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

What Happened In The Big Ten On The First Saturday?

The first full weekend of college football is done, and teams from the Big Ten finally kicked off their seasons with some exciting matchups. Some of them were projected from the start to be great games. Others, like Penn State versus Appalachian State, were simply a case of an underdog turning up and not bowing down to the favorite. And then there were some games that were just strange, like the 108 point clash between Ohio State and Oregon State.

What were the biggest moments from the first Saturday?

Matt Canada starts off with a win as Maryland head coach

Maryland is not the team that most would have picked to pull off an upset. Especially not over a team that should have been at least somewhat wary, after losing to the Terrapins last year. But despite all the drama around the team’s coaching staff, and the fairly recent suspension of D.J. Durkin, the team pulled together and managed an upset win in honor of Jordan McNair.

It was a close game but it was one that Texas trailed most of the time. Maryland kept Texas from gaining the lead until the later part of the third quarter, and even then, they would take it back near the start of the fourth. Their quarterback situation was lamented going into the season, and yet Maryland starter Kasim Hill had a higher completion percentage and passer rating than Texas QB Sam Ehlinger. Additionally, Hill threw for no interceptions, while Ehlinger had two.

Despite the game being stopped for over an hour because of the weather, Maryland was able to hold the lead throughout most of the fourth quarter to secure the win. It’s a win that will greatly help the resume of Matt Canada, a figure that many have mixed opinions about after his failed stint at LSU. Now, however, he has a 1-0 record while acting as head coach.

Penn State beats Appalachian State, but not in the way they wanted

The Nittany Lions did what was expected of them and they dispatched their visiting opponents from Appalachian State, but just about nobody within the Penn State fanbase would like to repeat a performance like that anytime soon. It didn’t exactly make the team look good, after all.

Trace McSorley is one of the Heisman favorites this year, and Miles Sanders should be a good enough replacement for number two overall draft pick Trace McSorley, but none of Penn State’s stars really looked like themselves for this game and the offense was sluggish for much of it. The 45 point output doesn’t tell the actual story of the game, because Penn State only did as much as they needed and not even a tiny bit more.

They only managed ten points in the first half, after all. The third quarter went Penn State’s way, but allowing 28 points in the fourth quarter isn’t going to fly when playing against conference opposition, especially elite opponents like Michigan State and Ohio State. On the bright side, the team showed a good amount of resilience to take over during the OT period and put an end to the game.

But everyone, both fans of Penn State and fans of their rivals, know that it never should have reached that point. If the Nittany Lions want to keep their spot in the rankings, they’ll certainly have to avoid letting lower ranked opponents play up to their level as the Mountaineers did.

Michigan State gets past Utah State… Barely

Penn State isn’t the only highly ranked Big Ten team to have some trouble with a nonconference opponent that everyone overlooked. Michigan State was picked by Vegas as the second most likely team to win the Big Ten East, but they had a scare at the hands of Utah State regardless.

Like Penn State, the Spartans did enough to win the game but didn’t do enough to please their fans and critics, their pass defense failing to close out Utah State and quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing an interception that would be returned for a touchdown. The running backs didn’t have the best game either, with top back L.J. Scott finishing with less than 100 yards on 23 carries.

Furthermore, the winning run didn’t come until there were about two minutes left in the game. That kind of close margin just isn’t what any top team wants out of a nonconference game like this, and you can be sure the Spartans will make some tweaks going into their next game.

Will they have a better defensive performance over an Arizona State team that put up 49 points in their season opener? That’s a question that will loom large going into their west coast road trip this Saturday.

Maryland Football: Will The Terrapins Clean House Following McNair Death?

When Maryland Terrapins offensive lineman Jordan McNair died in June, most assumed that it was a tragically random incident, the kind of thing that can be chalked up to bad luck. Maybe McNair had hidden medical problems that the team wasn’t aware of. Maybe it was an honest mistake and the medical staff didn’t take enough precautions for practicing in the heat.

Diving into the Maryland Terrapins’ Jordan McNair situation:

Now, however, we know more about the situation. The story is still developing, and there may be more twists and turns before a full conclusion is reached, but it looks like the real answers are darker than those alternative theories. An ESPN article recently shed much more light on what things may be like inside the University of Maryland football program, and if everything in the article is true, it’s quite damning for a number of people within the program.

Strength and conditioning coach Rick Court will stand out as one of the figures that will likely be axed, but head coach D.J. Durkin played just as much of a role in what happened and was placed on administrative leave by the school shortly after the article was released. Usually, administrative leave is only used when a coach is in danger of imminent firing.

It’s a complex situation, because tough coaching is something that happens all over football. In a violent game, aggressive coaching is expected. But the Maryland football staff under D.J. Durkin went above and beyond strict coaching, conducting psychological warfare against their own players as well as pushing players to continue training up to and beyond the point of injury.

Durkin’s no-nonsense approach was one of the reasons why Maryland fans were initially excited about the hire. But not many could have predicted the dark side that would come with that. “They’re joined at the hip. They’re the same. They use the same language and the same classification,” a source told ESPN, speaking about strength coach Rick Court and head coach D.J. Durkin.

Court, as well as trainers Wes Robinson and Steve Nordwall were placed on administrative leave not long before Durkin himself was. Assuming no new details come up to exonerate anyone, all of them are as good as fired. However, it’s less than a month before the season, so who should the Terrapins turn to now?

Matt Canada was on Durkin’s staff, but only arrived as offensive coordinator this year and likely didn’t have the time to pick up many habits from Durkin. He was named the interim head coach, but like all interim coaches, it’s not a guarantee that he keeps the job permanently.

Previously working as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU, Pittsburgh, NC State, Wisconsin, and other schools, Canada has had mixed results but performed especially well in Pittsburgh. In contrast, he struggled more at LSU and appeared to not be a great fit for the preexisting scheme.

