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Originally published October 7, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified October 8, 2010 at 1:47 PM

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Steve Kelley

Brash Tony Wroten Jr. looks like a young Gary Payton

Tony Wroten Jr.'s decision to play for Lorenzo Romar at Washington is a perfect match. The Garfield High School basketball star needs Romar more than Romar needs him.

Seattle Times staff columnist

As a teenager, Gary Payton was full of talent and full of himself. He was a handful to defend and a handful to coach.

He was big and strong. When he went to the basket, he loved to feel contact. If a player tried leaning on him, Payton knew he had him.

He'd feel the lean, spin to the hole and leave his defender grasping at air, wondering where Payton went.

Tony Wroten Jr. is a lot like Gary Payton. Rich with talent. Brash and brimming with self-belief.

He may be the best high-school player this state has seen at getting to the rim. With the basketball in his hands, he can separate himself from his defender and squirt through the tiniest crack in a defense. He can get to the basket and make the right decision once he gets there.

His passing ability belies his age. And he's a fearless finisher, unconcerned about his body, ready and willing to take a hit from a bigger, would-be shot blocker.

In every phase of his game and every phase of his personality, Wroten is G.P.-like.

On Tuesday afternoon, inside the Garfield High School gym, with the school band in front of him and his teammates standing behind him, Wroten announced he was going to play his college basketball at Washington.

He could have gone to UConn, or Villanova. A couple of weeks ago, he entertained Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his home. But Wroten chose to stay in the city and play for Lorenzo Romar.

It's a huge win for Romar. Wroten is the kind of blue chip that the Huskies used to have no chance at getting.

But as good as this news is for Romar, it's even better news for Wroten. At this point in his growth, on and off the floor, Tony Wroten needs Lorenzo Romar more than the Washington coach needs Wroten.

He needs a college coach who can cut the edges off his personality the way Romar can. He needs a college coach who can grow his game, a coach who will demand that he listen.


Romar knows how to coach strong personalities. He has allowed all of the orneriness that has made players like Nate Robinson and Will Conroy, Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton better, while taming the parts that can be both self- and team-destructive.

If Wroten listens to Romar, if he doesn't surrender to the lure of the NBA after just one college season, Romar will bring out Wroten's Payton.

Coming into college and even into the NBA, Payton was a gem of a post-up point guard, but a very poor shooter. Teams played off him and dared Payton to shoot. It was the smart thing to do.

Wroten's jumper needs the same overhaul that Payton's got.

So here are the questions for Tony Wroten as he prepares for his senior season at Garfield and looks ahead to life as a Husky:

How good do you want to be? Are you willing to do what Payton did and spend the extra, dreary hours in the gym shooting jump shot after jump shot?

You can be as good as you want to be, but you're not quite as good as you already think you are. Today, your jump shot isn't falling. You shoot it on the fly. Sometimes you lean into it. Sometimes you fall away.

You need to develop the patience to stay in the gym, shoot 500 times, three days a week and 150 times, four days a week. Just shoot standing still from 15 to 18 feet. It isn't fun, but it's necessary.

Every shot has to look the same, the way Dale Ellis' jumper did. The way Ray Allen's and Stephen Curry's do.

So, stop Tweeting and start shooting.

Stop those Tweets offering, um, "dating" advice. They're embarrassing and misogynistic and you're better than that. Besides, Romar has instituted a strict Twitter policy that explains what he thinks of social networking.

And don't make this season all about yourself. Involve your teammates. Listen to Garfield coach Ed Haskins. Remember this season will be special for them too.

"As much as he says some of that stuff in the media, I think he's a great kid," one college coach said. "Sometimes he plays to the level of his competition, which isn't necessarily a good trait. Honestly, I think sometimes he gets a little bored because he's so talented.

"But he's a big-time competitor. It's just a matter of maturing as a player and putting it all together. He can be one of the best that ever played."

Wroten passes like a young Brandon Roy. He drives like a kid Gary Payton. And, with time, he can be as good a lockdown defender as Washington has seen.

He is young and gifted and full of teenage expectations. All of the spoils of self-conquest are there for him to spend.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176



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