By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Tony Wroten, we hardly knew you.
Or did we?
The University of Washington freshman, who was the Pacific-12 Conference’s freshman of the year and the Huskies’ best scoring option for long stretches of the season, announced Tuesday that his one season as a Husky will be his last.
And collectively, Husky Nation probably isn’t sure how to feel about it. Wroten was at times dazzling, at times frustrating, occasionally controversial, always polarizing, too often preferred dazzle to substance and was also on the wrong side of some of UW’s most painful moments this season.
He was perhaps the biggest in-state recruit ever landed by UW, and he went on to break nearly every freshman record at the school. But Wroten also had more glaring flaws than most budding superstars, like a non-existent jump shot and a propensity for untimely mistakes.
Wroten himself said Tuesday that he didn’t know what his legacy as Husky would be.
“Hopefully, a good University of Washington player, a good player to watch,” he said when asked during a Tuesday afternoon conference call how he expected to be remembered by UW fans. “A fan favorite. We have great fans, so I hope they loved watching me play.”
And yet in the hours, days and perhaps weeks that followed his final game at UW, Husky fans are likely to remember Wroten more for the missed free throws in a Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon State and the defensive lapses he made in the National Invitational Tournament loss to Minnesota.
“I definitely didn’t want to end my season on a losing effort,” he said when asked about the unceremonious end to his career. “But my goods outweigh my bads. So I wouldn’t complain. I wouldn’t complain at all.”
Wroten joined UW teammate Terrence Ross in departing early, leaving the Huskies without their two top scorers from the 2011-12 season. While Ross appears to be a likely top-20 draft pick, Wroten’s draft stock seems as unpredictable as his UW legacy.
His athleticism and 6-foot-5 frame are basically NBA ready, even though Wroten is just a year out of Garfield High School. He also proved during his freshman season that he can split double teams and zone defenses while getting to the rim with remarkable ability. He also can make passes in traffic that some NBA point guards can’t even make.
But his lack of a discernible jump shot, his 16 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range and his maddening habit of preferring the flashy pass to a higher-percentage one have frustrated both fans and scouts. The player who was once considered a borderline lottery pick now seems to be wavering near the end of the first round in NBA draft projections.
Wroten himself said he’s gotten feedback from the NBA that he could go “as high as top five, as low as 25” and added that he would be “super surprised” if he isn’t picked in the first round of the June draft. There are 30 picks made in the first round. Second-round picks do not get guaranteed contracts.
ESPN’s Chad Ford ranks Wroten as the 19th overall prospect in the upcoming draft. NBADraft.net projects Wroten as the 26th overall pick and has him ranked as the fourth point guard taken, behind Weber State’s Damian Lillard, North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall and Syracuse’s Dion Waiters. Kentucky freshman point guard Marquis Teague, after a stellar national championship game, could also move up the charts if he decides to put his name into the draft.
Wroten and Ross turning pro will leave a huge scoring void at UW, where the duo ranked as the top two scorers and averaged a combined 32 points per game last season. The team has only one returning player (C.J. Wilcox) who averaged in double figures last season and only three (Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy and Aziz N’Diaye) who averaged more than 4.2 points per game.
A bigger question than how UW will replace Wroten is how he will be remembered.
Once considered by many to be the best ninth grader in the country, Wroten came to UW as the school’s most heralded in-state recruit but had a roller-coaster of a freshman year. It began with preseason knee surgery and a role off the bench for the Huskies’ first few games. Then Wroten struggled with turnovers and free throws but also showed an incredible knack for following his own misses with putbacks.
After joining the starting lineup nine games into the season, Wroten quickly established himself as a primary scorer on the team. He broke the UW freshman scoring record, was named the Pac-12 freshman of the year and joined a national all-freshman team that included Kentucky star Anthony Davis and.
But Wroten’s missed free throws in the final seconds of the Pac-12 tournament opener may have cost the Huskies an NCAA tournament bid, and he went on to play one of his worst games of the season in the NIT loss to Minnesota — his final game at UW.
Asked Tuesday if he had any regrets about his freshman year at UW, Wroten said: “Definitely, I wanted to win the NCAA tournament — just make the NCAA tournament. I wish I could have done that. But at the end of the day, I feel like everything happens for a reason. So, it is what it is.”
Wroten, who is the fifth underclassman of the Lorenzo Romar era at UW to leave for the NBA with remaining eligibility, said he consulted cousin Nate Robinson as well as other NBA players with Seattle ties like Isaiah Thomas and Jamal Crawford before making his decision. Throughout the process, he also conferred with Ross, who made his announcement Sunday.
Then Wroten made his announcement in time to coincide with his mother’s Tuesday birthday.
“I just felt like it was the right time and I was ready,” he said. “I did what’s best for me and my family. Going now, after my freshman year, I feel like I accomplished a lot and I’m ready for the next level.”
Time will tell how Wroten is remembered by UW fans. All he could say Tuesday was that he’s leaving with fond memories of his own.
“It was definitely a tough decision,” he said. “There’s nothing like the University of Washington and its fans.”