Most importantly for Maryland, though, Canada is already on the staff and can serve as head coach this season if the athletics department can’t bring in someone more experienced before the start of the season. However, he lacks ties to the state and that doesn’t spell good results in local recruiting going forward. It’s not easy to talk local families into sending their sons to Maryland, after everything that’s happened.

Another potential option is Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, who already coaches in the state of Maryland and has found success with one of the toughest jobs in all of college football. Navy went 11-2 under Niumatalolo in 2015, and had a winning record in each of the last two seasons, winning the Military Bowl in 2017 after going .500 in the American conference.

It also seems that Niumatalolo isn’t averse to looking for a bigger job, as he was in the running to become the coach of the Arizona Wildcats before player protests shot that idea down. His triple option would work better at Maryland than it would at Arizona, though, and would take advantage of the athleticism of the Terrapins’ two top quarterbacks this year, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill.

Will Maryland even make a coaching change, though? The investigation is still ongoing, and while the report from ESPN looks like the nail in the coffin for the current staff, everyone doesn’t see things the same way as the article does. A number of fans within the Maryland fanbase have accused ESPN writer Heather Dinich of having a bias against the team, and even if those claims are dismissed, there’s a statement from Will Muschamp that counters the testimonies from the article.

“There is no credibility in anonymous sources. If that former staffer had any guts, why didn’t he put his name on that? I think that’s gutless. In any football team, especially right here in August, you can find a disgruntled player that’s probably not playing. I think it’s a lack of journalistic integrity to print things with anonymous sources. I know D.J. Durkin personally. I know what kind of man he is,” said Muschamp, who was the head coach at Florida back when Durkin was the defensive coordinator.

It’s also worth looking beyond the coaching staff and examining the people who hired Durkin in the first place, regardless of if Durkin is fired or not. Durkin has coached Maryland since 2016, and Jordan McNair’s death came in June. But it’s only just now that the school is doing something. If the allegations against the coaching staff are true, it’s hard to believe that Athletic Director Damon Evans as well as others in the upper ranks of the university knew nothing about what was going on.

“The athletics director and the head coach are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of our student athletes. For there to be reports of purposefully unsafe conditioning practices built on the foundation of verbal abuse, fear, and humiliation, even after the death of a teenager in their care, is the definition of inexcusable,” said Ben Jealous, who is currently in the running to become the Governor of Maryland.

Whether the full coaching staff is axed over the findings of the ongoing investigation into McNair’s death or not, the entire situation isn’t a good look for Maryland football. It’s unlikely that the statements from former players are entirely fabricated, even if it turns out that some details were exaggerated. Additionally, recruiting will be much harder following the death of a player.

It seems impossible that every loose end will be tied up in this case before the season starts next month, and one can only hope that those in charge at the University of Maryland can bring about the best outcome for the ones that are the most affected by it all, the players.

Big Ten: The Maryland Quarterback Race Will Resume Where It Left Off Last Year

Maryland was in an interesting place last year. They finished with a 2-7 record in the Big Ten, but they didn’t have any help from luck. Things actually started off good for them, and devolved as the season continued for a bit. The first game of the season was a 51-41 victory over the Texas Longhorns, in Austin nonetheless.

However, the Terrapins only went three quarters before they lost their starting quarterback. After completing nine out of his twelve passes and throwing for a 75% completion percentage, along with 175 yards and two touchdowns, Tyrell Pigrome tore his ACL and ended up out for the season with that injury.

A quarterback that could change the narrative for Maryland football:

Enter Kasim Hill, the backup that would help Maryland hold onto the win despite only throwing three passes. It looked like the starting job had fallen into his lap, and Hill did good enough in the Texas game and scored a rushing touchdown to help ensure the win, but he didn’t have the best of fates either.

Hill completed 13 of 16 passes and threw for two touchdowns against in state opponent Towson in the second game of the season, but would only have a chance to complete two passes in the Terrapins’ loss to UCF. It looked like a routine hit, but it turns out Hill had torn his ACL after being flushed out of the pocket and brought down by a couple of UCF defenders.

Now, both quarterbacks that played in the upset against Texas are in the same position, rehabbing from the same injury and competing for a starting spot once again. Hill is the favorite to win the job, according to the odds from BetsDSI. While Pigrome was the starter coming into the season, he’s not necessarily the more experienced player. The Texas game was his second career start, after all.

Neither QB is going to win by just throwing the ball, even though Pigrome did get two passing touchdowns in the Texas game. He’s an option quarterback at heart and only attempted one more pass than rush. However, his use of his legs means that for him to be most effective, he needs a good offensive line opening up lanes and keeping linebackers out of the backfield. That’s something that Maryland doesn’t have, at least not when they’re facing high level opponents within the conference.

Kasim Hill is the bigger and heavier of the two, and if Maryland uses an offense this year that features designed running plays for the quarterback, it looks like he’s the better option. There’s not much reason to prefer Pigrome over the larger Hill in that kind of offense, especially when Maryland doesn’t have the blocking to keep their quarterbacks from being hit early on running plays.

Throwing the ball is what you think of when you rank quarterbacks, but they’re about even on that front. If anything, Hill showed his willingness during the Towson game to throw the ball at a variety of ranges rather than running as a first option. But Towson isn’t an FBS defense, let alone one of the better ones in the Big Ten East.

It looks like Maryland’s quarterback this year will be Hill, just because he can likely do a bit more in the kind of offense that the Terrapins might run this year. But unlike some of the other teams in the conference, Maryland isn’t one that’s ready to have a huge jump after finding their man at QB.

No, they’re on a journey rather than a sprint. This is just one piece of that larger puzzle.