Inside the process of Aaron Wiggins’ decision to stay in the NBA Draft

Fly, check-in, rest, eat, watch basketball, sleep, COVID-19 testing, workout, play basketball, run to the airport, repeat.

The past three weeks have been a blur for Maryland wingman Aaron Wiggins. Save for the COVID-19 testing, and it’s a routine he has dreamed of as a child.

“It’s always been a dream to become an NBA basketball player,” Wiggins told Empire Sports Media on Wednesday before he was picked up by a Phoenix Suns staff to take him to his eighth NBA pre-Draft workout.

Aside from the Suns, Wiggins has already worked out with the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors. Michael Whitaker of Next Sports told Empire Sports Media that his client is scheduled to have nine more workouts before the NBA Draft on July 29.

Usually, the pre-draft workout he attended has about six prospects go on through drills and scrimmages. Depending on the team, they usually take them out to dinner the night before the workout. If not, he settles with room service back in the hotel.

Wiggins announced on Tuesday that he would forego his remaining college eligibility to try his luck in this year’s NBA Draft. While he could have returned to a stronger Maryland team with a reloaded roster ready to go on a deep run in the NCAA tournament next year, Wiggins felt it was the right time to make the big jump.

“I just really went with my gut [feel],” Wiggins said. “I made the decision, and I’m happy with the decision I made. My family has my back. My coach (Mark Turgeon) understands, and I thought the time was right.”

The positive feedback he received in those workouts and his strong showing in both the G League Elite Camp and the Draft Combine have factored into his decision. He sought advice from his friend and high school teammate Jaylen Hoard (Oklahoma City’s two-way player) and former Terrapins Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando, who play for the Hawks. Then he sat down with his parents, listened to his adviser, and talked to his college coach.

“I’ve got different perspectives and opinions on the entire process, so I think I’ve done a pretty good job of handling all of it. I appreciate all those advice,” Wiggins said.

The 22-year old guard finished his junior season with the Terrapins on a strong note, averaging 18.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game, and shot 40.3% from three-point range over his final 10 games. He saved his best for last when he exploded for a career-high 27 points against Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament. In that game, he showcased his full package hitting 11 of 17 shots, including 5 of 8 from deep aside from collecting six rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Wiggin’s game is as diverse as his personality.

“He’s very talented,” Keith Gatlin, Wiggins’ high school coach, said in a phone interview. “He did acting and he was in the choir. [Aaron] was a very diverse young man.”

Serena Wiggins, a high school teacher, made sure Aaron and his four siblings grew up well-rounded. All of Serena’s kids played at least two instruments. A young Aaron Wiggins took piano and trombone.

But basketball remained a big part of his childhood despite having other extra-curricular activities.

“I have been playing basketball since I can hold a basketball,” Wiggins said.

He grew up idolizing the late Kobe Bryant though he never met him in person. Inspired by Bryant’s scoring instincts and forged by his musical and acting activities, showmanship and performing on the big stage became second nature to him. 

In his final two years in high school, Wiggins played in the state championship with Wesleyan Christian Academy after his transfer from Grimsley High. He was named to the All-State selection and capped off his senior year with a co-MVP trophy in the SC30 Selected Showcase, the Stephen Curry-branded all-star event in California featuring some of the country’s best juniors and seniors. Wiggins went 6-for-10 from 3-point range, scoring 20 points to help his team to a blowout win.

“I didn’t realize that [NBA] was a goal that I can really reach until maybe in high school when I started to get Division I offers,” Wiggins said.

By the time he transferred to Wesleyan from Grimsley, he was already a 6-5 guard. Gatlin, who was the all-time assists leader in Maryland playing alongside the late Len Bias, knew from the start that Wiggins has the makings of an NBA player.

“When I first got him, he had NBA size, and he can shoot it. I thought he has a prototypical body of an NBA player,” Gatlin said. “He was already skilled.”

What convinced Gatlin that Wiggins is made for the NBA was a summer workout with former Knick Dennis Smith, Jr. and his former Wesleyan players — current Knick Theo Pinson and Montay Brandon, who played for Florida State.

“You knew right there once he got the strength and the speed of the game that he’s going to be a really elite player,” Gatlin said of Wiggins.

But what separated Wiggins from his peers is his great character which led to his basketball rise.

“He worked hard on his game and in the weight room. He just put in the work with his ball-handling and shooting,” Gatlin said. “What I liked most about him is he has the desire to get better.”

