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Andrew Wiggins in the spotlight as March Madness begins

Andrew Wiggins in the spotlight as March Madness begins

By Asif Hossain

It’s March Madness time and the spotlight is on top U.S.-based collegiate players looking to bring their school a coveted NCAA basketball title.

The U.S. college men’s Division I basketball championship started on Tuesday, March 18 with lower seeded teams looking to qualify as one of the final 64 teams in the tournament. The tournament started in earnest on Thursday with some very talented Canadian players, led by arguably the best first-year player in NCAA, Andrew Wiggins.

Andrew Wiggins in action for bronze-medal winning Canada team at the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in 2012.

Andrew Wiggins in action for bronze-medal winning Canada at the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in 2012.

The 19-year old Toronto-born small forward came into his first season with lofty expectations and as the months progressed, so has the player described by most as quiet, confident and supremely gifted.

It was nearly impossible for Wiggins – or anyone – to live up to the fanfare surrounding his decision to join the Kansas Jayhawks for what will be his first and only year of college basketball. It’s not a secret that he will declare himself officially eligible for the National Basketball Association 2014 draft.

In front of a packed practice facility on June 19, 2013 Wiggins made his first public appearance at Kansas. The attention was compared to the arrival of NBA legends Danny Manning and Wilt Chamberlain by Kansas coach Bill Self.

Wiggins introduced himself with a tomahawk dunk for the expectant crowd.

Since then Wiggins has put together a strong season averaging 17.4 points and six rebounds per game. He is among Big 12 Conference leaders in scoring (5th), field goal percentage (12th) and steals (11th).

Most recently, with an injury to teammate Joel Embiid, Wiggins has taken on added responsibilities, resulting in him scoring 30 points against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. He has averaged 31 points per game in three games without Embiid, signalling he can shoulder the burden, but The Big Dance – an often-used term for the tourney – is a different animal.

“He’s young. He should be a high school senior,” Self said of his teenage superstar. “On a brighter stage, to see how he reacts will be interesting. But all evidence points to that he is poised and ready to be aggressive and play at a high level.”

Andrew Wiggins guarded by another Toronto-born player, Iowa State's Melvin Ejim.

Wiggins guarded by another Toronto-born player, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim.

Along with his ability to shoot from downtown (43 threes), Wiggins has shown a desire to drive to the basket in Embiid’s absence, which should bode well for a player who will attract fouls, as the Canadian has the 10th best free throw percentage in his conference.

Basketball in Canada is on the rise and Wiggins is a big part of what could be a promising future for the country when it begins the bid for an Olympic spot at Rio 2016.

Long before that, Wiggins will look to prove himself on the biggest stage for the teenager to date, starting  Friday against Eastern Kentucky (4:10 p.m. ET).

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By Asif Hossain

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