Photos Courtesy: Robin Leworthy Wilson - Aerial Promotions
Hamilton welcomes ‘Coach’ Wiggins
By Scott Radley
He last dropped by this city a little more than two years ago.
Back then, he was a mystery to most. Sure, every Canadian sports fan had heard of Andrew Wiggins, but few had actually seen this basketball prodigy in person. Heck, many probably hadn't even seen much video of his work.
Which is surely why more than 2,200 crammed into a steamy, sweaty Burridge Gym at McMaster that February evening. To catch a glimpse of the future. To put their eyes on this teenager who would some day soon re-write this country's basketball legacy. To be able to one day tell their friends they saw him back when.
It was a different Wiggins who showed up again on Saturday. Not just becauseeveryone now knows him. Or, at least, knows about him. This time, he's so huge he was able to draw a crowd without even playing.
"I did try to (convince him to play) before the game, but he wasn't having it," organizer Justin Avery says.
No, this time he'd be coaching — yes, coaching — an all-star team made up of some of southern Ontario's best players. A few are still playing college ball and a few are semi-pro guys, but most are young men who have had their day in the NCAA and are now still itching to stay competitive in the North of the Border Basketball League. Guys Wiggins knew, in many cases.
That's how he got here. Chadrack Lufile is a Burlington guy who played for Wichita State when the Shockers went to the Final Four in 2013. His teammate and great friend was Nick Wiggins, Andrew's brother. Lufile has two brothers in the NBBL.
Anyway, one thing led to another and soon Avery was on the phone with the NBA rookie of the year asking him to come to the league's first all-star game. Amazingly, he got a yes.
It had the desired effect. No, every seat wasn't stuffed like last time. But that's hardly a surprise considering this time they'd be watching him, well, sit. Make no mistake though. The 1,700 or so who showed up were there to see him. The game was a sidebar. Even Avery admits that.
When the still-slender, 6-foot-8 NBA Minnesota Timberwolves star walked into the gym, every eye was on him rather than the guys practising their jams for a dunk contest. Before the game, a mob gathered around him to get selfies and autographs. At halftime, same thing. And after a team photo at the end of the game, it was mayhem.
"That was crazy out there," Avery says.
It was. Hundreds, from young kids to grey hairs, massed around him to rub shoulders with the 19-year-old Vaughan native.
He was supposed to do it for 10 minutes. That was the agreement. Yet he stayed until every single person had their shot. While he wasn't doing any media interviews, he was otherwise upholding the tradition of the polite, fan-friendly Canadian sports star.
It's obvious he's still not entirely comfortable with all this. He's naturally quiet. He's subdued. He's not particularly outgoing. Then again, he's 19. It's easy to forget that.
Yet this is his world now. Avery spent the day with him and said this happens every time he steps out in public. Anonymity isn't part of his existence anymore.
As for the coaching, well, let's just say that as a coach he makes a great player. Down 20-6 midway through the first quarter and 51-28 at the half, his side battled back to make it close. In the end though, they lost 96-87. His guys could've used him on the court down the stretch.
Didn't really matter. The folks got what they wanted. To get a picture with him. To stand next to him. To be in a room with him. They got that. Every last one of them.
As the crowd finally started to dwindle, a kid with a cast on his wrist got his turn with the star. Though Wiggins wasn't signing autographs this night, he made an exception on the cast.
As he did, another kid who'd just had his turn noticed.
"I'll break my arm for an autograph," he yelled.
Even after a long stretch posing for a million pictures, Wiggins laughed at that one.
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Spectator columnist Scott Radley hosts The Scott Radley Show weeknights from 7-9 on 900CHML
Scott Radley is a sports columnist for The Hamilton Spectator. Follow on Twitter: @RadleyAtTheSpec