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Success won't spoil Stanford's Wiggins

STANFORD, Calif. -- Not until Candice Wiggins made a brief stop at home last summer did she realize how many people paid attention to her sensational freshman season at Stanford.

Strangers approached while she feasted on fish tacos at her favorite Mexican food place, at the shopping mall, and when she ran errands.

''I was in San Diego for about 10 days," Wiggins said. ''I think that's when it settled in, when you have people from home, and who you knew before, constantly come up to you and tell you what a big deal you are. That means a lot."

Wiggins has been a big deal for years, and last season not only earned conference Freshman of the Year honors but became the first freshman to be named Pac-10 player of the year.

Tara VanDerveer, in her 20th year coaching at Stanford, predicted all along that the 5-foot-11 1/2-inch guard could be the most athletic player to come through her program.

''The best thing about Candice is she's a very humble person," VanDerveer said. ''She doesn't have medal-itis, when you have too much hardware. For some freshmen, the worst thing that can happen is they have too much success."

Wiggins comes by her talent naturally. She is the daughter of the late Alan Wiggins, a former major league baseball player who abused drugs and died of complications from AIDS at 32, about a month before Candice turned 4. She is playing in his honor, determined to repair his tarnished image.

And Wiggins has big plans to get better as a sophomore. The rest of the league coaches are quick to say that Stanford will keep winning as long as Wiggins is on campus wearing Cardinal red.

When Wiggins arrived last fall, she insisted she had no idea what to expect at the college level -- though everyone around the Stanford program had little doubt she would fit in just fine.

Wiggins led the Cardinal in scoring with 17.5 points per game. She also averaged 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.4 steals, and even blocked 19 shots to help Stanford reach the round of eight in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. She was a second-team All-American.

''I felt that I was kind of raw," Wiggins said. ''It's really different coming into a season not knowing what to expect and just sort of going off intangible things like playing hard and being competitive. Now, sort of seeing the game from a different perspective, you're more mature and you handle things differently."

Wiggins headed into the offseason with quite a to-do list: Shoot better. Improve decision making. Cut down on silly mistakes and fouls. She spent the summer honing her skills with the Under-19 US World Championship team, which won gold in Tunisia.

''She had a big summer and played a lot of games. And if you know anything about Candice, when she plays, she plays hard," teammate Clare Bodensteiner said. ''I didn't know how much better she could get. She's relentless out there."

Stanford is the four-time defending Pac-10 champion, also winning the conference tournament crown the past three seasons. The Cardinal are picked to win the conference again.

Wiggins is among the most experienced players on the roster after Stanford lost five seniors. Her breakout game came Jan. 31, when she scored a career-high 31 points at Arizona State and also had career bests of 6 assists and 6 steals.

''When I had Teresa Edwards, I looked out and said, 'We're not going to lose,' " VanDerveer recalled of the 1996 US Olympic team she coached to a gold medal. ''I look out there and feel that way with Candice. She wills winning. She wills winning with her teammates."

Wiggins certainly looks tough enough despite a soft-spoken nature. Her nails are painted bright pink, she's sporting a tongue ring, and when her hair is pulled back in a ponytail for practice, the scar along her left eye becomes more noticeable.

As a girl, Wiggins was hit by a car backing out of a driveway, and the accident left her with a 2-inch scar from her left eye to her cheekbone. Her dad died a few months later.

Wiggins hopes one day people will remember her father as the sparkplug for the 1984 San Diego Padres, who reached the World Series. He stole a club-record 70 bases that year, but his drug addiction defines his career.

Her brother, Alan Jr., plays basketball for the University of San Francisco. When Candice was a seventh-grader, they were on the same AAU team; she started and he didn't.

At La Jolla Country Day School, Wiggins led her team to two state titles and two second-place finishes, averaged 30.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 6.3 steals as a senior, and also was a volleyball and track star.

As in everything she does, Wiggins likes the idea of the Cardinal counting on her to carry the team.

''That's the way I want it," she said. ''It drives me to go hard every day in practice. I like to compete all the time. I love it. It's a lot of pressure, but I feel like I wouldn't have it any other way."

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