We restart the Washington countdown with a player considered the star of the incoming freshmen class — Tony Wroten Jr.
The 6 foot 5, 205-pound point guard became a Seattle basketball phenom at a very young age and jumped on the national radar when a recruiting service ranked him the No. 1 sixth grader in the nation.
He grew up in the spotlight and shined brightly under intense scrutiny. Wroten averaged 20.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.2 steals as a freshman at Garfield High.
As a sophomore, he averaged 17.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.0 steals. He sat out his junior year after an ACL injury during a football. Wroten returned the next season and led Garfield to a 24-4 record while averaging 25.0 points. 7.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.4 steals.
Rated a consensus five-star recruit, he chose the Huskies over Louisville, Connecticut and Villanova.
Wroten is the latest in a distinguished fraternity of local hoops stars that includes Brandon Roy and Will Conroy who played at Garfield and UW. It remains to be seen if he’ll follow them to the NBA, although he’s considered a 2013 lottery pick.
Wroten is a gifted passer unlike any other Husky in recent memory. He has an explosive first step, thrives in transition and has recently shown a defensive prowess. Admittedly, he needs to improve his perimeter shooting.
Despite undergoing minor arthroscopic surgery and missing more than a week of practice, he’s expected to compete for a starting position. At the very least, Wroten figures into the rotation and should make an immediate impact.
In many ways, Washington is the perfect place for him because he’s a big Seattle fan and he’s intensely loyal to coach Lorenzo Romar who began recruiting him five years ago.
Wroten is also a second-generation Husky – his father Tony Wroten Sr. played football for Washington and his mother Shirley ran track at UW and Arizona State. His famous family also includes cousin Nate Robinson, the former UW star and three-star NBA dunk champion, and aunt Joyce Walker, who is considered Seattle’s greatest women’s basketball player.
Here’s a transcript from a recent interview with Wroten:
(What does L.O.E mean?) “It means Loyalty Over Everything.”
(Where did it come from?) “It’s just my lifestyle. After I got injured, when I tore my ACL, people who I thought were my friends wasn’t even coming around. So me and a few of my friends made up a crew, a little clique called L.O.E. We didn’t know, but it took off from there and got real big.”
(Is it like a cult following now?) “[Laughs] Yeah. It’s like a culture now. Honestly, I didn’t intend for it to be this big. I wasn’t expecting it to be this big. It just grew. A lot of people, a lot of fans like to say it now. It’s just crazy now. People can’t wait for the season to start so they can chant L.O.E. Man it’s just a blessing to be able to start something and to make it something big.”
(Are you surprised how much it’s grown?) “Yeah I was because when it first started it was a little school thing. It was me and few of my friends that went to school started in my senior and junior year. Then it’s just shocking how big it’s gotten.”
(I’ve seen t-shirts. Is there a Facebook page or a website?) “Nah. That’s the thing we don’t really do extra stuff to make it big. We don’t have a website or anything. We make some t-shirts every once in awhile or a hoodie. It just started. Came out as a clique and got really big. We didn’t even do extra like YouTube things. We might have some L.O.E TV on YouTube, but never like go to my website. We haven’t even did that yet.”
(Before it gets too commercial, it’s something that’s very personal to you.) “Yeah. It’s way bigger than t-shirts. It’s something that means a lot to me. Growing up loyalty was a big thing to me. Like I said after my injury loyalty became very, very, very important thing to me.”
(Was that one of the reasons why you chose Washington?) “Yeah that’s one of the biggest reasons why I chose Washington. Coach Romar – we talked about it today – he’s been recruiting me for five years. He stayed loyal to me so I stayed loyal to him. Not just him, my whole entire city. Coming from Seattle born and raised, being around the community in the Central District, you start to have people care about you even though they’re not related to you. I want them to see me play and not to have to watch me on TV and be able to come to some games.”
(How close were you to leaving Seattle. Not just for college, but during high school. I’m sure you could have gone to a powerhouse prep school like Oak Hill in Virginia or Findlay Prep in Nevada.) “I think it was my sophomore year when I had that little situation when they wasn’t allowing me to go to school. I was going through so much for no reason. My mom kind of got tired of it. I was really, like 90 percent going to go to Oak Hill or Findlay Prep. But then I told my mom: ‘Mom this is where I’m from. Born and raised in the Central District. I don’t want to go nowhere.’ So we fought one more time and was able to stay at Garfield. With the college situation, there were times when I wanted to go to Kentucky or Louisville, but at the end of the day I didn’t want to go to a different state or city and make them look good. I wanted to stay home and put on for my own city where I was raised and born. I wanted to see my friends and family in the stands cheering. There’s nothing like it.”
