Candice Wiggins: Closer Look

Though the NCAA Tournament dominates today's thoughts of Stanford Women's Basketball fans, <i>The Bootleg</i> likes to keep one eye on the future of the program. The 2004 signing class has brought excitement and buzz to fans, though the lady with the loftiest headlines has been 5'11" wing Candice Wiggins. Roland Hu recently had a chance to evaluate the San Diego star and shares his analysis here...

The year 2004 will mark an important turning point for the Women's Stanford Basketball program. It signals the end of the Nicole Powell era, perhaps the most dominating Cardinal player ever to emerge under the tutelage of coach Tara VanDerveer, as well as mark the beginning of the Candice Wiggins era, one of the most sought after high school players in the nation this season. Fans wondering who will replace the scoring, the rebounding and the all-star play of Powell will have to look no farther than Fall 2004, when Wiggins, a 5'11" wing out of San Diego, will begin her freshman year on the Farm. She will bring a blend of aggressive scoring, awesome athleticism, and charismatic star power to the Cardinal program.

The senior hailing from La Jolla Country Day School (La Jolla, CA) will enter the Stanford program with an amazing resume and impressive statistics.. She has been a participant of many prestigious summer camps, including the Nike All-America Camp (2001 & 2002) and the adidas Top Ten Camp (2003). Wiggins is also the three-time reigning San Diego Section Player of the Year. In late February, Wiggins was named a McDonald's High School All-American and will partake in their annual All-Star Game, which brings together 22 of the best players in high school from around the nation, including UConn signee Charde Houston, Tennessee recruit Candace Parker, and fellow future Stanford teammate Cissy Pierce. It is easy to see why Wiggins was tabbed as one of the best players in the country. Although missing nine games early in the season due to a bone bruise, Wiggins has shown that she is among the nation's best in all categories across the board. She is currently averaging 30.2 points a game and has a career point total of 3,180. Cheryl Miller's long-time California scoring record of 3,446 points, which San Diego native Charde Houston broke earlier this year, would have fallen to Wiggins had she not been injured. Factor in her average of 30 points a game times the 9 games she missed and she would have 3,450 points at this juncture of her season. In addition to her scoring prowess, she is averaging 11.1 rebounds, 6.85 steals, and 3.9 assists a game. Stanford is also getting another solid shooter, as Wiggins is 50.2% from the field, 43.3% from beyond the arc, and 82.8% from the charity stripe. Is there anything this young lady cannot do? As witnessed in the Southern California Regional Division IV semifinals against visiting Brentwood High School, the answer is a resounding "no," as Wiggins amassed 50 points (tying her school record with teammate Marissa Rivera), 16 rebounds, and 10 assists as her team won quite handily, 85-59.

The first thing you notice about Wiggins' game is that this girl loves contact. Her reputation as a scorer has mainly emerged with her talent for driving to the hoop and getting to the foul line. She is not afraid to draw contact and Cardinal fans will witness many acrobatic moves by Wiggins by the time she graduates in 2008. Though she appears rail thin, Wiggins is strong taking the ball to the basket with the strength to finish her shot. She also has great control of her body while in the air. On one play, Wiggins was pinned to the baseline near the three-point line with time on the shot clock winding down. All she did was maneuver herself past two defenders for the easy bucket. Her aggressive scoring mentality and willingness to create her own shot in tight situations will serve Stanford well, as the Cardinal have at times struggled to find anyone other than Powell to score. However, Wiggins' scoring is not limited to her slashing abilities. Although her jumper was not falling consistently against Brentwood, she has impeccable form and great follow through with her shot. With VanDerveer's teachings, Wiggins will learn to shoot the three more consistently, as the venerated Stanford coach has turned many players into legitimate long-bomb scoring threats, including Katy Steding, Lauren St. Clair, and Nicole Powell. Wiggins is a bona fide scoring threat from all facets of the basketball court.

Even with so many ways to put the ball in the hoop, Wiggins has shown she is much more than a scorer. Defense is another staple in Wiggins' game. She plays hounding defense that creates turnover after turnover. Her long arms not only make steals easy pickings for this La Jolla senior, but also make life hell for her opponents. Her great vertical leap and long arms also allow Wiggins to get up and swat balls away. Expect to see Wiggins' name near the top for steals in the Pac-10 next season. Her ability to pickpocket the opponent will add another dimension to the Stanford offense, as it will easily initiate fast break points. With Cissy Pierce coming in next year, expect Stanford to revert to the old "run and gun" style of play employed by the spectacular backcourt of Kate Starbird and Jamila Wideman back in the mid-1990's.

Another factor that sets Wiggins apart from her peers is her athleticism. She is an explosive scorer, with a quick first step to beat her defender. On one instance, Wiggins dribbled the ball the whole length of the floor with one defender draped all over her. At the free throw line, Wiggins turned on the afterburners and just left her defender in the dust as she made the easy lay-up. There were also many times where she was able to change directions on a dime to shake her defender. With these attributes, it is clear to see why she is able to easily penetrate the lane and either kick it out to an open teammate or score herself. Her athleticism also serves her well when rebounding. While there was no one over 5'11" on Brentwood's roster, she is a still a good rebounder, as she gets good position and is able to hold on to the ball. Her explosiveness allows her to get quickly off the ground and her reaction time is quick on missed shots. On a missed free throw, Wiggins was quick enough to get into the lane to grab the rebound and instantly took the ball to the hoop for the basket. Wiggins' athleticism is a sight to behold and will leave Stanford fans giddy with excitement next season.

For most of the game, Wiggins brought the ball up the floor. Wiggins has a high dribble, but she was able to keep it under control. Brentwood tried to press Wiggins as she crossed the half court line, but she was able to dribble her way out of the constant double team. There were a couple of times where she got out of control, losing the ball, but she recovered well on the loose balls. She sometimes did not utilize her open teammates and tried to take on the double-team herself, but be sure that VanDerveer will not let her make this mistake too often. Overall though, her ability to handle the ball was pretty effortless. Wiggins also displayed great court vision, as she constantly found open teammates in the paint with pinpoint passes. While Wiggins is known as a prolific scorer, she has no problems passing the ball to an open teammate. This unselfishness dissuades the perception that she is a ball hog, which was created with her high scoring average. Expect Wiggins to handle the ball a lot throughout her career at Stanford.

While there has been much debate regarding what position Wiggins will play, it is clear that she has the versatility to play anywhere she wants. Her shooting touch and ball handling skills allow her play any of the guard slots and her athleticism and rebounding could make her a post player in the pinch. She will most likely start off as a wing player, but expect to see her role expand as the season rolls on. There is no debate, however, in the fact that Stanford is getting a quality player who will make an immediate impact on the Stanford program and continue the legacy of great basketball players to play for the Cardinal.

Update

Candice Wiggins' La Jolla Country Day School advanced to the State title game last Saturday, when they defeated Marlborough High School, 78-45. Wiggins scored 41 points, as she went 7-of-14 from beyond the arc, including a half-court shot at the buzzer at the end of the third period. She will face Piedmont High School on March 19 at 2PM, which features Stanford 2005 prospects Courtney and Ashley Paris.


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