I took a six-day trip last week to catch six of the top programs in America. I was also able to see six of the top 18 players on Chad Ford's most recent Top 100 draft board. I caught the Kansas freshman trio of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden, got a look at Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart's development and also watched guys like Glenn Robinson III, Montrezl Harrell, Adreian Payne and Noah Vonleh. Both Mitch McGary (back) and Gary Harris (ankle) were injured and did not practice.
We'll start with the guy who ranks atop most draft boards -- Andrew Wiggins.
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Andrew Wiggins will be a very good NBA player someday, but he's a long ways away. It's completely unfair to put the supposed prize of the 2014 NBA draft class in the same sentence as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
During one three-hour practice, Wiggins misfired on jumper after jumper, took plays off and was practically invisible. Sure, he showed glimpses of the athleticism that have some putting him in elite company with NBA superstars. He's been blessed with incredible talent -- the length, quickness and athleticism that few possess even at the NBA level.
But Wiggins eventually blended in during the practice last week. It wasn't the first time he's disappeared. In fact, Kansas coaches maintain that the 6-foot-8 Canadian has yet to be the best player on the floor in any of their practices thus far. To take it one step further, he's rarely even one of the best two or three players on the floor.
"I want to get him to start playing hard all the time and also playing to his athletic ability," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He doesn't do it consistently."
NBA scouts who have passed through Lawrence told me that they are unsure why everyone has labeled Wiggins as the clear-cut No. 1 overall pick.
"I certainly wasn't blown away by him," said one high-ranking NBA executive. "He was just OK. Average. I'm just not buying all this no-brainer stuff about him being the No. 1 pick. I just don't see it yet."
The Jayhawks have talent. Make no mistake about it. There are two other freshmen, skilled 7-footer Joel Embiid and 6-foot-5 shooting guard Wayne Selden, who could play their way into June's NBA lottery.
But Wiggins is supposed to be the prize of a loaded 2014 NBA draft. He shouldn't just blend in; he should be dominating.
I saw James in high school, watched Durant as a freshman at Texas and have seen other No. 1 picks such as John Wall and Kyrie Irving countless times. Those guys dominated nearly every time out, whether it was practice or a game.
To be sure, I like Wiggins -- both as a person and as a player. However, the expectations are too high for him, and I'm not sure he can handle it. Durant was quiet off the court, but not like Wiggins. In the span of a 15-minute interview, Wiggins spent much of the time looking at the ground. It wasn't just me, either. Others who have interviewed Wiggins lately had the same experience.
But this isn't about his lack of interviewing skills. Wiggins' effort is inconsistent, and while he could get away with that at the high school level at Huntington (W.Va.) Prep and in summer ball, he won't be able to do it in college -- and certainly not in the NBA.
"Maybe he'll wind up getting there this season, but he's a long, long way off right now," said another NBA guy who came through Lawrence in the preseason. "He looks like just another player. I've seen him a few times in the past, and to be honest, he hasn't been off-the-charts any of those times. I love his athleticism, but I worry about his intensity -- as well as other aspects of his game. He doesn't shoot it great, and he's got zero aura about him. Again, I'm not saying he can't get there -- but people are making far more of this kid than they should."
Wiggins is a freakish athlete, but there are plenty of high-level athletes in the NBA. Josh Smith is a high-level athlete, but that doesn't mean he'll ever be an NBA superstar.
Wiggins is a mediocre shooter. I'd guess he'll shoot somewhere around 30 percent from beyond the arc this season. Although he's an elite athlete and has terrific body control, his ballhandling also needs work. Once he refines his handle, he could be extremely effective in the half court. Right now, though, he has difficulty getting by defenders in tight spaces.
Wiggins hasn't looked the part of a future NBA star, but it's still early.