(How much have the ex-UW players prepared you for what you’re going to see this season?) “Growing up I used to sit right up there when like Will Conroy was here, Nate (Robinson), Brandon (Roy) and Tre (Simmons). Will Conroy is like my big brother and Nate is my cousin so growing up they were talking about what you got to do to succeed at UW. How home is where your heart is at. I kind of had an advantage because they told me what the mile (conditioning test) was all about. They told me what I needed to do to prepare for it. Because running the mile, I’m not a long-distance runner and me and couple of teammates were kind of nervous. Like man, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I was coming into the mile with a bad mindset, but Will and Brandon Roy and Spencer Hawes, they came to the mile and Will brought me aside. He was like this means a lot to Coach Romar. It might not seem like it does, but it shows whose got heart. That just right there pushed me to make the mile and fortunately I was able to make the mile under 5:30.”
(What was your time?) “Five twenty-five.”
(Had you ever run a mile before that?) “I ran a mile in high school, but we had to make it under 6:30.”
(What motivates you?) “Haters. Pretty much to be honest with you because (they) always got something to say, always down. People criticize a lot of the things I say, but I don’t really respond back or say nothing to them. I just work hard because it motivates me. My goal is to pay them back with success because there’s nothing more than a hater would hate to see then somebody he hates on to have success. That’s my biggest thing. Then like L.O.E, all of my friends. When I make it here at the UW and if I’m fortunate enough to make it to the NBA, they make it too because they’ve been here through thick and thin. And most important is my family. My mom has been through so much. To see her, to see my mom happy, makes me want to succeed. I want to make it out. Coming from Seattle, it’s tough sometimes. Being in the Central District all the times, it gets tough. But I’m fortunate to have a great family that’s helped me be able to make it and come to the University of Washington. Those three things are what motivates me.”
(I’ve heard great players say they’ll use any type of diss or negative comment to motivate them to play harder. Do you do that?) “Not really. I’m my biggest critic. I feel like if you’re a good player, you should never be satisfied. I’m fortunate enough to be a good player and I never have the mindset that I’m too good or I’m good and I don’t have to prove (anything). Every time I come to practice, I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. It’s always in my mind to improve. I’m never satisfied. That’s one thing about me. I’m never satisfied. I always feel like I can do better than what the next person is doing. That’s what I always tell myself.”
(Has there been any surprises since you’ve been at school?) “Nothing has really jumped out at me, but one thing that hits you is time-management when you come here. In high school, you got class and practice after school and then you’re done. Here you got to learn how to manage your time because you don’t get really no time off because you got workouts before class, you got class, then you got practice after that. And practice is long. By the time you end, it’s like 7 or 8 o’clock. Then you got homework. It’s not a lot free time and you have to be able to manage your time.”
(How is your injury and why didn’t you have the surgery sooner?) “Right now I’m feeling great with the injury. Like I told coach, if it was the Final Four right now I could play. I’m just trying to get to 100 percent and try to get as healthy as possible. The reason why I didn’t do it earlier is because it was nagging me for a minute, but I would just relax it and ice it for a day or two and it would go away. That’s the end of it. It was kind of getting irritating. It just kept happening. And then the one thing they said that was real important and the deciding factor was what if I played against Marquette and after the game I’m in real pain and it doesn’t recover in time for the Duke game? I might not be able to help the team like I could. I’m lucky that I did it in time and not miss any games.”
(Everyone talks about your passing and your court vision, what do you see when you’re playing?) “It’s crazy because I get a lot of people ask me all the time especially people that look up to me. They might say: ‘Tony I want to be able to pass like you and what do I need to do to work on it?’ It’s crazy because I could never tell them. That’s the one thing I don’t work on. It’s just a God’s gift. I don’t work on my passing. People ask what do I see and honestly man I just feel like when I’m going down the court, it feels like everything is in slow motion. I’m seeing plays like who is going to be where and where they’re going to be at at a certain time. That’s how I’m able to get the passes through or make a pass that a regular person wouldn’t pass. I just zone out. Everything goes in slow motion.”
