The flight to Madrid had dragged on for nearly half a day, cramped and mind-numbing. Then came a three-hour bus ride. By the time the Canadian teenagers arrived at the basketball gym in Spain, they were jetlagged from the trans-Atlantic travel and stiff from a claustrophobic journey across the Spanish countryside.

Roy Rana, the coach of the Canadian U-17 national team, had modest expectations for this pretournament matchup with Spain before the start of the 2010 World Championships in Hamburg, Germany. If his boys could break a sweat and survive the day, that would be fine.

But as a quiet and lithe 15-year-old walked into the gym, Rana sensed a different vibe from the youngest player on the team. Andrew Wiggins was playing in his first international event for his home country, and he wasn’t about to slough off a game on the world stage.

“That first game,” Rana said, “Andrew went up and blocked two shots. Not by blocking them, but by actually grabbing them with two hands out of the air. I’d never seen it done once, and he did it twice in one game.”

For basketball men like Rana, who doubles as the head coach at Ryerson University in Toronto, this story serves as something of an introduction to the Wiggins they watched grow up.

“When the biggest stage comes,” Rana said, “he always arrives.”

But for those who have watched Wiggins in his freshman season at Kansas, leading the Jayhawks to a 10th straight Big 12 championship, the big-game reputation can feel closer to a loaded compliment.

If Wiggins can rise to the occasion, playing his most beautiful basketball against the most high-profile opponents, why doesn’t he turn it on more often?

“I don’t think his mind-set has ever been to be a scorer,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I think his mind-set is to fit in.”

Two days before the start of the Big 12 tournament, Self stood in Allen Fieldhouse, his Jayhawks season at a crossroads. Freshman Joel Embiid probably will be out until the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament because of a stress fracture in his back. On Thursday, his Jayhawks open the conference tournament at the Sprint Center, a precursor to the most defining weeks of the year.

The stage will get bigger in the coming weeks, and for those who know Wiggins, they say that suits him. For as fantastic as Wiggins’ freshman season has been thus far — 16.8 points per game, Big 12 freshman of the year, myriad KU records — Self is hoping Wiggins can take one final step before his one-year college career ends.

Four days ago, Wiggins scored 41 points while Embiid sat out a loss at West Virginia. Maybe it was a sign.

“You know he’s got it in him,” Self said. “He’s proved that.”