Keith Gatlin, who played at Maryland from 1983-1988 and coached current Terp Aaron Wiggins in high school, says his former pupil is ready to take the next step in his development as a junior assuming the 2020-21 season is played.
Gatlin coached Wiggins at Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.). Wiggins’ play during his first two years at Maryland — he averaged 9.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game from 2018-2020 — reminded Gatlin of how Wiggins played at Wesleyan when he was on the same team as Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings) and Jaylen Hoard (Portland Trail Blazers).
The past two years, Wiggins has been a secondary scoring option to Anthony Cowan, Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith, but Gatlin believes Wiggins’ time to shine is coming with the departures of Cowan and Smith.
“Aaron is such a nice young man, he will not buck the system, and I mean that in a positive way,” Gatlin said on Glenn Clark Radio May 12. “I used to always tell him, ‘You can do more than just go and stand in the corner and shoot a three.’ And he would say, ‘Coach Turgeon’s style is Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith,’ and blah blah.
“I get that. But don’t just label yourself as a spot-up shooter, and I think this year, if there’s a season, he will show that he can do a lot more because he’s very talented. He can handle the ball, he can go pick and roll, he can shoot it, he can defend the ball. But he’s such a nice young man that you won’t see those qualities all the time.”
Wiggins’ 9.7 field goal attempts per game in 2019-20 were third on the team behind Cowan (11.5) and Smith (10.1). Wiggins is set to be one of the Terps’ top returners along with guards Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell and forward Donta Scott. Each of those players will be asked to step into a bigger role given the losses of Cowan and Smith, who accounted for 44.2 percent of the Terps’ points this past season.
Gatlin, now an assistant coach for the men’s team at High Point, says it’s time for Wiggins to assert himself on the offensive end and drive the ball more. In two years at Maryland, Wiggins has 552 field goal attempts to his name — and 317 of them (57.4 percent) are 3-pointers. Expanding his game will aid Wiggins in multiple ways, according to Gatlin. It’ll improve his outside shot — he shot 31.7 percent from three this past season after shooting 41.3 percent as a freshman — and it’ll help his pro prospects, too.
“He can shoot free throws, he can handle the ball, and when you get to the line, make four or five free throws and the basket gets bigger for you, then your shot becomes a little better,” Gatlin said. “It’s no disrespect to the kid, but you look at Kevin Huerter, what is he known as? A shooter. He’s a spot-up shooter, and if he doesn’t make his threes he’s not playing a lot for the Atlanta Hawks. I know that’s not right, but that’s how people start looking at things.”
Gatlin compared Wiggins’ situation to his own at Maryland. Gatlin averaged 8.9 points and 5.3 assists as a Terp, as Len Bias, Adrian Branch and Ben Coleman shouldered the scoring load for much of his time in College Park. Wiggins might not have wanted to step on any toes as a freshman or sophomore, but Gatlin says his time to lead the Terps is coming soon.
“Numerous times Lenny would tell me, ‘Hey, that ball better be swung to me.’ And Michael Jordan would say the same thing, ‘I’m going to shoot this last shot,’” Gatlin said. “And I think that goes a lot to say about a young man where you can live with the makes and you can live with the misses.”
To hear more from Gatlin, including his thoughts on Len Bias and Michael Jordan, listen to the full interview here:
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