(Can you be as daring with your passes in college as you were in high school?) “Yeah most definitely. In college it’s more open. People are more athletic and my teammates are more capable of catching the passes. I got great teammates. Sometimes I’ll throw passes that’s a little too hard, too low, too fast or lead them too much, but they’re talented enough to where they catch it and finish. So it makes it seem like the pass was a great pass and it really was a bad pass. I’m just fortunate to have great teammates.”
(Your UW coaches are raving about your defense, which is a little surprising because in high school you didn’t play much defense.) “In high school I didn’t really show defense.”
(Why?) “I don’t know. I played defense when it was crunch time. I didn’t really think I had it until coming here to be honest with you. I always played pretty good defense, but it wasn’t what I was capable of. But coming here, I just had a mindset that it’s not like I’m better than anybody now like I was in high school. In college everybody was the best in high school. I’m just a competitor. I just try to play good defense. I surprised myself one time I was guarding full court and I was able to pressure the whole time and run with him. Me being quick and fast and running track has helped me a lot because I’m able to pick up full court. If somebody tries to sprint right by me, I’m right there or I can use my length. Being long, I can get deflections and get steals. Put that all together and great defender.”
(But you did that for the national team right?) “Yeah. That was my choice. Coming there I was like okay, we’re the top 10 players in the country. We all can score. I was thinking in my room, just laying there, what can I do to separate myself. Everybody can score. I decided I’m going to play defense. The next day I went to coach and said I want to guard the best player on the other team. I thought about it and I really told him I want to guard the best player. I was like dang, I got to really play defense because these guys are good over here in Germany. I remember one time we played this team from China and one of the players averaged 28 points per game. He was their best player. I was like dang, I just told coach and now I got to back it up. I just started playing great defense. Led the tournament in steals and deflections. Averaged five steals per game. That’s when I thought I could really be a great defender.”
(Did you hear or see Romar’s comment when he loosely compared you to Magic Johnson?) “I don’t really watch or look for things like that on the internet, but I heard about it. Somebody told me. It just shocked me actually. It’s crazy. Obviously he’s not comparing me exactly to Magic, but he’s saying I have the intangibles that Magic had. And knowing how good Magic was, Hall of Famer and one of the best point guards to ever do it, it’s just a blessing. A blessing for a coach like that that hasn’t even seen me play in a real college game. It’s great to have a coach like that.”
(Do you know who Magic is?) “Yeah.”
(How old are you?) “Eighteen. Obviously I was real young. I wasn’t old enough when Magic was in his prime, but I watched tape of him before. People say I play like him and I watched some tape. He has a lot of great passes. I see some of my game in him and like I said, coach Romar comparing me to him is just great. But at the end of the day, I got to back it up. I feel like if I do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll have no problems doing that.”
(Are you student of the game? Do you watch video of the old-timers and the current NBA players?) “Yeah I do all the time. Before I came out here, we were in the locker room watching (Michael) Jordan against the Cavs. And watching Jordan’s mid-range game. I’m a student of the game with the present (NBA) guys too. I love Carmelo (Anthony’s) mid-range and face-up game. He has some of the best face-up moves I’ve ever seen. I try to get like that. I watch him all the time. What ever chance I get, I’m trying to take things from this person or that person because I’m not perfect. I feel like I can always get better. I’m just trying to be the best I can be.”
(What can Washington do this season?) “Our potentially is very, very bright. Obviously we’re not where we want to be right now because it’s early in the season. But we can really do some good things if we all come together and buy into what Coach Romar is telling us. Coach Romar sees how good we can potentially be. I feel like if we come together down the road, players on the team play together and play smart, we can be a very, very hard team to beat. I can’t predict the future and I can’t say we’ll win the national championship, but obviously that’s one of our goals. I just feel like with the people we have on our team, especially when (Scott) Suggs come back, we have a chance to do that.”
(And what would you like to do this season?) “Honestly I just want to help the team win. I don’t have any set individual goals. I just want to help the team win. Don’t get me wrong, individual goals are great. But I feel like if I contribute and help the team win, the individual awards will come. So I’m not really thinking I want this award or that award, I want the national championship in Seattle, Washington. Like I said, they love winners. So if you’re winning and you’re fortunate enough, I could get some individual awards. But that’s not my goal. My goal is to help the team win.”
