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July 21, 2012

Wiggins states case as high school hoops' best player




NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - Andrew Wiggins never looks particularly out of place on a basketball court, and yet here he was Friday night at the Peach Jam, clearly outside his comfort zone.

At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, Wiggins - Rivals.com's No. 1-ranked player in the high school class of 2014 - found himself in the post, tasked with slowing 6-foot-9, 240-pound Julius Randle, the No. 2 player in the 2013 class.

Wiggins was bullied. He was battered. He was, as it turns out, right where he wanted to be.

"It was a key matchup," Wiggins said after his CIA Bounce team held on to beat Randle and Team Texas Titans 81-80 in overtime. "Everyone wanted to see Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle, so that's what I gave them."

And Wiggins was the star of that show.

That Wiggins is the best of the 2014 class can hardly be disputed. The debate now is whether the Toronto native is the best high school basketball player on the continent, regardless of class, and on Friday he stated his case emphatically.

In front of a standing-room only crowd that included Kentucky coach John Calipari, Kansas' Bill Self, Baylor's Scott Drew and a host of hoops luminaries, Wiggins played deft defense against Randle and took over offensively in overtime, leaving little debate as to who'd gotten the best of the individual matchup.

When it was over, Wiggins had 28 points, 13 rebounds and a win. Randle - a versatile power forward with perimeter skills who at times this week has been the most impressive player here - finished with 15 points and 13 boards.

"Great player," Wiggins said of Randle. "I think me and him are going to go far in basketball in the future."

They could even share the stage, however briefly, in college.

It's been speculated that Wiggins, who turned 17 in February, could move into the 2013 class, although he and his coaches have been unwavering in saying he considers himself a junior at this point.

Whenever he graduates high school, Kentucky and Florida State figure to be his primary collegiate suitors. Randle, too, is considering the Wildcats, part of a long list of prospective schools that also includes Baylor, Duke, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State and Texas.

On Friday, though, they were rivals. Their meeting matched the mass of buildup that preceded it and satisfied a packed house.

"I'm sure we broke fire code, but that's what it's supposed to be," said Rob Fulford, Wiggins' coach at Huntington (WVa.) Prep, who was among those in attendance.

Coaches crammed into every available courtside seat. The corners were crowded with those who couldn't find chairs and stood instead. Upstairs on the overhead track that wraps around all four courts at the Riverview Park Activities Center, fans and reporters stood two and three deep against the railing.

"It's probably been the best game all summer," Wiggins said. "I think the crowd can tell you that. All the people came out to watch us - the scouts, coaches."

What they saw was Wiggins putting on an all-around show. Though his outside shot didn't drop - he was 1-for-6 from three-point range - Wiggins displayed the athleticism he's known for, dribbling past defenders and gliding to the basket for layups.

As impressive as that offensive display, though, was a defensive effort that helped hold Randle in check and harassed him into five turnovers. Wiggins moved his feet to force Randle into waiting help defense. He held his own in the post as Randle overpowered him, twice hitting the deck to draw offensive fouls on Randle, who fouled out early in overtime.

And on one Titans possession, Wiggins soared to swat a Randle shot, then seconds later blocked a second-chance effort from Duke commit Matt Jones.

"I was proud of Andrew that he accepted the challenge; he guarded Julius from the tip to the end of the game, and it wasn't the other way," said Rob Fulford, Wiggins' coach at Huntington (WVa.) Prep, who attended Friday's game. "So there's no question who the best player in the country is. No question. That was answered tonight easily."

Without question Wiggins established himself as the top player at Peach Jam, which serves as the finals of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League schedule. But not all parties were accounted for here. Jabari Parker, the top-ranked player in the 2013 class, is injured and didn't make the trip with his Mac Irvin Fire team.

"(Wiggins) doesn't say much, but he was obviously disappointed that Parker wasn't playing with Mac Irvin because he was tired of hearing that (Parker is the top player)," Fulford said. "I think he's on a mission, and obviously I think anyone who watched that game understands now what everyone has been saying (about Wiggins' ability)."

Wiggins conceded afterward that he was disappointed not to get a matchup with Parker, whom a Sports Illustrated cover this spring labeled "The best high school basketball player since LeBron James."

That's "just someone's opinion," Wiggins said.

It's not one he shares. On Friday night, he stated his case for the crown Parker wears.

"I'll put myself before anyone…," Wiggins said. "Everyone has a different opinion. If they think I'm better, that's their opinion. I think I'm the best."

Steve Jones contributed to this report.


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