Posted Jun 27, 2014 12:08 AM
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- They were officially linked for NBA eternity Thursday night, the No. 1 pick and the No. 2 pick in proceedings at Barclays Center, now playing about a one-hour plane ride apart, the small forward who left college after one season as a star recruit and the small forward who left college after one season as a star recruit, the product of the basketball cathedral at Kansas and the product of the basketball cathedral at Duke.
Andrew Wiggins, the Jayhawk bound for Cleveland, and Jabari Parker, the Dukie headed to Milwaukee, can deny the connection all they want, and they did. It's done, though. A compare-contrast that will last for years, through Central Division winters and two teams trying to build into playoff regulars, the son of former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and the son of former NBA player Sonny Parker, one similarity on top of another.
"Good players will always be compared to each other, but I never think of anything as a rivalry," Andrew Wiggins said after becoming the second Canadian in a row to be picked first, following Anthony Bennett to the same Cavaliers in 2013. "I think that's what the media portrays it to be. On the court, [it] doesn't matter who I'm going against, I'm going to go hard. I'm going to go to win and kill. Off the court, we can be friends, but on the court, it's a different story. I'll never treat one person differently on the court. Whoever is guarding me, whoever I'm guarding, I'm just going to win."
No, no rivalry. But it became a storyline destined to be tracked once the Cavaliers made their decision of Wiggins at No. 1 and the Bucks followed by taking Parker, keeping the two best healthy prospects in the Draft, with Joel Embiid needing to come back from two serious injuries, grouped.
Wiggins, described by one executive as having "all the athletic ability of some of the great names that ever played the game"; Parker perhaps headed to power forward in Milwaukee amid questions whether he has the athleticism to play small forward and because the Bucks already have Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Parker as the most NBA-ready of the top prospects, the safer pick; Wiggins with the higher ceiling -- the limitless ceiling -- but not as polished.
The face-to-face contrasts, the way the strength of one is a weakness of the other, makes the link even more compelling moving forward. Plus there is the other similarity both would prefer to leave in college: executives and scouts wondered often in 2013-14 why Wiggins did not seem to play hard all the time and why Parker was not in great shape, both when it was understood they were probably auditioning for pro jobs as a one-and-done, both while at demanding programs that face the scrutiny of some NBA markets.
A friendly rivalry, Parker conceded.
"Yeah," he said. "When we're off the court, we're good friends. But when it's on the court, it's up to us to keep that business going."
He wasn't feeling the historical significance.
"No," Parker said. "Not at all."
That will come. He'll get the million-and-first question in the regular season about the upcoming game against the Cavs, or about going head-to-head with Wiggins, or the parallel careers from have ex-NBA players as oathers to entering college and the pros at the same time, to, of course, being the top two picks on Thursday night.
In the news that will soooooo excite them, it won't be a long wait either -- Milwaukee vs. Cleveland, July 11, Cox Pavilion, UNLV. The first day of the Las Vegas Summer League.
"I think college really prepares you for a level like this, especially a big-time basketball school like Kansas or a Duke or a Kentucky, where you're always under the spotlight," Wiggins said. "You always have to watch your surroundings and watch what you do. You're basically treated like a rock star on campus or wherever you go in that state. I think that really translates to the NBA."
The background should help. The family background may help. More than anything, though, they're in this together. That may have been some vague connection before, but it became official Thursday.
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