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Originally published April 3, 2012 at 10:02 PM | Page modified April 4, 2012 at 1:31 PM

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A divided scouting report: The two sides of Tony Wroten Jr.

Some think Tony Wroten Jr. will be a terrific NBA player, pointing to his athleticism, his passing skills and his ability to penetrate with the ball. Others aren't so sure, saying he needs to shoot better and learn to use his right hand.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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A former NBA player was talking to me about Tony Wroten. After first telling me that he loved Wroten's heart and the fearlessness with which Wroten took the ball to the basket, the ex-player's competitive instincts took over.

"I'd love to play against him," he said. "I'd sit on that left hand, 'cause he ain't got no right. And he can't shoot. When he gets to the league everybody's going to know that."

Tony Wroten is going to the league. The Washington point guard is one-and-done. On Tuesday, he declared his eligibility for the NBA draft.

"No surprise," another former NBA player said. "If you come into college with the mindset that you're one-and-done, then you're going to be one-and-done. I think that's what happened with him."

Of course, Wroten is not ready for the NBA. He doesn't have a right hand. He doesn't have a league-ready jump shot. He doesn't have a quick release. Because he is all left-handed, he can't run a pick and roll. And in his one and only season at Washington, he didn't play good on-the-ball defense.

But if we weren't judging him by NBA standards and just looking at Wroten as a college freshman, we would say he had a very good start to his career.

He was the Pac-12 freshman of the year, averaging 16 points and 3.7 assists. He was second on the team in scoring, third in rebounding, second in assists and overwhelmingly first in steals.

On a team that was tragically soft and had absolutely no personality, Wroten supplied the fire and brimstone.

He was the only player who took the ball strongly to the basket, time after time. He was the player who most often got the Hec Ed crowd on its feet. He was a relentless, uncanny rebounder of his own misses. I often thought he should get an assist whenever he scored after following his shot.

And from November to the end of the season, he toned down his act. He threw fewer crazy no-look passes. He didn't pose after some of his most stirring dunks. He matured. He was the second-best player on a team that won the conference's regular-season title.

But after he missed those free throws at the end of the Pac-12 tournament loss to Oregon State and after the Huskies didn't earn an NCAA bid, Wroten seemed to check out of the program.

In Washington's NIT march that finished with an overtime loss in the semifinals to mediocre Minnesota, Wroten averaged only 10.5 points and was a mere 14 for 41 from the field. He was awful against the Gophers at Madison Square Garden, playing as if he were trying to impress scouts instead of trying to win a championship.

He played out of control, forced wild shots and was benched by coach Lorenzo Romar at the start of the second half. In his last game as a Husky, Wroten shot 4 for 16, scored nine points and had no assists.

"I can't believe he's coming out," one scout told me.

But as much as I think Wroten needs another season in college, I believe he is making the right decision. As his Huskies teammate Terrence Ross said Monday, if you have a chance to be drafted in the first round, you have to take it.

Wroten is a great passer. Several opposing coaches said he was the best passer in college basketball. But he also was a careless passer.

He is a strong, quick-handed defender, but he showed very little inclination to play a solid, unspectacular, keep-your-feet-moving, man-to-man defense.

Some scouts say his left-handedness won't be a problem.

After all, Jerry West was all right hand. Lenny Wilkens and Nate Archibald were all left handed but those Hall of Famers were great jump-shooters. They could pull up and shoot from anywhere.

It remains to be seen whether Wroten will be willing to spend hours in the gym, the way Gary Payton did, to become an NBA-quality shooter. It's one thing to be in the gym shooting with your aunt, like Wroten has done, even if your aunt is as decorated a player as Joyce Walker.

It's another to be in a gym with a new assistant coach breaking down your jumper and trying to remake it so that it's quicker and smoother. Will he be willing to put in the tedious hours to fix his game?

In a deep NBA draft, Wroten might be the wildest of wild cards.

Some scouts love him. They say his jump shot is fixable. They like his strength, his quick-jumping ability, his swagger. One told me he thought Wroten would play better with better players.

But other scouts say they wish he had more of the intangibles that someone like Sacramento rookie point guard and former Husky Isaiah Thomas has.

"He's not even on our board," one scout said about the 6-foot-5 Wroten. "We think he's a Magic Johnson wannabe."

"We love him," another scout said. "He has so many of the things you can't teach — length, size, instincts. We'd take him if he fell to us."

That's the yin and the yang of Tony Wroten.

Sure, we can wonder what he might have become if he had stayed in school. But let's be honest, that never was in the cards.

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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