(Who has surprised you the most?) “That’s a tough one. I’d have to say two guys. Abdul Gaddy and man there’s a lot of people that’s surprised me. Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs. Everybody has surprised me really, but them two and Jernard Jarreau surprised me. Abdul came off an injury that I had before him. Knowing how hard it is and how hard it is to come back, for him to play like he’s playing it’s unbelievable. I really expected him to be sore and slowly getting into a groove, but he’s been playing like nothing has been hurt. It’s great because he’s a great point guard. And Scott Suggs because watching him last year I just thought he was a shooter. All he does is spot up and shoot. But actually playing in open gym and practice, he’s a good player. And Jernard because I just thought he was a 6-10 big man. But at 6-10, he can handle the ball. Coach Romar said if you rebound the ball Jernard you can go with it. Be comfortable doing that.”
(Does that work with your game being the point guard?) “It makes it easier for me to run the court. I’m the point guard on the team, but he’s capable of doing it so he’s going to do it. Everybody has really impressed me. But those three stick out the most.”
(Can you share the court with Gaddy?) “A lot of people have been asking me about that. Some people say they can’t play together, but what they don’t know is before I became a point guard, before I became a good passer I was a two.”
(As a sophomore in high school?) “My freshman year. I was a two first. So I know I can play the two. We’ve done it. Coach has seen us do it. We’re great playing together. When I’m the point guard, Gaddy is a great shooter so he can go to the two. We play off of each other. When we’re on the same team in practice, I run the point guard and the next possession he runs it. It’s back and forth. It’s crazy because I’m like a fastbreak type of point guard and he’s like slow it down and want to get everybody going. We’re two different type of point guards, but put together it’s hard to stop because on fast breaks when I get it, we’re out. But then there’s times we’re going to need to slow it down and that’s when the ball will be in Abdul’s hands. He’s a veteran and he knows what to do with. He’s a great, great, great point guard. I don’t know who’s going play this year, I don’t who’ll start, but if we do play it’s going to be very, very exciting and it’s going to be hard to stop.”
(Is there a symbolic passing of the torch among the Seattle-area players?) “Yeah I feel like there’s a passing of the torch when you have people like Jamal (Crawford), Will, Brandon Roy and Nate. And in Washington, Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy, I think that it’s my turn. I do feel like I have a great future. There’s been a lot of great players in Seattle, Washington.”
(Who’s next?) “You got one of my L.O.E. brothers Arell Hennings at Franklin. He’s a great point guard.”
(How tall is he?) “He’s not tall. He’s short, but he’s got handles. It’s crazy. More handles than I do. He’s a great point guards. You got Rio Adams. He’s a good player. Tucker Hammonds. I would say Daeshon Hall, but he moved to Texas. There’s a lot of great players right now. That’s the great thing about Washington, great players come out of here and the future is still bright.”
(What are you looking forward to this season?) “Playing in front of this crowd. My game is playing to the crowd. I just can’t wait until next Friday. I’m from here so I’ve been coming to games for a long time. It gets so loud in here you can’t even hear yourself breathe. For me to be actually on the court in my own city and to see this filled up its just crazy. I just can’t wait. I want to do the introductions. All of the little things. Coming out of the tunnel. Just game day. I just can’t wait for that.”
(Are you equal parts basketball player and entertainer?) “I’m definitely more basketball player than entertainer. But my game is entertaining. So I’m not trying to be entertaining, it’s just the game I play.”
(Do you have fun on the court?) “A lot of fun. I feel like if you’re not having fun, it will make things harder and I feel like you won’t have a good game. I know I take it seriously and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, but always have fun. It’s crazy because I’m always misunderstood because people see me yelling on the court like Kevin Garnett is. But it’s my excitement. It’s me being happy to be on the court. I’m so emotional. I’m just happy to be here.”
(Jerry Brewer wrote a line about you that went like this: “Overexposed. Under appreciated.” You agree?) “Yeah I do because like I just said before the game I’m always screaming, pumping the crowd up or talking to myself. People see that and they might judge me because I’m loud, pumping my chest and I’m doing all of that. They would think I’m a bad person or I’m cocky or arrogant. But that’s not even the case. I’m just showing my emotion. I’m just happy to be here. I motivate myself when I do all of that. On the court that’s what they say. And I can’t blame them because that’s all they see. But at the end of the day, I’m a great person. I’m not trying to be cocky or arrogant. I’m just showing emotion and showing excitement on the court.”
(Corrected: 4:10 p.m.)