Wilt, Danny, Andrew: 22 thoughts on three dynamic Kansas freshmen
On the week of an Andrew Wiggins cover, 22 thoughts on No. 22 and the transcendent freshmen who preceded him at KU ...
1. This week's Sports Illustrated cover story examines the arrivals of three No. 1-ranked freshmen at Kansas, in three different eras: Wilt Chamberlain, in 1955; Danny Manning, 29 years later; and Wiggins, 29 years after that. It is not a pronouncement that Wiggins will have a Wilt-like impact. There will never be a Next Wilt, who, as Manning says, "was without a doubt, the most dominant player to ever play the game."
The Big Dipper's arrival threatened to destroy the sport as people knew it in the '50s, and rules were changed accordingly. No one had ever seen a center like him. Manning was merely a superb power forward who drew comparisons to Magic Johnson. Wiggins is merely a superb small forward who draws comparisons to Tracy McGrady. The story tries to put each No. 1 in historical context, and look at how much has changed -- or remained the same -- from era to era.
2. What a strange experience, to show up to college and see your jersey already being sold in the student union bookstore. Stranger, for Andrew Wiggins, to see your jersey already marked down from the suggested retail price of $55 to $39.99 (see photo). When you're a likely one-and-done, your units are priced to move.
Wiggins won't state, already, that he plans to be in the 2014 draft, but his plans over the past four months -- skipping the Canadian national team's Under-19 and senior events in favor of staying in Toronto and doing a short stint of summer school at KU -- were motivated by the fact that things, from June 2014 onward, will get crazy. "I wanted," he says, "to enjoy my last free summer with my family."
3. Chamberlain wasn't eligible to play in the NBA until 1959, four years after his high-school graduation. But his rights were already held in 1955 by the Philadelphia Warriors, who had shrewdly lobbied to expand the NBA's territorial draft-rights rules to include area high-schoolers, if they went to a college outside the 50-mile radius of an NBA franchise. Has a pro team ever had a more vested interest in where a kid went to college?
4. Manning also waited four years to enter the draft, in 1988, although that was by choice. From 1976-on, one-and-done was an option for college players. "But nobody ever did it back then," he says, "and I wasn't ready." His coach at Kansas, Larry Brown, recalls Manning's father, Ed, telling his son after his junior season that he still wasn't ready for the NBA -- even though Manning would likely have been the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in 1987. He stuck around because he wanted to graduate and win a national championship ... and that decision worked out rather well.
5. Wilt did find a way to leave early: by giving up his senior season at Kansas to sign with the Harlem Globetrotters. I found a copy of the original Globetrotters press release from June 18, 1958, the second line of which reads: "The seven foot ace of the University of Kansas today realized a boyhood dream when he affixed his signature to a contract calling for $65,000, by far the largest sum ever paid to a college cage performer, to play next season with Abe Saperstein's great Negro world-traveling professional team."
That was an astronomical salary for a pro player in 1958, but its present-day equivalent is only $550,000.
6. In a transcript of an unpublished, 1957 interview former Kansas coach Phog Allen* gave to LIFE magazine, I found his opinion of the Globetrotters, whom Wilt held in high regard. "All these colored boys, they try to imitate the Harlem Globetrotters," Allen said. "There isn't one of them that doesn't. It's just like the Catholics -- they imitate the boys that go to Notre Dame. Now the old-time pro is the most ignorant man in the world. He doesn't know anything about fundamentals. You got to get them away from this Globetrotter stuff."
*Allen recruited Wilt and, while he was on the freshman team in '55-56, spent two hours each week working with him, but was forced into mandatory retirement after that season. The next time you hear a retired coach complain about the sport getting away from the fundamentals ... remember that Allen was already doing that in 1957.
7. While there were many allegations of booster involvement in Chamberlain's recruitment (many of them true), and Manning was delivered to Kansas by one of the great package deals of all-time (his father was hired as an assistant on Larry Brown's staff), the Wiggins recruitment had little in the way of controversy. One of the few things that caused any ripples were Instagram photos from his visit to Florida State in December 2012, where 16 female students coordinated T-shirts that said WE WANT WIGGINS!, five dance-team members were photographed with a sign that said FSU HAS HOTTER GIRLS and a shot surfaced of three more women posing with him in a Tallahassee establishment. I have to assume that the late Chamberlain would have scoffed at a mere 24 women being involved in a recruiting pitch.
