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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the recruiting trails and AAU circuit, Billy Donovan had seen Andrew Wiggins live before, so the Florida coach didn’t need Tuesday night’s front-row viewing at the O’Connell Center to validate what he already knew.
The kid's a really, really good player.
“I’ve always appreciated and admired his disposition on the court,” Donovan said after the Kansas freshman phenom forward totaled career-bests of 26 points and 11 rebounds in 19th-ranked UF’s 67-61 defeat of the No. 13 Jayhawks. “For a guy so heralded, he’s always maintained his composure and handled himself great.”
The 6-foot-8 Wiggins already is being touted as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft next June. In fact, some analysts and scouts have labeled Wiggins as the next LeBron James. Before the season even started, he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated superimposed with images of -- get this -- Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning, arguably KU’s greatest hoops icons.
That’s where Donovan draws the line.
Wiggins maybe among a handful of young players who figure to make up the next generation of great pros, but let the guy get some games under his belt before any King James-like coronation.
“There’s a part of me that feels bad for him,” said Donovan, who knows a little bit about NBA pedigree, with 12 players currently in the league, including five lottery picks. “The minute you start getting comparisons to LeBron James and hearing things like that [and] you don’t get 30 points every single night and dominate and take over, guys walk away and say, ‘Geez, this guy is [not that].’ I just hope he’s enjoying his experience. He’s a very, very good player. He’s athletic and explosive. But he’s young.”
Against UF, Wiggins hit seven of his 15 shots, including four of nine from the 3-point line, and all eight free throws. In the first half, he split two Gators on a fast break with the kind of move that maybe one or two players in the country can make.
And made it look effortless.
“He looked like a four-year player to me,” UF senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin said.
Yet Donovan thought the Gators did a decent job containing Wiggins for the better part of his game-high 37 minutes. Then came 11 points (including a trio of 3-pointers when he managed to get loose deep against the defense) in the final 2:23 when the Jayhawks cut UF’s 10-point lead to four.
“He scored a lot of his points late on us. He threw in some bombs,” Donovan said. “He’s got a chance to be a special player and a very, very good player. But I always get concerned when I see young kids compared to the greatest players of all time. Are people going to say when he scores 10 points, ‘Wow, he’s overrated.’ But he’s a good player and seems to be a good team player, unselfish and plays the right way.”