Not Yet 19, Tony Wroten Declares For NBA Draft
April 3, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - Tony Wroten has been thinking about the chance to enter the NBA since he was in grade school.
So when the NBA's Undergraduate Advisory Committee told him recently he could be selected late in the first round of this summer's draft, that dream was closer to reality than almost anyone else could ever fathom.
Ten days before he will turn 19, Wroten grew up exponentially on Tuesday. The Pac-12's freshman of the year and the Huskies' record holder for points, assists and steals by a first-year player announced he will hire an agent and forego his final three seasons at Washington to enter the NBA draft.
The star since he was at Seattle's Washington Middle School and then at Garfield High School said he's heard from NBA people he could go anywhere from fifth to 25th overall. He will be two months above the NBA's minimum age requirement on the night of the June 28th draft.
Thanks to additional advice he received recently from fellow Seattle-area natives and NBA players Jamal Crawford and Isaiah Thomas, Wroten says he is aware of the unique challenges he will face entering the world of basketball men.
"You just mature fast. You are growing up super fast," the 6-foot-5 point guard said over the telephone Tuesday. "Not even 21 years old yet and you are on your own. You have to be more mature and manage things the right way."
Wroten is an uncommonly tall point guard with unique ball-handling and passing skills. He has an uncanny ability to get to the rim against defenses that know where he is headed. That is why he is considered a potential first-round pick - and is why he is not returning to UW.
He now heads off to work on his shooting in two months of workouts. That was the main trouble throughout his only college season in which he became an All-Pac-12 selection.
"I feel like I am blessed with talent, and I'm confident I will put in the hard work to definitely be drafted in the first round," he said.
Even back when he signed Wroten before last season, Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar thought the gifted guard might be headed to the NBA after just one season.
"I saw it as a high possibility," Romar said in a telephone conversation Tuesday night.
"Well, his talent," Romar said, his voice rising. "He's very talented."
Wroten made his announcement less than 48 hours after teammate Terrence Ross declared he was forgoing his final two Huskies seasons to enter the NBA. He and Ross had been discussing this scenario "for a long time," Wroten said.
Wroten timed his announcement to coincide with the birthday of his mother Shirley, who ran track at Washington and Arizona State. His father Tony Wroten was a tight end for the Huskies' football team in the 1980s.
Wroten says he will give his mom, who has been a teacher and still works with young children in Seattle, a Mercedes after he signs his first NBA contract, "because she loves cars."
Wroten has been groomed for this shot since before he could drive one.
In 2007, he was featured in photo spreads in Seattle's newspapers with area high school stars such as Joshua Smith (now at UCLA) and Peyton Siva (Louisville). Wroten was just 13 at the time, an eighth grader at Washington Middle School.
"In high school and growing up in the Central District, the whole community was behind me. Everyone was saying, `You can be a `one and done' (from college to the NBA)," Wroten said. "I never paid no mind to it until I got into college."
That's when Wroten saw he could excel there, too.
He was one of five finalists for the Wayman Tisdale Award given to the national freshman of the year. He returned from preseason arthroscopic knee surgery in October to set UW freshman records for most points (559), scoring average (16.0 points per game), assists (130), and steals (66).
That was better than Thomas, the 2009 Pac-10 freshman of the year who is now a two-time NBA rookie of the month with the Sacramento Kings. Better than Mark Pope, Mike Hayward and Chris Welp, the other Huskies who have been the conference's freshman of the year, in 1992, '86 and '84, respectively.
Wroten ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring, eighth in assists (3.7 per game), second in steals (1.9 per game). He was sixth overall in offensive rebounds per game (2.3).
His scoring average led Washington most of the season, until Ross overtook him late as Wroten began to show off his passing skills more. Wroten was fifth in scoring among all Division I freshmen, and second among freshmen from the major, so-called "power" conferences.
Wroten is the second UW freshman to declare for the NBA after their freshman year, joining Spencer Hawes (2007).