8. Students reacted to Wiggins' arrival, on Twitter, by going rock, stalk, Jayhawk. Here's a selection of 10 tweets from his first six days back on campus for fall semester:
Aug. 23, 12:16 pm (@mullen_david) Andrew Wiggins has been spotted at wal-mart #freakingout
Aug. 24, 1:07 a.m. (@dnay66) Delivered pizza to THE Andrew Wiggins tonight...no big deal
Aug. 26, 9:55 a.m. (@__tPARIS) Lmao Kareem said b*tches going ham cause Andrew Wiggins walked in class
Aug. 26, 10:50 a.m. (@TheKingAsad427) Holy f*ck Andrew Wiggins in my chem lecture
Aug. 26, 10:58 a.m. (@ScottChasen1994) OH HEY ANDREW WIGGINS AND WAYNE SELDEN WHO ARE IN MY SECOND CLASS OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST DAY MAYBE EVER
Aug. 26, 11:44 a.m. (@J_ST3W_K_C) First class and I sit behind this guy named Andrew Wiggins. I like this place.
Aug. 28, 1:45 p.m. (@Amy__A_) Natalie and I have a class with Andrew Wiggins....should we casually drop our pencils next to him and do the bend and snap
Aug. 29, 1:28 p.m. (@DarknNerdy17) Andrew Wiggins laughed at all my jokes
Aug. 29, 5:17 p.m. (@DarknNerdy17) My new ice breaker is Andrew Wiggins thinks I'm funny
Aug. 29, 3:19 p.m. (@KruseKontrolSTS) Dammit just tried to switch into Andrew wiggins' English class & its full! #WhereThereIsAWillTheresAWay
9. Every little thing about Wilt's arrival was news, too -- including his bedroom furniture. The Sept. 2, 1955, Kansas City Times had a story with the headline, "Special Bed is Ready," informing readers that Chamberlain would sleep on a 90-inch bed called a "super model," manufactured by the Hunter corporation of Des Moines, Iowa. For all the records Wilt broke, he could not claim to have the largest bed ever for a KU player. The Sigma Chi fraternity, in an effort to rush Clyde Lovellette in the late '40s, build him a 94-inch bed, even though he was only 6-10.
10. Wilt's dunking ability was unlike anything fans had ever seen. It was a source of fascination. I found it striking that, for Wilt's unveiling in Kansas' freshman-varsity scrimmage on Nov. 18, 1955, two high-schoolers made a drawing of a giant hand hovering over a rim, to encourage him to slam (from the Lawrence Journal-World):
11. There were 24 players listed on the freshman team roster for that game, which Wilt and the yearlings won 81-71. Chamberlain wore No. 13 later at KU, but his frosh jersey was No. 25 -- the same number that Manning would go on to wear in 1984.
12. Wiggins will wear the same number (22) his father, Mitchell, wore as a star guard at Florida State from 1981-83. (An illustration of Mitchell, wearing white Nike hi-tops and striped tube socks, appeared on the cover of the Seminoles' '82-83 media guide, shown below.)
13. Mitchell was hailed as a hard-nosed defender in the NBA, and Wiggins' prep-school coach, Rob Fulford, says the freshman has plenty of defensive potential: "One thing that people don't give Andrew enough credit for is his lockdown defense. Jabari Parker [Duke's top recruit] couldn't get a shot off against him, and he dominated Julius Randle [Kentucky's top recruit] in the Peach Jam. The bigger the defensive challenge, that's when Andrew steps up the most. When his defensive switch is on, you're not scoring."
14. Perhaps the one thing you can responsibly say is the same about Wiggins and Wilt: They committed to Kansas on the same day (May 14), 58 years apart, and their announcements were not televised.
15. As a junior, Chamberlain had a radio show called Flippin' With the Dipper, on which he played jazz and soul records. He made regular trips to music clubs in Kansas City and was friends with Louis Armstrong, who played a show at KU in 1957. Monte Johnson, a teammate of Wilt's, had an early Wollensak tape recorder, and the two of them used to play percussion over songs, with Wilt on bongoes and Johnson on spoons.
Manning did not have a radio show, but he preferred the nickname DMC (for Run DMC) in high school, and had records for Whodini and Freddie Jackson in his room. Wiggins already has a rap song about him, by an artist from Huntington, W.V., where he attended prep school. One of CityPhil's rhymes from Andrew Wiggins goes:
What you gonna do bout this Canadian
no defense you can play me in
Wiggins is into the track -- "I like it, I like it a lot," he says -- but his No. 1 guy is still Drake, a mega-star who also came out of the Toronto area. (And Drake reciprocates the love: on Tuesday, he Instagrammed one of the first looks at this week's cover.)
