As the clock ran down on Tony Wroten’s freshman season he had to wonder if it was all worth it. When the final siren sounded in Washington’s season-ending overtime loss to Minnesota in the NIT semifinals, a different siren must have been playing in Wroten’s head.
The siren song of NBA riches and the promise of all his childhood dreams fulfilled.
Make no mistake, Wroten’s performance Tuesday had nothing to do with whether or not he’ll enter the NBA draft. His 25 percent shooting and zero assists will have zero impact on whether the inaugural Pac-12 freshman of the year is wearing a Husky uniform next season. Really, his performance all season will have little bearing.
Wroten is never going to be drafted on production; he’s going to be drafted on potential, and very highly at that. He’s going to be drafted because, even at an NBA level, Wroten will almost always be bigger, stronger, and faster than his opponent.
If he chooses to leave, Wroten will certainly be a very rich man next year, and no amount of stat-scavenging or weakness-spotting is going to change that.
Yes, next year Wroten could be driving a Lamborghini, starring in a music video, and sipping on the finest of nonalcoholic Shirley Temples. And he could be doing it in such tourist magnets as Sioux Falls, Bakersfield, Boise, or any other city with an NBA Developmental League franchise.
Wroten is ready, insofar as Wroten is good enough that an NBA team will want to own the rights to him, but he’s not so ready that an NBA team will want to actually play him.
They’ll want to groom him, and they’ll want him to work on his shot, decision-making, and defense. They’ll throw him into the farm system for a couple of years of seasoning before unleashing him on the league.
Yes, he’ll have money. But he won’t be able to spend it while barnstorming around the fifth-rate metropolises that make up the NBA’s answer to baseball’s minor leagues.
Wroten has the chance to be an NBA All-Star some day. He’s that good. But he also has some very obvious flaws. If guys like Aaron Brooks, Jordan Farmar, Martell Webster, and Jeremy Lin need to spend some time being groomed, it’s not a bad bet that Wroten will as well.
If Wroten goes pro he’ll have to fully be an adult; he’ll have to worry about money and partying. The pressure to perform will be exponentially higher, lest he never get the call-up to the big show.
Would staying in college really be that much worse? He’s a veritable star in the conference already and could lead the team on a run back to March Madness next year. Surely that must have some appeal to someone for whom loyalty is everything and who purportedly reps the 206 every chance he gets.
Really, life in college as a star basketball player is probably a lot more fun than life traveling around backwater D-League cities. He gets everything paid for anyway, and he gets to enjoy being in college.
He also gets to spend the time under the tutelage of head coach Lorenzo Romar, the guy who groomed Brandon Roy, Isaiah Thomas, and Nate Robinson, other guards who stayed until they were upperclassmen and made financial windfalls because of it.
Romar has turned down head coaching positions in the NBA and is certainly as good a mentor as any coach Wroten could find in the developmental leagues.
If Wroten wants to earn a lot of money in a quick fashion then he can’t go wrong by declaring for the NBA draft. But if his family doesn’t need the money right away, he can probably get a lot better — and have a lot more fun doing it — by staying in school.
Reach sports columnist Jacob Thorpe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Jacob_B_Thorpe.
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