonian big man’s game.

And if Wiggins turns his talents into a successful NBA career, that would provide another long-term exposure benefit. For years Paul Pierce has carried the torch as the only really successful former KU player in the NBA. And Pierce was a Roy Williams player. One of the few knocks on Self, at least one that could be used against him by rival coaches on the recruiting trail, is that he hasn’t put any stars into the league. With Pierce in the twilight of his career, Wiggins could be primed to take up the mantle and be an ambassador for the program in this respect.

When it comes to positive exposure, every little bit helps, and Wiggins-mania brought that to a whole new level. It’s possible that the little bit extra might have meant the difference in the team being selected to represent the US in the World University Games in 2015. It could mean that the next Canadian star chooses the Jayhawks out of high school. Or maybe some other young superstar chooses Kansas after seeing Bill Self with Wiggins at the NBA draft. Who knows?

I think without a doubt that Andrew Wiggins playing his lone year of collegiate basketball for the Jayhawks was a plus for the program. We’ll never truly know how alternative scenarios might have played out, but the one undeniable fact is that Wiggins is a phenomenal athlete and basketball player, and to have his name forever tied to the University of Kansas can only mean good things.