Antwaine Wiggins a reason for College of Charleston fans to smile
Antwaine Wiggins, the only senior on the College of Charleston men's basketball team, has had Cougar fans talking since he arrived from Greeneville, Tenn.
They talk about his shooting. They talk about his defense. They even talk about the different hair styles he has sported throughout his career.
They sometimes cringe when Wiggins launches a 3-point shot. The coaching staff has worked on his knuckleball flight, and he has improved every year.
As a freshman, Wiggins was hitting 26.7 percent from behind the 3-point line, while this season he has hit 36.3 percent. Only freshman Anthony Stitt, who has missed 12 games, has a higher percentage (38.3).
The Cougars count on Wiggins to shut down the opponent's top offensive threat. The lanky 6-8 forward cemented his reputation as one of the league's best defenders when he blocked a potential game-winning shot by Davidson's Stephen Curry, now an NBA standout, during his sophomore season.
This year, because of injuries and foul problems, Wiggins has even been called upon to play point guard.
Interim coach Mark Byington
remembers all of Wiggins' accomplishments and says he is one of the most versatile players ever at the school. But one thing that stands out above all is his attitude.
"When we were recruiting him, I remember his smile," Byington said. "Antwaine has a unique ability. When you're yelling at him he's going to look back at you and smile. When you tell him a joke, he's going to look back at you and smile. He's got a great sense of humor, where everybody wants to be around him. And he's had some tremendous basketball moments," Byington said.
Wiggins, who missed the 2009-10 season because of a torn ACL, wants to continue to add to that legacy, beginning with today's 8 p.m. game against Georgia Southern at TD Arena, the final home game of his career. His goal, he said, is to help the College of Charleston win a Southern Conference Tournament Championship, something that hasn't happened since 1999.
"It's been a great experience," said Wiggins, who expects to graduate this spring with a sociology degree. "We've won a lot of big games, had a lot of great crowds. I've loved every minute and I'm going to cherish every second the rest of the way."
Wiggins said he could not single out the most memorable game. He remembered the College of Charleston's win over Davidson and Curry in 2008-09. He recalled the Cougars' win over North Carolina, in 2009-10, even though he was on the bench because of his ACL injury. As a junior, the Cougars crushed Tennessee in Knoxville, a gratifying win since he grew up just a few miles away from the Tennessee campus but was not recruited by the Volunteers. This season he scored 24 points in a second win over the Volunteers, in front of the home crowd at TD Arena.
Wiggins said his five years in Charleston have flown by. And while there have been more ups and downs this season than he would have liked with injuries to other key players and the decision by head coach Bobby Cremins to take a medical leave of absence, he feels like the Cougars are coming on strong at the right time of the year.
"Coach Byington has done a great job with the team and program," said Wiggins, adding that the injuries have allowed the Cougars to develop a little more depth which could be a factor during the tournament. The Cougars are in fourth place, meaning they will not enjoy a first-round bye, and no team has won four straight games in the tournament.
"I think we've turned it around from how it was in the middle of the season. I feel pretty confident going into the next few games before the tournament. I want to finish out strong and give the city something to be happy about."
Byington said he will try to keep Wiggins' focus on tonight's game and not the emotion of playing his last home game.
"There will be a lot of distractions, a lot of different feelings," Byington said. "Try to focus each possession on what you're supposed to do.
"Antwaine has had a great year for us. He can be proud of what he's done to this point. I hope the team plays well for him. I hope he plays well and I hope he's got some more shining moments in his career."
--Stitt, who was averaging 9.7 points for the College of Charleston before being sidelined with a broken hand in the Cougars' Jan. 12 loss to UNC Greensboro, returned to practice Monday and is expected to play in tonight's game, Byington said.
"He's a tremendous athlete and very intelligent," Byington said. "We've changed a lot since he's been gone. He doesn't have to come in and be great. We need him to come in an give us solid minutes and that will help our team.
"We'll have another ball-handler on the floor. He can play with (point guard) Andrew Lawrence or give Andrew Lawrence a break. He's another guy who can make plays, another good defender. I don't know how long it will take him to get comfortable, but hopefully it will be (today)."