Currently, six players who played under Romar at Washington are in the NBA: Hawes (Philadelphia), Quincy Pondexter (Memphis), Nate Robinson (Golden State), Thomas (Sacramento), Jon Brockman (Milwaukee) and Justin Dentmon (San Antonio).
"I'm really excited for these guys," Romar said of Wroten and Ross heading into the same fraternity of Huskies in the NBA. "You know how much fun it is to get up in the morning and look at the box scores of our guys in the NBA?
"And these guys will be following them next year. We'll get to see them, to follow them, too."
Last week, the Huskies were at Madison Square Garden for the second time this season, for the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The college kids were initially gaga over their place in the posh, newly remodeled locker room of the New York Knicks as they walked into it at the shoot-around practice hours prior to their game against Minnesota.
Wroten, however, strode confidently into the room and across the plush blue carpeting with the orange Knicks logo sewn in. He looked at the finely crafted, wooden lockers, the state-of-the-art training room in the back and had no visible reaction. He treated the moment and place as if it was exactly where he belonged.
"I will definitely be surprised (if I am drafted in the second round)," Wroten said Tuesday. "I feel like I'm a lottery, first round-type talent."
Wroten made 44 percent of his field goals for the Huskies, including 9 for 56 (16 percent) from 3-point range. He shot 58 percent from the free-throw line. He said those numbers were from mental lapses, that he doesn't need a mechanical overhaul as much as "repetition, repetition, repetition."
"Confidence is everything," he said.
Before Wroten didn't surprise anyone at UW by declaring for the draft, Romar said he thought he can eventually transform his game from being more than just a potent penetrator -- much like a former Seattle SuperSonics star did after he left Oregon State for the NBA.
"As much time as he puts into it, he can become a better shooter - like Gary Payton," Romar said in January.
"I've said this a million times this year -- maybe not quite a million, but close to it: When Isaiah was a freshman, Isaiah turned that ball over quite a bit. And Isaiah didn't have the greatest shot selection, you know. He eventually got it."
Wroten is leaving Washington as one of the most polarizing players in recent Huskies history -- even though he played for them for just five months. Critics reveled in the ups and downs of his still-developing game this season. Some circulated online a workout regimen based on his number of turnovers and made free throws.
That was less the reality of Wroten's entertaining UW career than it was a commentary on the meteoric expectations people in his hometown of Seattle have heaped upon the teenager.
Sure, he knows he needs to work on his outside shooting and foul shots, and on taking care of the ball better. Yes, he could use more maturing under the nurturing Romar. Yet his talent is world-class.
In February, Arizona coach Sean Miller went on and on about how Wroten's skills fit the next level.
"(He's) powerful, explosive. It's tough to call him a guard even though he is, because he's so strong in and around the basket," Miller said. "There aren't many guys who play a style that he plays. He is just a real difference maker.
"He reminds you of some of the guys who play long-tenured NBA careers, those big strong guards. Their bodies transcend that they are a guard. They just do things that guards don't do. To me, watching him, it's amazing he good he's been around the basket."
Wroten got his first 20-point game as a collegian Dec. 10 against Duke at Madison Square Garden. That breakout performance left legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski telling Wroten in a hallway under The Garden afterward: "That was a HELL of a game. We can't keep you in front of us."
Wroten got his first college start in the following game, Dec. 16 against UC-Santa Barbara. He scored 27 points, a Washington freshman record - until he scored 29 against Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament last month.
Romar has been watching Wroten since before he was in eighth grade. Wroten exceeded what the veteran coach thought he could do scoring-wise as a freshman. If anything, Romar thought one of the top recruits in his 10 years leading UW might have had more assists and fewer points.
"I think he is so talented and so versatile, sometimes his ability comes back to curse him in terms of other peoples' perceptions," Romar said in January.
"I don't know, I guess people think he should be perfect. But he's not perfect. I don't know who is."
When asked what he will miss most at UW, Wroten said: "The crowd and the loud fans at home. There's nothing like it."
Asked what he will miss least, Wroten sounded incredulous.
"Huh?" he said. "There weren't too many bad things at the University of Washington.
"My good outweighed the bad, you know. I wouldn't complain at all."