Beyond His Years: Wroten Impressively Bounces Back
March 12, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - The Huskies' best moment in an otherwise dismal week had nothing to do with brackets or free throws or defense.
It didn't even happen during a game, let alone practice.
"I was BORN ready," Tony Wroten said with a veteran's smile and composure, as the Pac-12's freshman of the year walked from the locker room onto the edge of the court at Alaska Airlines Arena Monday.
He then faced the first questions he's answered publicly since top-seeded Washington lost to ninth-seeded Oregon State Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament in Los Angeles.
Wroten scored a UW freshman-record 29 points before missing four free throws in the final 18 seconds. Washington made just 9 of 21 free throws in the second half, malfunctioned on defense and blew an eight-point lead over the Beavers with 8 minutes left.
The upset loss sealed this Huskies' fate: Hosting Texas-Arlington Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (ESPNU, the Washington IMG College radio network and here on GoHuskies.com with another exclusive game chat), instead of preparing right now for an opening game in the NCAA tournament.
Wroten, the team's scoring leader at 16.7 points per game and a finalist for the national freshman of the year award, was inconsolable in the Huskies' locker room at Staples Center after Thursday's loss. He knew the defeat likely doomed Washington's hopes to make the NCAAs. His head was down. He refused to speak and didn't even look up while slumped on his padded locker bench, still in full uniform almost a half hour after the game.
Asked Monday when he put the Oregon State loss behind him, Wroten said: "The next day."
"Of course, that day hurt. But it happens, it happens to all of us," he said.
"It's just funny how my potential best game was my worst game, in the same day."
"Born-ready" Wroten also meant he was ready for the NIT. The Huskies (21-10) are the top seed in its region against eighth-seeded Texas-Arlington (24-8), which went 15-1 in its league before losing in the semifinals of the Southland Conference tournament.
"It's obviously not what we wanted, but we did this (to) ourselves," Wroten said. "We are just looking forward to the next game and are trying to win the NIT.
"We've just got to move forward. Unfortunately, we wanted to make the NCAA tournament but we are in the NIT.
"We're just moving forward."
Not that such progress is easy.
"I've moved on," said Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar, who felt after Thursday's loss his team was likely to miss the NCAA tournament. "I've had my grieving period. We are in another tournament, with a chance to win a championship.
"I think the players, it may take a little longer for them. I think our guys still thought we would be in, as of (Sunday).That probably thought somehow that we would get our name called. It will probably take them a little longer. But by the time we play that game (Tuesday), we'll be fine."
Monday was not Tuesday.
"It sucks," senior captain Darnell Gant said, one day after he was denied becoming the only Husky to play in four NCAA tournaments. "It doesn't feel good.
"But if we are going to be in (the NIT), we might as well win it."
Co-captain Abdul Gaddy was also honest about where his team was emotionally Monday. But again, the players don't need to be re-focused until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"I'm over it. I don't know if we are over it," Gaddy said of the NCAA tournament.
"I want to win this tournament, so we can prove to the NCAA we should be in."
Texas-Arlington lost by 10 at Baylor in late November and by 18 at Texas in early December. The Mavericks are athletic and energetic according to Romar, who had broken down film of UT Arlington by Monday afternoon. They set a school-record for wins while averaging 77 points and 20 3-point shots attempted per game.
Romar said he will know the Huskies are in the right frame of mind if they start Tuesday's game with defensive intensity.
"Are we down in our (defensive) stance? Are they following the scout?" Romar said.
"We didn't guard the way we should have been guarding (against Oregon State, and in the loss at UCLA to end the regular season). And that's why we are not in the NCAA tournament."
As for Wroten, he said he felt comfortable heading to the line with 18 seconds remaining Thursday against Oregon State and Washington trailing 84-83. He felt comfortable again with two free throws coming and 9 seconds left and UW down 85-83.
"Yeah, they felt good - especially because, you know, I had made six straight before that," he said. "I was comfortable I would make them.
"I just didn't."
After the game, upset "fans" pinged his Twitter account, which has more than 10,000 followers, with despicable comments. It was a sad commentary on a society full of unfiltered, instant opinions easily broadcast to all, regardless of merit.
Wroten wasn't surprised at the criticisms. He even re-tweeted some of the more offensive ones, like Isaiah Thomas used to do while playing for the Huskies.
"Nah, I knew it was coming. It comes with the territory as an athlete," Wroten said. "The same people who praise you, say how good you are, are the same people that are going to say you are a failure, that I am the reason why we lost. It comes with the territory."
He sounded far older than his 18 years, both about the critics and about this NIT.
"We're going to treat this like the national championship. It's obviously not we wanted, but since we are here we are going to deal with it and play our hardest, like we are in the national championship," he said.
"And this should give us more motivation to win it, that we didn't make it, to show the committee that we should be in it."
Romar wasn't at all surprised at how Wroten handled himself Monday.
Minutes after Thursday's loss to Oregon State ended, Romar was asked in a Staples Center tunnel how his freshman would bounce back.
"He's a champion," the coach said. "He's a winner."