16. The evolution of the racial climate in Kansas played a role in the story. Manning, who moved to Lawrence (from Greensboro, N.C.) for his senior year of high school, only dealt with isolated incidents, such as a game in Manhattan, Kan., where an opposing fan threw a banana on the floor during introductions. Chamberlain arrived at a time where establishments in Lawrence were still segregated, and set about changing things with the power of his presence.
Monte Johnson says that Maurice King, an older African-American teammate, told him, "'Before Wilt got there, we had so many problems, going into restaurants or movie theaters, but we never complained publicly. When Wilt came, once his first incident was taken care of [with help from Allen's son, a local lawyer], it was really fun: We'd just follow Wilt, and they'd let him in places, so we could go anywhere we wanted.'"
17. For Wiggins, having his older brother Nick nearby at Wichita State -- where he's a junior guard -- was a factor in choosing Kansas, even though Wiggins already liked the vibe of the campus and the program. "I just thought I'd feel comfortable here right off the bat," Wiggins says, "and if I had any problems, my brother was only an hour and 30 minutes away."
He has already visited Nick in Wichita, where they played Call of Duty (Wiggins' favorite game) and Nick harassed him about the fact that the Shockers, and not KU, made it to the Final Four. "I just told him, we're the kings of Kansas," Nick says. "I really wish we had a game against them on the schedule, or at least a scrimmage." (For the record, KU was Nick's preferred destination for Andrew, ahead of runners-up Florida State, North Carolina and Kentucky.)
18. Kansas coach Bill Self is keeping an eye on Wiggins ... by having him room with Self's son, Tyler, a sophomore walk-on. Tyler's previous roommate, sophomore Andrew White, was deemed mature enough to be allowed to live off-campus, and thus Self paired his kid with his prize recruit in Jayhawker Towers. That's the same dorm Manning lived in as a freshman. It didn't exist when Chamberlain arrived; he lived in a building called Carruth-O'Leary.
19. When Dick Harp, the coach of Wilt's freshman team, wrote him a letter in the summer before he enrolled, it was airmailed to Kutsher's Country Club in the Catskills, where Wilt was working as a bellhop (and playing in basketball exhibitions). An image of the envelope, courtesy of the University of Kansas' Spencer Research Library: The letter covered such mundanity as shirts and pants ("Do not feel that you have to buy a lot of clothes for your classroom wear. You will find everyone goes around "pretty common" while attending class") and requested Wilt to reply with his shoe size.
20. Kansas outfitted Wilt in white Converse. Manning, due to Larry Brown's switching of multiple shoe contracts, wore Brooks, Puma and Nike over a four-year career. Wiggins will wear Adidas. Kansas was the only non-Nike school of his final four, and its coaches were worried that it might be an issue, since Wiggins had played for Nike AAU and prep school teams. Luckily for KU, Wiggins prioritized "best situation" over "preferred brand".
21. Three decades before North Carolina lost out on Wiggins, it kept trying to recruit Manning even after his father was hired onto Brown's staff and the family had relocated to Lawrence. Tar Heels coach Dean Smith flew out for a home visit in September 1983 -- for which Manning got dropped off at his house by a friend with a Happy Tooter horn that played "I'm a Jayhawk." The friend was Jeff Johnson, the co-captain of the Lawrence High team and the son of Monte Johnson, who was then Kansas' athletic director. Dean Smith knew the song: he was a KU alum. And he knew the package deal had pretty much ended the recruitment. Manning committed to Kansas on Sept. 22, less than a month after moving west.
22. In June, Wiggins made his trek from Toronto to Kansas by air. In 1983, the Manning family drove from Greensboro in a dark green Cadillac El Dorado. In September 1955, Chamberlain left Philly in a beat-up 1951 Buick with another KU freshman, his high-school teammate Doug Leaman, and they never stopped to sleep during the 20-plus hour trip. And because Leaman was prone to nodding off at the wheel, Chamberlain drove nearly the entire way. He was like a 7-foot Neal Cassady flying across 1,200 miles of highways, an indefatigable force closing in on Lawrence, where the rules of the era required him to waste a year in a "Frosh" jersey before taking over college basketball.