There may come a time when Julius Randle of Kentucky or Jabari Parker of Duke or Australian Dante Exum will ascend to No. 1 on the Draft board in some NBA front office, because Kansas hype machine Andrew Wiggins may be the clear publicity leader but does not enjoy the same cushion in actual ranking heading into what he says will be a one-and-done career. That time could even come by tonight as four teams collide in Chicago for what is either the Champions Classic (NCAA description) or one of the great scouting moments in history (NBA read).
Yes, it is Wiggins’ race to lose as the young college season really ignites with No. 1 Kentucky playing No. 2 Michigan State (7:30 p.m. ET) — the first matchup of top-ranked teams since Memphis-Tennessee in February 2008 — and No. 4 Duke facing No. 5 Kansas (9:30 ET) with a large representation of NBA executives and scouts at United Center. But, no, it is not close to being over, no matter how much attention the son of former Bull, Rocket and 76er Mitchell Wiggins is generating.
Or as one front-office veteran, while still putting Wiggins at the top of his list, said when asked whether the Kansas freshman is locked in as the first selection in June: “I think in the media’s mind he is. But just in talking to one of our guys around the league, he said Wiggins was the third-best player in their practices. The media has Wiggins way ahead. I just don’t think the NBA has him way ahead.”
Rating Wiggins the No. 3 prospect in Kansas workouts is not exactly a body slam because teammates Joel Embiid and Wayne Seldon are tracking to the lottery and possibly the top eight or 10. But it’s a valuable perspective and a chance to take a deep breath as the chase begins in earnest tonight with several subplots (NCAA version) or headlines (NBA understanding) in the best measurement to date.
It’s not just Kansas vs. Duke, but Wiggins vs. Parker, wing vs. wing, highly touted freshman vs. highly touted freshman and a great opportunity for both. If Wiggins plays well in the possible only pre-Draft combine in Chicago he will probably see — every expectation is he’ll skip the real combine come next May — his claim to No. 1 becomes stronger. A standout night from Parker puts in a bid for a new No. 1.
The NBA is always more concerned with what a prospect is doing in the second half of their season and into the NCAA tournament than who performs best in November. But this gathering of so many potential lottery picks and first-rounders, in many cases head-to-head, is such a rare single-day scouting run that it can’t help but register on the Draft Richter scale. It is a better evaluation than most Final Fours, unless this turns out to be a preview of the actual Final Four.
Kansas has Wiggins, Embiid and Seldon, while Duke has Parker, Rasheed Sulaimon and Rodney Hood. Michigan State has Gary Harris and Adreian Payne. Kentucky has Randle, Andrew Harrison, James Young, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, plus Aaron Harrison and Marcus Lee hoping to push into the top 30 (with a team manager, bus driver and corridor-sweeper of Rupp Arena in the mix, too). It’s early, but it’s an important night for the future bank accounts of a lot of people on the floor of the United Center. That makes it an important night for all the NBA.