A four-star recruit in Maryland, Wiggins was a starter from Day One until Turgeon decided to switch him up with Eric Ayala that paid huge dividends. He ended the season as the top reserve averaging 8.3 points, and shot 41 percent of his 3s in 23.5 minutes. In the following season, he was named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in the Terrapins’ Big Ten title run.

A player of lesser character would have taken the demotion differently. But Wiggins accepted it and embraced the role.

“It worked out pretty well because I ended up winning the Sixth Man of the Year, and we ended up the Big Ten champions. It worked out well for the greater good of the team,” Wiggins said. “I understood that it’s for the betterment of the team.”

That right mindset is what he intends to bring to the next level, knowing that he will need to work his way up again.

“I’m a guy that accepts the role that makes the team better. Whatever is necessary for the team. Whatever the coach believes, I am willing to be that guy and step into that role. I’m a guy who listens and does everything the right way,” he said.

Last season, Wiggins graduated from his bench role and returned to the Terrapins’ starting lineup. He was the team’s second-leading scorer behind Ayala. He averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals while shooting 36 percent from deep on a 25.3 percent usage rate.

As the season went deep, Wiggins emerged as the Terrapins’ best player.

“It was definitely a factor for me in stepping foot and going through the process. I think I finish really strongly, and I’ve earned the opportunity to be able to go into the whole deal,” Wiggins said.

Like his high school and college trajectory, Wiggins gradually improved his draft stock from the G League Elite Camp to the Draft Combine. His strong play has generated buzz among scouts and league executives who watched him in the scrimmages.

Needles to say, the feedback he received was so good that emboldened him to decide to keep his name in the Draft.

“Teams have liked me. They love my athleticism, my ability to guard on the defensive end, and everything I bring on offense. They really seem to like what I can bring to their team regarding my positive energy and my talent. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback and great information,” Wiggins said.

He is also scheduled to attend the massive workout to be co-hosted by the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves this weekend with the same mission.

“My goal is to just continue to prove to the teams that I have a lot more to offer than just what they were able to see when I was with the University of Maryland. I think I was just labeled as a sharpshooter, as a one-dimensional type of player,” Wiggins said.

In between pre-Draft workouts, he squeezes in a packed training schedule in Maryland, which includes watching and breaking down films of his past games and continue to polish his all-around game. On the court, h said his main focus is on improving his ball-handling, his ability to come off ball-screens and make the right reads, whether to create a shot for himself or make a play for his teammates and his shooting. He also keeps tabs on the NBA playoffs to choose and pick some stuff he wants to add to his game.

While Wiggins is one of the older guys in the Draft, Gatlin believes that will work to his former star’s advantage.

“I think he can go as far as he wants to go. He has the right mindset, and he’s determined,” said Gatlin, who is now an assistant coach for the High Point Panthers. “Aaron is just a driven and strongly-minded young man.”

Wiggins projects to be a two-way wing in the pros with his size. He measured at 6-foot-5 with shoes and has a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the Combine and recorded the fourth-fastest shuttle run (3 seconds) and sixth-fastest three-quarter sprint (3.04 seconds).

“Hundred percent [I fit the 3-and-D mold],” Wiggins said. “I think I have the ability to really shoot the ball well on the offensive end and with my athleticism and my creativity to get my own shots. And on the defensive end, I can guard multiple positions with my length and athleticism, footwork, and speed.”

His biggest takeaway from the whole pre-Draft process?

“You gotta be ready to play every single game. You gotta have the mindset of really go out and compete and play your hardest. That’s something that I’ve done my entire life,” Wiggins said.

It’s a routine that he’s enjoying a lot. Wiggins hopes it stays the same until after July 29.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Tom Thibodeau bares what Knicks are looking for in NBA Draft

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, 58th) in the upcoming NBA Draft. But the consensus around the league is that they will not be adding four more rookies to a core that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that belief on Friday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“For myself, I’m catching up. Our scouts have evaluated them. They put a lot of work into it. And then you have to be ready for all the possibilities — whether you move up, move back, or you trade out,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have met with some prospects who are mocked out of their range, such as projected lottery picks Scottie Barnes (FSU), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), James Bouknight (UConn), and Corey Kispert (Gonzaga).

They have to package some of their picks or a combination with one of their players under contract to move up.

Teams who could be willing trade partners are the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors have two lottery picks (7th and 14th), while the Thunder have three picks in the top 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are picking at No.3, are also rumored to be moving on from Collin Sexton as they can land either Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

But the Knicks are also prepared to stick with their picks, looking for two particular skill sets in this Draft.

“I love coming here for the opportunity to sit down and interview with players. You get to know them a lot better. So you’re still gathering information. You see who might be a good fit for you. And again, I think we’re looking for wings and guys who can shoot. So there’s a number of guys that we think are gonna be good pros. So there’s a lot of value here,” said Thibodeau.

