October 21, 2014

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College basketball: Brothers Nick and Andrew Wiggins are more than ready to embrace the Madness that is March

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins

Nick Wiggins

Nick Wiggins

WICHITA, Kan. — Nick Wiggins stood on the court at Koch Arena with one arm around mom, the other around dad, his second-ranked Shockers having just finished a 31-0 regular season.

For once, it was the older brother of Kansas star Andrew Wiggins getting all the attention.

Now, with the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, the two brothers — and their teams — are ready to become the story of March.

Wichita State heads into the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament this week riding the best start since UNLV in 1991, while the fifth-ranked Jayhawks have wrapped up the outright Big 12 title — the 10th straight championship for the storied program.

If things transpire as most bracketologists believe, Wichita State will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Kansas a No. 2 seed, quite possibly in the same region.

And if everything went according to script, they would meet for a spot in the Final Four.

“Believe me, they’d want to face each other,” said their father, former NBA first-round draft pick Mitchell Wiggins, “but I think they’d rather play each other in the final. And Nick would probably be Andrew’s matchup, so I don’t know who would come out on top.”

“Don’t ask me,” chirped their mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, wearing a broad smile.

The brothers are about as close as could be, constantly texting each other about everything from video games to school to social life. Nick and several of his Wichita State teammates made the two-hour trip north earlier this season to watch Andrew lead the Jayhawks against Baylor, and more than once, Andrew has made the trip back south to hang out with his biggest fan.

It’s gotten harder as the spotlight has intensified.

The Shockers are the biggest thing going in Wichita these days, which means Nick and his teammates are besieged by well-wishers hoping for a photo and a handshake. Andrew is a sure-fire lottery pick who hasn’t been able to step outside his dorm room since arriving at Kansas without autograph hounds tracking him down.

They have relied on each other, along with their parents, to stay grounded during this memorable season. Not even the pressure of the NCAA Tournament can tear apart those family bonds.

“We were always together,” Andrew Wiggins told The Associated Press earlier this season. “We’d always watch TV together. We were always together at dinner times. That’s what made us so close.”

In fact, one of the reasons Andrew chose Kansas over just about every other major program in the country was that Nick was just down the road at Wichita State.

“I feel like that was the best decision for him,” Nick said.

It turned out to be good for their parents. Mitchell and Marita were able to watch Nick and the Shockers dispatch Missouri State on Saturday to finish off a perfect regular season, a victory capped by a senior day ceremony in which Nick received a framed version of his No. 15 jersey.

The Shockers’ sixth man even gave them a memorable highlight, throwing down a dunk off an alley-oop pass in transition that left another sellout crowd roaring in approval.

On Wednesday night, they will continue their trip by visiting senior day in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks will face Texas Tech. Even though Andrew is only a freshman, he’s already made clear his intention of heading to the NBA, so it will be his last chance to play in Allen Fieldhouse.

“Nick has done so much for Andrew. He’s Andrew’s hero,” Mitchell said. “He really helped Andrew’s game when he was younger, just talking to him, talking about basketball, different things. They like each other almost too much, and they’re very proud of each other.”

Their parents are proud of them, too, and intend to follow the brothers throughout the NCAA Tournament. It would be easier if they were paired in the same region, but that’s no guarantee, so Mitchell and Marita are anxiously awaiting Selection Sunday.

Of course, if that happens, there’s always the possibility they’d face each other, too.

“It would be tough,” Mitchell said with a shake of his head. “If it happens, we’d have to do the parent cheer, no celebrating, just” — with that, he does a modest little clap, barely audible.

Marita chimes in one more time, just to clarify her husband.

“They’re where they want to be,” she said, “so it’s not tough. It’s just happiness.”