Pac-12 Basketball Preview: Center stage for Washington's Tony Wroten Jr.

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20: Head coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies looks on from the sideline in the first half while taking on the North Carolina Tar Heels during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Knowing that he still had a year of eligibility in his back pocket, Washington's fiery point guard Isaiah Thomas decided to pursue the NBA for good last spring. It made sense too. Some of his key teammates were not going to return anyway, making it difficult to say Thomas' decision was a poor one by any stretch. He ended up being selected with the 60th pick by Sacramento, thereby becoming the NBA's unofficial version of Mr. Irrelevant in 2011.

One thing people tend to ignore when ruminating about college kids bolting early is the threat that a handful of big time recruits arriving on campus might present. Too often we lump declared underclassmen into three generalized categories: 1.) The player has undeniable talent and NBA teams have been drooling over him since birth, 2.) The player has monetary issues in his family and legitimately needs the cash, or 3.) It's the kid's lifelong dream to play in the NBA one day, and he needs to make the move right now.

Sometimes we get a combination of all three wrapped into a teary-eyed press conference, but normally the "dream" aspect gets tossed in there eventually. We've heard this so much that it's becoming hard to deduce what is real and what is simply glorified mediaspeak at this point. Just once we'd love to hear a first rounder come out and say, "Well, I really wanted to be a policeman, but I'm 7'2" and won't fit into the cars, so I guess the NBA works out pretty well too." It's a shame that brutal honestly doesn't always have a place in sports like it probably should. Maybe one day.

Quick Pac-12 Predictions

  • Tourney Teams - California, UCLA, Arizona, Washington, Oregon
  • POY - Jorge Gutierrez, California
  • Newcomer - Tony Wroten Jr., Washington
  • Coach - Dana Altman, Oregon
  • Champion - California
  • Don’t Sleep On - Oregon (team); Arizona State's Trent Lockett (player)
  • But in Thomas' case, being an undersized point with the skill-set of a two-guard, some portion of his decision almost assuredly had to do with the guys head coach Lorenzo Romar has assembled over the last few years. Not that Thomas necessarily would have struggled with the competition, or god forbid lost his job at any point, but this upcoming season is very much the culmination of three straight recruiting classes that each featured at least one high-end backcourt prospect. You have to think that Thomas saw this better than anyone, and maybe, just maybe he imagined himself not being the brightest star on the court this season. It was time to pass the torch.

    In '09 it was Abdul Gaddy, a five-star point who showed promise before shredding his ACL near the halfway mark as a sophomore. In '10 it was Terrence Ross, a prototypical NBA shooting guard who has all the makings of a phenomenal wing at the college level. And this past year came the big one, elite five-star crossover specialist Tony Wroten Jr. from Seattle, a kid who many view as the single best passer in a stacked freshman class. Oh, and with the NBA lockout likely in for the long haul, the currently unemployed Thomas remains an integral part of Wroten's support staff as both a mentor and friend. Not a bad way to pass the torch, right?

    From an expectation standpoint, it's safe to say that people are still sleeping on what Washington will bring to the table next month. A lack of depth in the frontcourt remains an issue, sure, but the smart money is on Ross, Gaddy and Wroten combining to form one of the Pac-12's most impressive trios, literally right away. Gaddy should impress often with his assist to turnover ratio and ability to run a clean offense, while Ross should make weekly highlight reels and rack up defensive stats like a fiend. But Wroten, well, the talented newcomer should be something entirely different. Something more.

    That's because if everything falls into place like it appears, and an injury to senior Scott Suggs has already opened a significant hole at the position, then Tony 'Murder She' Wroten is going to be one helluva special player. For those that haven't seen him play, or caught any of his magical YouTube vids, it's going to be a treat to stay in touch with Washington's Pac-12 exploits this year, if only for Wroten's play alone.

    Heck, Romar himself can barely contain his giddiness over the youngster. "His athleticism allows him to be a real terror on the defensive end. He's trying to pick up our concepts now, and he's learning where he needs to be. But sometimes while he's making mistakes, he makes a play. He's just very, very unique with a unique skill set."

    The comparisons to the greatest guards to hit college game over the past decade are lofty, but still remarkably valid. Part of being a top-notch college player is having confidence in yourself that you are unquestionably the guy that needs to be making plays at each end of the floor, and Wroten excels in this area. When asked what he wants to accomplish in year one, the kid offered up only one goal for himself and his team.

    "Win. Trying to win a national championship. I’m not one of those guys who is one-and-done, just going to college because you have to. I’m trying to win. My first goal is to win a championship and we’re capable of doing that at Washington," Wroten said.

    The thing is, he actually means it. We hear this national title thing all the time from first-year players eager to make a mark on the game, but not many of them are as confident AND talented as Wroten is. Yeah, the Huskies probably won't win the NCAA Tournament next April, but they are going to do big things in 2011-12, and Wroten Jr. is going to be at the center of it all. Take note, the next great Pac-12 point guard has arrived.

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