Calm Before the Storm

Huntington Prep superstar Andrew Wiggins is the best player to ever come through Huntington

Andrew Wiggins

By Keith Morehouse

Photos by Rick Lee

It's almost eight o'clock on a November night in the nicely appointed Thomas home in Proctorville, Ohio. Dinner hour is fast approaching. Lumbering down the steps from the second floor are two towering teenagers, Andrew Wiggins and Moses Kingsley. The only thing that could separate them from their video games is the aroma wafting upstairs from the three large pizzas that cover the island in the kitchen. Scott and Lesley Thomas, along with sons Clayton and Luke, serve as the host family for the two Huntington Prep stars.

It's boarding house reach at the table as the kids and the adults all fend for themselves. Nobody gets star treatment in this household, not even Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 ranked high school basketball player in America.

"We set the rules from the start," Scott Thomas said. "They have chores and if I have to punish them they don't like that too well. I don't want to treat Andrew like a superstar because that doesn't do him any good. He gets plenty of that elsewhere."

The adulation is only beginning for this 17-year-old Canadian athlete, who scouts say has NBA-ready talent right now. The attention has grown exponentially ever since Wiggins reclassified to leave high school after this season. He originally was ranked as the No. 1 recruit in America in the class of 2014. Now he's the No. 1 ranked player in the class of 2013.

College coaches like John Calipari (Kentucky), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Bill Self (Kansas) must have the Marshall University Recreation Center location saved in their GPS favorites. They've all come to watch Wiggins practice there. They throw their best pitch in the hopes that it might convince him to bring his world-class talent to their campus - if only for one year. Wiggins is not star struck. Not anymore. "I'd rather just practice," Wiggins says about the coaches' carousel that comes through Huntington. "If they come I don't mind it, they're just doing their job. But they all tell me what I want to hear."

Andrew Wiggins

There's only one problem in this hoops crazy life for the shy, unassuming, Wiggins. He doesn't play basketball for the recognition; he plays it because he's passionate about it. That he has the talent to emulate some of the moves he sees on his PlayStation 3 video game only underscores how tremendously gifted he is at this sport.

The hype that he's getting is unstoppable - kind of like an opponent must feel when he stands in front of a rising Wiggins going to the hoop - you can't really do anything about it. The realization hits pretty early in the AAU-driven, YouTube-magnified world of big time high school hoops. You can't avoid the constant glare of publicity. It comes with the territory.

"I don't know that he fully grasps what his name means to the basketball world," Huntington Prep Coach Rob Fulford says. "I tell him every ticket that's sold to a Huntington Prep game, whether it's home or away, is to see him play. And not just to see him play but to see him dominate. He's gonna have to figure that out."

He's got a running start at this world-class athlete thing. His mother, Marita Payne, was a two time silver medalist in track and field for the Canadian Olympic team in the '84 Olympics. His Dad, Mitchell, was a star college basketball player at Florida State and later played professionally in the NBA and in Europe. Even with that athletic pedigree, Andrew has stayed pretty grounded. Grounded, and guarded.

"I just try to keep my circle tight," Wiggins said. "I limit the people I tell information to, keep stuff between me and my family, my coach and the Thomases. And stay humble."

The 6'8," 200 pounder is a coach's dream. They speak of five tool baseball players, Wiggins shows that versatility on the basketball court. He can handle the ball, elevate on dunks where his head is parallel to the rim, he can shoot, pass and play defense. Is he a once in a lifetime talent passing through town?

Andrew Wiggins

"He's the best to ever come through here and there have been some great players to come through Huntington and Marshall," Coach Fulford said of Wiggins. "O.J. (Mayo) was great but O.J.'s not Andrew. If you haven't come out and seen him play you're doing yourself a disservice as a basketball fan."

Back at the house 10-year-old Clayton Thomas has a pretty good after-dinner story to tell. He and his family were at the Myrtle Beach Classic last winter to watch Andrew Wiggins play against some of the best high school basketball players in the country. Before the game, Duke Coach Mike Kryzyzewksi was signing autographs. After a few minutes the tournament organizers ended the autograph session and roped off the area in front of the table. Clayton still hadn't gotten his autograph so out of the crowd he shouted, "Andrew Wiggins lives at my house!" Clayton said Coach Kryzyzewski looked up quickly, and without hesitation said, "let him through."

Just the mention of Andrew Wiggins can make a Hall of Fame basketball coach giddy.

"All those coaches are legendary coaches," Wiggins says, "but I try to focus on my schoolwork, my team and my family."

Andrew smiles at Clayton's recollection. He's not worried about college or the NBA just yet. That will come soon enough. Tonight, the trash needs to be emptied, and it's his turn.

Life is pretty simple, at least for now.

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