OLDSMAR — In arguably the smallest, and most unique, gym in Tampa Bay on Friday night, one of the biggest, and most unique, basketball players came to win a game.
He wasn’t there to entertain, or to dunk, or to top off pretty spin moves in the lane with silky soft finger rolls.
He wasn’t there to provide YouTube with another million or so views.
He wasn’t there to score 30 points, unless needed.
He was there, simply, to win.
Just don’t tell any of the 600 or so fans who showed up at Oldsmar Christian to watch Andrew Wiggins, billed as the greatest high school basketball player in the world, do something magical.
Instead, the biggest crowd in school history had to settle for 17 points, including one pretty stepback 3-pointer from the corner, and a 64-46 win for Huntington (W. Va.) Prep, the country’s No. 1 basketball team according to USA Today, which is pretty good.
The 6-foot-8 Canadian star, who is projected as the top pick in next year’s NBA draft, didn’t look like the next LeBron James, as he has been called. He didn’t play like Canada’s version of Michael Jordan, as some have nicknamed him.
But he didn’t have to.
And he shouldn’t have to. Not every night. Not in every gym.
At Oldsmar Christian, in a gym that looks like a giant warehouse on the outside but is much smaller inside, just about every fan they could fit inside was there for the show.
Many sat quietly, so the place didn’t really buzz.
Maybe it’s the fact that bleachers are on just one side, facing a wall with a giant mural of an eagle, or there were no conflicting allegiances to provide a spark.
Or more likely, it was because it wasn’t your typical basketball crowd.
They weren’t there to really see basketball.
They were there to see Wiggins.
When he touched the ball, they held their breath.
He rolled into the lane after setting a pick, open for a split second. Everyone saw it. But not his teammate, so everyone groaned.
Another time, the second half of a give-and-go was not delivered, and one of the teenagers in the crowd let out an audible “auuurgh.”
And with time running out, Wiggins had the ball and a path along the baseline to the hoop.
“Here it comes,” said a guy on a step next to the court.
Wiggins showed off his 44-inch leap, but he was fouled before he could throw the ball through the hoop.
With 5.9 seconds left, he went to the line, and the crowd started to go home.
The son of former Florida State star and NBA veteran Mitchell Wiggins, and Marita Payne-Wiggins, a two-time silver medalist in track for Canada in the 1984 Olympics and an FSU standout, Wiggins is a senior who some say would be the first pick in this year’s draft if it were allowed.
But he’ll have to go to college for one season and is said to be choosing among his parents’ alma mater, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.
He doesn’t talk about the decision. He has visited FSU, and after he visits the others plans on shutting down all communication with the media while he decides.
Wherever he goes, fans of those schools show up, eager to help him with his decision.
Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said his team has played six games in Kentucky this season and more than 34,000 fans have showed up.
In other places in other states, gyms fill up.
Wherever he goes, there is no doubt it will be for just one season, and then on to the NBA, where most projections have him as the No. 1 pick in 2014.
Oldsmar Christian was the smallest gym Huntington Prep has played in, but the crowd had the same expectations.
A table was set up to accommodate almost a dozen college coaches, and media came from as far away as Tallahassee. Video crews were tracking his every move, waiting for that next viral play.
It was an event.
Wiggins was a draw for his all-around brilliance, but also for his breathtaking dunks. But he was fouled on both dunk attempts, settling for free throws instead.
Oldsmar Christian coach Jordan Fair called for the foul the first time Wiggins tried to dunk.
“Well, we were still trying to win," he said, smiling.
Afterward, Wiggins signed autographs, a nightly occurrence.
At the team’s practice Thursday night, he stayed to have his picture taken with a girls team that was practicing. On some nights, he can spend almost two hours after games signing balls, hats and programs.
“Nothing new,” said Fulford.
Fair is friends with Fulford, and they agreed to play a home-and-away series this year.
For Fair, it was a coup. A chance to provide his program with some exposure but also to provide a basketball memory for the area, which he doesn’t feel has enough of them.
“In my mind, I just feel like this is a monumental experience, for my kids and for my program,” Fair said. “There are people who will remember this forever. Remember getting his autograph or shaking his hand. I did this because it’s a heck of an experience.”
Oldsmar Christian guard Troy Holston will remember it.
He guarded, and was guarded by, Wiggins for much of the game.
“I told everyone I was going to guard him,” Holston said. “This is what we practice and work hard for. It was pretty amazing.”
With three minutes left, he got out in front of Wiggins on a break and charged toward the hoop.
“I could feel him behind me,” he said, but he never let Wiggins catch all the way up, drawing a foul and scoring the layup to pull his team with nine points. He joked he would tell his grandkids about it one day.
It was as close as Oldsmar Christian would get to pulling off an upset.
But it didn’t matter.