Wroten Hoping to Turn Heads

SEATTLE - I have a theory about those who rag on Tony Wroten, Jr. They're a bunch of misanthropes. Clearly they hate for hating's sake, and just don't like people much. They watch him complete an over-the-top pass, mug to the crowd, and mistake his enthusiasm and love for the game for being a jerk.

First of all, Wroten has been a local hoops legend ever since his first crossover. Scouting services had him as the No. 1 eighth-grader in the country years ago. Seattle area hoops aficionados have picked apart Wroten's game like a buzzard over a carcass, to the point where it's fruitless to even break down an AAU showing or high school game he took part in. Add to that some of the off-the-court issues, like his enrollment snafu and questions about a Spanish class taken at Garfield High School - none of those things his fault - and the negative perception continues to exist.

"People think I'm cocky or something," Wroten, Jr. told Dawgman.com Tuesday during UW's Media Day. "I'm so misunderstood. The same people that say that, when they get to know me it's like man, he's not that kind of person. It kind of sucks, but it's life. I can't really change their minds until they are around me, but I'm definitely not the person they think I am."

Lorenzo Romar can speak to Wroten's character as well as anybody, and the UW head coach said he had zero reservations when recruiting the exuberant point guard. "Sometimes players get a rep because they are that competitive and they are enjoying themselves, but people read them the wrong way," Romar said of Wroten. "But we've been working with him for nearly a month, and he's done everything with a capital E we've asked of him.

"When you're competitive…how many people who are critical of him also play golf and when a shot doesn't go their way they throw their club? When you're really competitive, sometimes emotions come out. And since he's been at an advanced stage for so long, sometimes you get bored, and at that age, sometimes how you react to things isn't the best way to do it - but that's not him. That's not who he is."

Romar has done his due diligence with Wroten, as with all his recruits. He spoke with USA U17 Team Head Coach Don Showalter, who coached Wroten during their run toward an undefeated, gold medal performance at the 2010 World Championships. During the eight-game tournament, Wroten averaged 4.3 assists and 3.5 steals per game.

"(Showalter) said they wouldn't have won the gold medal without Tony," said Romar. "He cheered on his teammates from the bench, and the moment he did get in the game it would change because defensively he would lead the charge. That was pretty impressive.

"We've been very pleased with his approach and eagerness to be a team guy and do everything we've asked."

That doesn't really sound like the disruptive force Wroten's been painted as, and Wroten has dealt with that portrayal long enough that he approaches the subject from a healthy, philosophical slant. "At the end of the day, I'm me," he said matter-of-factly. "If you like me, great. If not - dang. It's life. Of course I want everyone to like me, but at the end of the day you can't be liked by everyone. You can't make everyone happy. Some people just don't want to like you. But I'm not going to hold a grudge. I just bless them. I'm not cocky. They see me on the court being loud and playing to the crowd, and they think I'm a cocky person. But it's not like that. The people that know me, that's not how I am."

No matter how Wroten is perceived on the court, no one can question the man's talent. Recently, Romar compared to his passing ability to that of Magic Johnson. "Sometimes guys see things, but they see it a second late," he said. "(Wroten) sees things right as they are developing and he delivers the ball on the spot. And he can do that while going full speed. And those are things that Magic was able to do."

I still contend those looking for a reason to dump on Wroten are the same basketball fans that will come to love how he plays the game at the college level. The cousin of Nate Robinson, Wroten has been schooled on the importance of Husky Hoops in this area, and there's nothing he takes more seriously. "You have grade school, middle school, high school…it's terrific," he said. "But college is a totally different level. You're playing for your city, your team, playing on TV, it's great. So just to step foot on the University of Washington campus, it was a blessing. I'm just one step closer to a game."

And it's on the court where Wroten's voice will be heard, loud and clear. "Will (Conroy), Nate, Tre (Simmons)…they all told me to just play my game, just be you," he said. "Listen to the coach, and have a great year."

On paper, an offense run by Abdul Gaddy and Wroten is a scary-looking three-headed monster. They can feed passes to wings Terrence Ross, Scott Suggs and C.J. Wilcox or they can drive inside. If defenses sag, they can dump the ball to an open player for easy points, or if they are left to their own devices can finish at the cup. "That's one of the reasons why I decided to stay home and go to the University of Washington, because Suggs, Ross, and Wilcox - those three together - it's crazy," Wroten said. "I've never seen a tandem shoot like that before as good as they do. It's like a no-win situation for them; if they help we dish. If they don't, we drive and look for the big or a layup. For those three guys and the way they shoot, I'm glad to have stayed here."

And by the end of Wroten's career at Montlake, even the most vocal critic will be won over. Regardless, he will be one of the most visible players on Washington's team this season because of the local connection, the Wroten legacy (his father Tony played tight end on the football team and his mother Shirley ran track), and

"A lot of people want to see and follow Tony," Romar said. "Many people have watched him play for a long time. People wanted to see Isaiah (Thomas), and Tony's the next guy people want to see."

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