by Chris Hunt
The North Mecklenburg boys basketball team surprised many this season, jumping out to an 9-1 record. The Vikings’ hard-charging start can be attributed to many things.
There’s the scoring of senior guard Carlin Bremner, averaging more than 20 points per game, and the unselfish work of 6-foot-3 center Jermaine Forte, taking on much taller athletes. There’s also Kenny Tucker’s deadly outside shot, Tahjai Watt’s relentless work in the lane and Karl Barkley doing the little things.
All those players saw time last season and were expected to contribute. So what’s been the biggest difference between last year’s squad that finished next-to-last in the I-MECK 4A conference with a 12-10 record and this year’s version that sits in second place?
Well, that’s hard to explain, but it’s easy to spot the biggest surprise this season, which has to be the program’s newest addition: point guard Shivaughn Wiggins.
When Wiggins first walked into North Meck’s gym, his teammates weren’t impressed. Standing before them was a baby-faced, 5-foot-7 junior who looked more like the drummer of the school band than an electric, quick-twitch floor general.
This was going to be the Vikings’ answer at point guard?
The look in Wiggins’ new teammates’ eyes was nothing new. He said he’s been doubted many times, even before he ever thought about transferring to the 4A public school. Wiggins himself admits he’s normally the last guy players think about covering in a pick-up game.
North Meck’s Duane Lewis has seen it all in his 13 years as a high school basketball coach. He’s coached players with Division I talent and role players happy to chip in a few minutes for their school. But even Lewis was caught off guard by Wiggins’ unassuming image.
These days, however, Lewis knows better. He’s been impressed by Wiggins’ heady play and ability to manage the offense. Wiggins has already delivered double-digit games in points, rebounds and assists. After 10 games, he’s averaging 10.2 points and 7.4 assists per contest, but more important, he’s fit in nicely with his new teammates, dishing out at least nine assists in four games.
“He looks like a kid,” said Lewis. “On the first day of practice, some of the guys thought he was a freshman. But he’s strong and plays with intensity.
“He’s an assassin out on the court.”
What Wiggins’ statistics can’t show is how much of a competitor he is. A clue, however, can be found in his decision to leave Class 1A Lake Norman Charter after averaging more than 17 points per game. At Lake Norman Charter, he was the focal point of the offense. He could have stayed two more seasons and been content to be a big fish in a small pound.
But that’s not like the uber-competitive playmaker.
Last winter, Wiggins went to watch a 4A basketball game – it just happened to be North Meck against Vance. From the bleachers, he was impressed by the level of play and quality of the athletes at the larger schools. Wiggins left the game knowing that bigger challenges awaited him if he left his comfort zone and transferred to his home school, North Meck.
All he had to do after that was prove he belonged at the 4A level.
“I wanted to play basketball at its highest level,” said Wiggins. “I saw North Meck play, and I was impressed by the talent. I wanted to prove myself at that level.”
Turns out Wiggins didn’t have to worry about fitting in. He’s started at point guard since the season-opening 65-44 victory at Providence on Nov. 22. Not only has he solidified North Meck’s backcourt that struggled against heavy defensive pressure last season, he’s also applying some tough defense of his own. He’s already hit a season-high six steals twice. Wiggins chipped in four more thefts against Lake Norman on Dec. 12.
“Defense is all about heart, but you also have to be blessed with a few things,” said Lewis, “and Shivaughn has quick feet and he plays as hard in the first minute as he does in the 32nd minute. We didn’t teach him how to play defense – he had it before he got to North Meck.”
Move over, Carlin
Lewis also raves about Wiggins’ ability to raise his teammates’ level of play. There isn’t a more obvious example than what Wiggins has meant to North Meck’s Bremner, a four-year starter and the team’s leading scorer.
Last season, Bremner carried a heavy burden; not only was he expected to fulfill point guard duties, he was also asked to put the ball in the basket for an inexperienced squad. Bremner would work feverishly to bring the ball up the court against some of the top defenders in the I-MECK 4A, get everyone in the correct position and then find a way to score from the perimeter. He finished that exhausting season as the team’s second-leading scorer and made the all-conference team.
Looking back, it was just too much to ask of one player, regardless of his talent.
The addition of Wiggins allowed Bremner to move to shooting guard, freeing him to find sweet spots on the court for easier baskets. And, if teams now try to pressure the Vikings’ backcourt, which was a successful tactic last winter, North Meck has two reliable ball-handlers to overcome it.
Even in North Meck’s only loss of the season – to first-place West Charlotte, an I-MECK 4A opponent known for its pressure defense – the Viking backcourt shined. Under constant pressure, North Meck won the turnover battle, committing nine fewer than the Lions in a 51-40 loss that was a lot closer than it sounded. Now, instead of finishing in the I-MECK 4A basement as many predicted, the Vikings are expected to challenge for the league’s No. 1 spot.
Wiggins’ impact has also improved his teammates numbers. Lewis said Bremner is averaging the same number of points per game as last season, but strangely, his assists have improved. That might be because Bremner’s much fresher this season.
“With Shivaughn, I can save my energy because I don’t have to bring the ball up every possession of every game,” said Bremner. “I like to catch, I can shoot and I can score the ball. I can find open spots because I trust him enough to know he’ll find me and know when to kick it to me. It works well.”
A former Titan helps a Viking
Wiggins is small, but he has big dreams to play basketball in college. But he knew he’d have to show college recruiters he belonged at the Division I level by proving it on the court. That’s why he took this past summer so seriously.
A self-described gym rat who would rather pass on a high school party to work on his game, Wiggins logged countless hours at the YMCA gym. In an ironic twist of fate, a lot of that time was spent working with former Hopewell star De’Mon Brooks, who was preparing for his first season at Davidson College.
Both players faced similar situations: The 6-7 Brooks, a relentless post player in high school, had to prove that he could be a Division I power forward; Wiggins was eager to show he could play bigger than 5-7. Both had proven doubters wrong all their lives by outworking their opponents, but this was the summer before their greatest challenge yet.
“De’Mon is somebody I looked up to for how humble he is and how hard he works,” said Wiggins. “Last summer, he saw me at the gym and asked me to come out and work out with his trainer. When you work out with him, he won’t let you do anything unless it’s 120 percent. He’d make me re-do the drill if I didn’t go hard enough.”
Looking back on those summer workouts, Brooks said North Meck was getting a hard-working point guard who will control the tempo of the game and impact a team in countless ways.
Lewis believes the Vikings also got a point guard with Division I talent.
“Shivaughn is a Division I point guard – that’s the bottom line,” said Lewis. “College coaches all want someone who won’t turn the ball over under pressure. He can also get into the paint and finish.”
As everyone knows now, Wiggins can also play at the 4A level – even if he’s just 5-7 and doesn’t look like he owns a driver license yet.