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March 8, 2013This weekend is one of the biggest in recent UNC basketball history. The red hot Tar Heels will host their bitter rival in the Smith Center in a battle that is sure to be a great one. Two Hall of Fame coaches will go head-to-head on a Saturday night in a game that will be one of the most watched matchups this college season.
But there's a side story, too. A big one. This whole recruiting thing.
Some elite and coveted basketball prospects will be on hand as high profile guests of the home team.
And none of them more important than Andrew Wiggins.
The graceful and ridiculously athletic forward from Huntington Prep (W. Va.) by way of Canada will be on his official visit to Chapel Hill. The number one player in the country will sit behind the UNC bench and soak up arguably the most intense rivalry in the country. Roy Williams and his staff will certainly roll out the red carpet.
But in all honesty, it's not about the red carpet with Wiggins.
It's about finding the hot button and figuring out how to connect with Wiggins on a personal level and finding the words that resonate with him. It's something that nobody has been able to do, yet it's something that has to be done to close the 6-8 superstar.
Over the last year and a half, reporters, college coaches and recruiting analysts have relied on rumors, hearsay and innuendos. Tar Heel Illustrated is absolutely guilty as charged. And so is everyone else that covers Wiggins' recruitment.
The talk out there was that Wiggins was going to go to Kentucky. Then he was going to go to Florida State. Then it was either Kentucky or Florida State.
Then, out of the blue, something changed. The Wiggins' camp started to put out the message that he was open to other schools. Few programs wanted to spend the resources and time to recruit him because they didn't believe it. Nobody felt the message was genuine.
Eventually though, some schools came forward -- Kansas, Ohio State, Syracuse and North Carolina. And two emerged as contenders -- the Jayhawks and the Tar Heels.
Wiggins had finally sold the media and the college coaches the idea that he was, indeed, open.
His coach at Huntington Prep, Rob Fulford, says that Wiggins was interested in seeing what else is out there, despite all of the adopted beliefs.
After all, he'd been on trips to Tallahassee and Lexington, yet was still an available recruit. Was he truly open?
"He always has been," said Fulford. "Nobody believed him."
Roy Williams invested the time and the resources. He made trips to Huntington to recruit Wiggins, but more importantly to let the soft-spoken Canadian see him there.
With Wiggins, it's not about figuring out if he's good enough to recruit, this is a kid you build your offense around.
He's as athletic as Vince Carter and as skilled as Carmelo Anthony. He's superbly skilled and has electric quickness and burst. He's driven, motivated and plays other top prospects with an angry chip on his shoulder. He's the starter kit for an NBA All-Star and the type of impact player that can push a good squad over the edge and lead them to a national championship.
He's truly one of the best five prospects that we've evaluated in our 15 years of being in this industry.
But what are his motives? What does he find important? How will he make his decision? And does anyone have a shot at upsetting Florida State, where both of his parents went? Or Kentucky, where it seems like all of the one-and-done NBA types go?
There are a ton of questions and very little answers. And that's because Wiggins doesn't talk and even if he does, he says very little. Even the most carefully scripted questions yield little information. His quotes tell little of his motives and he's not the type to fall off course with the standard leading questions that many reporters ask.
Fulford says that Wiggins has everyone guessing and from the sounds of it they'll have to keep guessing.
"He's handling it the right way," said Fulford. "Too many recruits talk way too much. Andrew doesn't say much, it's tough for me to get anything out of him and I'm his coach."
We asked Fulford if he felt Wiggins was excited about his upcoming trip to Chapel Hill.
"Yes, but he's not going to show it," he said.
After his recent official visit to Lexington, where he was treated like a rock star on the campus of Kentucky, Wiggins did a few interviews and gave just enough information to satisfy the reporters until they ended the call. Again, so little detail.
"He didn't say much about that either," said Fulford. "Just that he liked it and had a good time. He's not going to say much."
So now this weekend, UNC gets their shot at finding that hot button with Wiggins. Is it something that the senior forward wants to hear? Is it a gut feeling that he needs to have? Is it a bond with the coaching staff? Or is it just a heart-felt trust that he's looking for?
Unfortunately, nobody knows. But Roy Williams will try to locate it and win over the heart of the best high school player in the United States.
If he does, UNC has a chance to tear the hearts out of Florida State, Kentucky and Kansas fans. But either way, Wiggins probably won't say much about it.