So far, the Knicks have zero in on guards and wings who can score in a myriad of ways.

Aside from the five projected lottery picks mentioned above, they have also either interviewed or conducted a workout with Jared Butler (Baylor), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU), Ziaire Williams (Stanford), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Joshua Primo (Alabama), Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Alan Griffin (Syracuse), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Geo Baker (Rutgers), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State) and big men Trey Murphy III (Virginia), Luka Garza (Iowa), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech) and Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley).

“These players are remarkable and how well they present themselves. I think they’ve gotten used to this environment. I think the agents are doing a good job in preparing them. You’re also doing a lot more research. You’re talking to a lot of people around them. And then you’re seeing and evaluating whether all the intel matches up to what the players are saying,” Thibodeau said of the Draft process.

“A lot of times, you find a lot of interesting things. I think that’s an important piece of this. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a big part of determining who would fit into your group,” he added.

Last year, the Knicks successfully picked two rookies — Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — who were gym rats that seamlessly fit into Thibodeau’s culture. The past regimes have more misses than hits in the NBA Draft. But after team president Leon Rose beefed up the Knicks scouting department led by scouting guru Walt Perrin, there’s hope that the Knicks have a much better grasp of the process this time around.

On top of the specific skill sets they are looking for, the Knicks also value their background. They have cast a wide net, including unranked prospects, to have more intel which becomes useful down the road.

It’s a Perrin signature that his former team, Utah Jazz, did in trading for the likes of Jordan Clarkson.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

After workout with Knicks, Aaron Wiggins shines in G League Elite Camp

Maryland’s wingman Aaron Wiggins raised his Draft stock after an impressive stint in the NBA G League Elite Camp last weekend.

Wiggins was one of the unranked prospects who completed a workout with the New York Knicks ahead of the weekend’s camp.

Notably absent in most major outlet’s NBA Mock Draft, Wiggins certainly helped his case after averaging 13 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists on 59 percent shooting from the field, including 50 percent from 3-point range in just under 20 minutes in two scrimmage games.

Wiggins parlayed those impressive performances into an NBA Draft Combine invite to showcase his talent to a wider audience of NBA scouts and front-office executives.

The Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, and 58th) but it is unlikely that the team is eyeing him early in the Draft.

ESPN’s Draft analyst Jonathan Givony described Wiggins as a “Big wing-shooter who has good two-way versatility and nice upside to grow into.”

“[Wiggins] has the size, length, and frame and showed some things making shots in a variety of ways and doing other little things,” Givony added.

The Terrapins’ second-leading scorer was just one of the four prospects who advanced to the NBA Draft Combine. Joining him from the NBA G League Elite Camp are  Ohio State’s Duane Washington, South Carolina’s AJ Lawson, and Louisville’s Carlik Jones.

Wiggins was measured 6’4.5” without shoes and 6’5” with shoes, and 6’9.75” wingspan. He also recorded the fifth-highest vertical leap with a 36-inch leap.

During his junior season in Maryland, Wiggins averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.1 steals in 31 games to earn All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors. He shot 36 percent of his 3s on 5.2 attempts. Wiggins finished the season strong, posting averages of 17.9 points and 6.6 rebounds over his last 12 games including a career-high 27 points in a second-round loss to Alabama in the NCAA tournament.

The other prospects who worked out with the Knicks — Texas Tech’s Mac McClung and Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado — also had a solid showing though they fell short of getting invited to the NBA Draft Combine.

McClung led all players in the vertical jump with a 43.5-inch leap and a 3/4 court sprint in just 2.935 seconds, the fastest time since 2001. He scored 11 and 12 points in the two scrimmages while shooting 45 percent from the field and connected on 3-of-6 3s.

Alvarado averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 steals.

Sports Illustrated’s Draft analyst Jeremy Woo was impressed with Alvarado’s toughness.

“Jose Alvarado completely took over the fourth quarter of this first game at G League Camp. Biggest dog at this event. Great two days for him here,” he said.

Alvarado finished with 12 points and four assists in that game while shooting 50 percent from the field including 3-of-4 from deep. His team went 2-0.

Wiggins and Alvarado are still undecided and have until July 7 to make their decision whether to stay in the Draft or return to college. But Wiggins’ strong showing in the G League Elite Camp and if it continues in the Draft Combine might steer him to make the NBA jump now.

Aside from the Knicks, Wiggins also worked out with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and the Boston Celtics. He is eyeing at least three to four more workouts before July 7.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo