September 23, 2014

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Cavaliers: Andrew Wiggins didn’t have to look far for competition growing up, thanks to his athletic family

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins

Mitchell Wiggins

Mitchell Wiggins

INDEPENDENCE — Andrew Wiggins was considered the best high school basketball player on the planet when he concluded his career at West Virginia’s Huntington Prep in 2013, but for a long time he wasn’t the most talented athlete in his own driveway.

Wiggins’ father, Mitchell Wiggins, spent six seasons in the NBA. His mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was an Olympic sprinter for Canada. Brother Nick, three years his senior, just finished his career at Wichita State and will be on the Sacramento Kings’ roster in the upcoming NBA Summer League.

“I never used to win games when I was younger because my brothers were bigger, stronger, faster, wiser, more experienced in the game of basketball,” Andrew Wiggins said Friday while meeting local media members at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Growing up now, it’s battles.”

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound swingman, chosen No. 1 by the Cavaliers in the NBA Draft on Thursday, was a fast learner. He could dunk by the age of 12 and attended a Michael Jordan basketball camp when he was 15, at which time Jordan told Mitchell Wiggins he “had something.”

“I didn’t judge him against players his own age,” said 54-year-old Mitchell Wiggins, who played in the NBA for Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. “I judged him against players older than him and he still stood out.”

One of the older players Mitchell judged his son against was, well, himself. The former 6-4, 185-pound shooting guard from Florida State, taken by Indiana with the No. 23 pick in the 1983 draft, averaged 10.0 points for his career but was suspended for two seasons due to substance abuse issues.

There was some tough love at times, but one of the elder Wiggins’ primary goals was to make sure none of his children made the same mistakes he did.

“He’s always been a kid who listened and tried to do the right thing,” Mitchell Wiggins said of 19-year-old Andrew. “I just hope he stays true to who he is and stays humble, stays grounded.”

The plan appears to be working. Andrew Wiggins, who averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists as a Kansas freshman, was well spoken and gracious during his introductory news conference.

The consensus second-team All-America pick drew a nod of approval from Cavs coach David Blatt while talking about his goals of being NBA Rookie of the Year and eventually making the All-Star team.

Blatt’s most visible reaction, though, came when Andrew Wiggins spoke of wanting to make the league’s All-Defensive team.

“I was smiling about that one,” the coach said. “That all works for me.

“One of Andrew’s great qualities is he can play both ends of the court,” Blatt added. “There’s always minutes for a guy like that.”

That’s one of many lessons Andrew Wiggins learned from his father, and the teachings have stuck.

“I don’t like when my man scores,” said Andrew Wiggins, who held the players he defended last season to 38 percent shooting from the field. “Even when I’m on the bench and he scores, that makes me mad. That’s always been a big priority.”

It will continue to be so with the Cavs, who view their third No. 1 overall pick in four years as a guy who can play shooting guard and small forward.

“He’s a two-way player who has the potential to achieve greatness on both ends of the floor,” general manager David Griffin said. “He’s going to be as good as he works himself to be, and he understands that.”

How could he not, given the environment in which he grew up?

“I’ve got a lot of expectations for myself,” Andrew Wiggins said. “I just want to come in and create an impact right off the bat offensively and defensively.

“What I learned is you can’t really live up to everybody else’s expectations,” he added. “You have to live up to your own.”

That’s another lesson Andrew Wiggins learned from his parents, who taught him to be respectful yet personable. Serious and sincere for most of his news conference, the former national high school player of the year’s sense of humor was on display when he pointed out his father has never lost to him in a game of one-on-one.

“He never lost because he stopped playing when he got older,” Andrew Wiggins said. “Right now, he is undefeated.”

It’s going to stay that way, promised Mitchell Wiggins.

“He knew he could take Daddy (offensively), but he still can’t guard me,” he said. “I’m a dirty old player.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

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