How to put in perspective the departure of Tony Wroten from Washington? Well, how about this: If you discount the summer “bridge program” transition phase offered by most schools, and just begin the clock when he first took a full-load, fall-semester class at the UW, he was around for . . . six months.
End of September until the end of March.
Correction: As a couple of readers pointed out, “semester” should be “quarter.” I knew that, but misspoke . . .
I remember attending the press conference back in the spring of 2007 when Spencer Hawes announced he was throwing his name into the NBA hat (at the time he wasn’t hiring an agent, but he would follow through on the decision later). I was struck by how collected and even-handed UW coach Lorenzo Romar was about it, as if he were thinking great players come and great players go. And of course, that’s exactly right.
Tuesday, it was interesting to read Oregonian writer John Hunt’s description of the press conference at Oregon State to announce the departure of guard Jared Cunningham. Here’s what he wrote:
Still, Robinson appeared to delight in the occasion, talking of Cunningham’s improvement since he arrived in Corvallis and of the Beavers’ 20-win season and up-tempo style that promises to attract more athletic players such as the one who was saying good-bye.
“This is terrific to have a press conference like this at Oregon State,” Robinson said.
That’s a bit of a surprise, given that Cunningham’s return would have given the Beavers a roster full of returnees. But maybe there’s a peripheral benefit for a program when a player announces he’s leaving for the NBA — even when that future is a bit uncertain, as it is with Cunningham. (Many would argue it’s the same for Wroten.)
Meanwhile, If there’s a word to describe Wroten’s tenure in the minds of UW fans, I’m guessing “unfulfilling” comes as close to any. It was such a thoroughly strange season — a regular-season Pac-12 title, yet no NCAA bid. It simply isn’t where the UW wants to go.
I got to thinking. The two powers in the state, Washington and Gonzaga, featured true-freshman point guards, Wroten at the UW and Kevin Pangos at Gonzaga. For a good bit of the season, Wroten led the Huskies in scoring. Pangos finished as Gonzaga’s leading scorer.
Who’s going to get the better of that deal — who already has it?
It’s not that simple, of course. The two schools recruit different types of players, including at the point guard spot. Washington prefers explosive players that can beat you off the dribble, pass and, at the optimum, help create defensive havoc. Gonzaga tends to see the point guard primarily as facilitator, hopefully with a jump shot, in a system with a multitude of sets.
After Gonzaga lost to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, Pangos told John Blanchette of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, “The next three years are going to be the most fun of my life.”
Presumably, those will all be in a Gonzaga uniform. If he stays through his senior year, he’s likely going to be finding his way onto some All-America teams and have a chance to be the best Zags guard ever (remember, most of John Stockton’s best work came as a pro). Wroten will be coming up on his second NBA contract by then. He’s no doubt a better NBA prospect than Pangos.
Before you scream “Unfair!” this isn’t to question the UW so much as it’s about trying to explore the ramifications of the NBA’s hideous 19-and-under rule and the turmoil it wreaks on college coaches.
Even if Romar sensed, when he recruited Wroten, that he was highly likely to be a one-and-done athlete, he had to pursue him. Maybe he could help take the Huskies on a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Or maybe, for whatever reason, he’d hang around for two years.
But there’s more to it. Even as Wroten exits so soon, there’s a residual benefit to the UW. I think it’s important to Romar and the Huskies to be able to tell recruits, “We can get you to the league.” And indeed, they do that. They’ve had far more success than Gonzaga in that regard. Even if Romar had severe misgivings about how Wroten could affect his team — I have no evidence he did — or how long he might stay, he had to take his chances, simply because Wroten is a local kid and that’s Washington’s prime recruiting ground. And in schooling him for the NBA, the Huskies will benefit, at least in some small way.
As much as Gonzaga with Pangos? No. That won’t be close. But Wroten gives Washington one more brick in a monument that tells recruits, “We can get you where you want to go.”
Here’s another way of saying it: With Wroten, there was a huge upside for the UW. In the end, though, little of that was realized, and what gains come from his time here — modest though they may be — are yet to materialize.
You gotta do what you gotta do. Washington did that, and I suspect Wroten would say the same thing about his decision last week.