Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Wiggins vs. Parker: The Matchup The World Wants to See
The basketball world was deprived of the opportunity to see Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker this past summer at the Peach Jam because Parker missed the event with a foot injury.
But if the folks at ESPN really want to jack up ratings after All-Access Kentucky ends its controversial run Wednesday, here’s an idea for free.
They should set up a new reality show, All-Access: Wiggins vs. Parker, to decide once and for all who is the No. 1 player in high school basketball.
Now that Wiggins has announced plans to reclassify to 2013, the debate becomes so much more compelling since both guys are in the same class.
I polled several NBA scouts, Division I coaches and high school guys, and here’s an unscientific sampling of their thoughts on who would win such a hypothetical one-on-one game.
“Wiggins,” said one NBA Director of Scouting who believes the Canadian will be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. “He’s the best player in the world [in his age group], not the best player in the country. Who cares what player is No. 1? It’s where they end up.”
“Wiggins is more athletic and explosive,” one high-major D-1 assistant coach said. “He can be a great player on both ends of the floor.”
“Wiggins,” added another high-major assistant who is a former NBA player. “He can play on both ends of the floor. He has the ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor. Parker is an offensive talent.”
“I’ve got Jabari just because I cannot picture Jabari losing,” said a third D-1 assistant. “There’s just something about him that he’ll find a way to win at anything. He also has two inches on Wiggins and is a smart enough player to use that advantage.”
Huntington (W.V.) Prep coach Rob Fulford said he tried to set up a game this season between his — and Wiggins’s — team and Parker and Chicago Simeon, but the Illinois State Association wouldn’t let them do it.
“We tried,” Fulford said.
Asked who would win a Wiggins/Parker matchup, Fulford said, “Both are great players, great kids and both are going to be very rich. Nothing matters past that.”
Try telling that to Wiggins or Parker, though.
Wiggins was upset when Parker didn’t show at the Peach Jam and thus missed the matchup between Wiggins’s AAU team, CIA Bounce, and Parker’s Mac Irvin Fire.
“There’s been a lot of talk about who’s the best in the country and everything, so that would’ve gave a little idea who came out on top in that game,” Wiggins told me in a hallway at the Peach Jam after his team beat Julius Randle’s outfit.
Without Parker there, all Wiggins could do was outplay the 6-9 Randle, which he did by putting up a game-high 28 points and 13 rebounds as CIA Bounce beat Team Texas Titans, 81-80, in OT on July 20.
Asked afterward if he had made a statement about who the best player in high school basketball is, regardless of class, Wiggins said, “Everyone has different opinions. If they think I’m better, then that’s their opinion. I think I’m the best.”
He added: “I’ll put myself before anyone.”
If you think Wiggins’s passion along those lines has waned at all, think again.
Here’s what he told Eric Prisbell of USA today for a recent story.
“I just try to kill whoever is guarding me,” Wiggins said. “I don’t practice to play against people in high school like Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. I practice to play against guys in the NBA because I want to be better than them. I practice to beat the best player in the world because I want to be the best player in the world.”
What’s ironic about this whole situation is that even though Wiggins started out a year behind Parker by being in the Class of 2014, he may end up getting to the NBA first.
After Wiggins does his one year at Kentucky or Florida State or North Carolina, he will be in the 2014 NBA Draft, possibly as the No. 1 overall pick.
Yet because Parker may take his Mormon mission beginning next year, he may never step foot on a college campus. Parker could theoretically do his two-year mission beginning at age 18 and then head straight to the NBA two years later — perhaps for the 2015 NBA Draft.
Would he still be as attractive to the NBA at that point?
“Sure he would,” said the NBA Director of Scouting. “But he would unquestionably lose a bit of luster, having not played. But not playing for a year didn’t hurt [former Kentucky player Enes] Kanter that bad.”
Yet in the here and now of 2012, Wiggins has replaced Parker atop ESPN’s 2013 recruiting rankings.
Sonny Parker, Jabari’s father, can’t understand why.
“Based on what? That’s what I’m asking,” Sonny Parker told ESPNChicago.com. “Based on a few weeks of AAU? The AAU stuff is overrated. Jabari was the national freshman of the year, the national sophomore of the year, the Gatorade national player of the year as a junior.
“High school is more important to Jabari. He’s won three straight titles and wants to win a fourth this year. You talk about athleticism. Jabari can play the 1 through 5 at 6-foot-9. It’s just peoples’ opinions.”
Yes, and opinions are all we’ll have until the two meet on the court.
Your move, ESPN.
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.