Long before Maryland men’s basketball’s 2018 recruiting class was ranked No. 7 in the nation and best in the Big Ten, it featured just one player.
Over a year ago, on June 3, 2017, four-star wing Aaron Wiggins committed to the Terps, becoming its first commit and starting the momentum on what’s become a loaded group. The class’ highest-rated signee, five-star Jalen “Sticks” Smith, would commit a month later, cementing the two as the cornerstones of the class.
When he committed, and even as recently as April, he wasn’t expected to be a starter his freshman year. Kevin Huerter was projected to test his stock and return, and reprise his role as the team’s Swiss Army knife for one more season. Then the combine happened, shifting expectations for the team accordingly.
Wiggins’ sharpshooting, versatility and quick rise is reminiscent of Huerter’s a couple cycles ago. Now, with Huerter essentially a lock to go in the first round of this month’s NBA Draft, the 6’6 wing profiles as the top candidate to replace a bulk of that production, warranting a reintroduction.
So who is Aaron Wiggins?
Head coach Mark Turgeon found the High Point, North Carolina, native via a former Terp, Keith Gatlin, who nows spends his days coaching Wesleyan Christian Academy in North Carolina. Wiggins wasn’t even the most high-profile recruit on his own team: that honor went to five-star Wake Forest commit Jaylen Hoard. Nevertheless, Turgeon saw something he liked in Wiggins’ game and honed in on him.
As Gatlin told the Baltimore Sun:
“They would come to our open gyms and say, ‘This [Hoard] is the one I want,’ “ Gatlin said. “Arizona to California to Kansas, you name it. I always laugh about. Coach Turgeon came down the first time and said, ‘That’s the one right there.’ He bee-lined on Aaron.”
When Turgeon first offered, Maryland was only the second high-major school to do so. By the time his commitment came in, he had seen his ranking boost into the top 100 and raked in offers from the likes of Kansas, Florida, Virginia and numerous others. He committed as the No. 62 prospect in the class, and continued to rise to the No. 39 spot by the time the cycle ended.
How does he play?
Having seen Wiggins finish the Capital Classic with 30 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks and take home MVP, three parts of his game stood out: his shooting, his transition game and his athleticism.
Like Huerter, the most polished part of Wiggins’ game heading into college is his shot. During senior All-Star season, the wing participated in the three-point contests at the McDonald’s All-American weekend and the Iverson Roundball Classic. Just about every one of his in-game highlight tapes features his long ball, and he nailed each of his four attempts in his MVP performance. His release isn’t the quickest, but there’s a smooth consistency to his form.
His one-on-one game is also pretty polished, having taken home the King of the Court crown at the Iverson Classic, but he’s always a threat in transition. He sees the floor well and can take it to the rim, pull up for three or fire off a pass with equal effectiveness.
Smooth is a word that describes Wiggins’ game well. He’s surprisingly athletic, only because he never looks like he’s expending much energy. His athleticism translates on both ends as well. Whether it’s going up for a dunk or a help-side block, he leaves the floor with little effort. He shows solid defensive instincts and signs of being able to translate that to the next level.
Sum up his game in a quote
“I just consistently have something to prove,” Wiggins told Testudo Times after the Capital Classic. “Everybody’s going to come at me. I know I have a ranking in the ESPN, I’m highly ranked in a couple different things, so I know every single player, whether they’re ranked high or not, they’re going to come at me. So I just gotta go out and hold my own. I gotta be able to consistently be able to play in attack mode, do what I do.”
So what should fans expect?
Despite all the similarities and comparisons (yes, even the ones in this story), it’s unreasonable to expect Wiggins to immediately come in and take Huerter’s place. The most realistic lineup, at this point, has Anthony Cowan reprising his pick-and-roll partnership with Bruno Fernando, with Darryl Morsell and Wiggins holding down the wing slots and Smith playing next to Fernando on the block.
While Morsell has showcased an improved shot in workout videos, Wiggins will likely be relied upon as the main floor stretcher in that lineup. Cowan can fire but, while being called upon to run the offense, will have limited open looks. Smith and Fernando have both shown that they can hit threes, but it’s yet to be seen how often they’ll launch those in game situations. That leaves Wiggins to showcase the skill that got him recruited.
Wiggins won’t be an immediate fix-all for losing Huerter, but looks to be built from a similar Swiss Army knife-type mold.