Both Smith, a 6-foot-9, 285 pound power forward from Kentwood and Wroten, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Garfield have skyrocketed up the recruiting charts over the last year. In fact, it’s conceivable that the State of Washington may produce the top rated player in the country in consecutive years, an honor no Washington prepster has ever achieved.
As their careers unfold, the obvious question becomes where they will spend their collegiate careers, and whether or not they end up at the University of Washington. It’s a decision both players will agonize over as they near their commitments. Smith’s recruitment is starting to wind down while Wroten’s is just taking off. As the players are pulled in 10 different directions by schools across the country, we spoke to a couple of Husky Greats to weigh in with their own recruiting experiences.
“For me the recruiting process was flattering, but I didn’t really buy into it,” shared former Garfield High star and current Portland Trailblazer Brandon Roy. “I had offers from Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, but for me, at the end of the day, I didn’t want to lead those teams on. With me and Nate Robinson both being the same year we felt like if we all stayed home, we could make our hometown school one of the best programs in the nation. We didn’t need to go chasing dreams in Connecticut.”
Roy and Robinson, joined by local stars Conroy, Tre Simmons and later Brockman, rattled off three trips to the NCAA tournament and two consecutive appearances in the Sweet 16, while putting Washington firmly on the national basketball map.
“For me, going to Garfield High School, I was a part of one of the many classes that were good, so I wanted to go somewhere where I could start something,” Roy, the 2007 NBA rookie of the year explained. “Looking at Arizona, I would have just been one of a long list of players that was good, but I wanted to go somewhere and start something.”
Roy, who still makes Seattle his home and is a fixture at Hec Ed in the summer, spoke fondly about his return home after his collegiate career ended.
“There was something about when I’d go back down to Rainier or Martin Luther King that was special because we made Washington a school that our city could be proud of,” he shared. “You just can’t feel that way in another state. For me it was even more special to share it with my friends and with my family because they could come watch me play so they got to enjoy it and grow with us.”
Roy faced the same recruiting gauntlet that Smith and Wroten are currently facing, managing to stay grounded despite all of the attention.
“I was happy to say that Lute Olsen came to my school, but at the end of the day I wasn’t going to let that make my decision.” Roy said. “I talked to my dad about Arizona, about them being one of the top schools in the nation, about how they develop NBA players, but to me if those players are that good they could have gone anywhere and made it to the NBA. I just believed in myself and my own abilities, and I think that for young kids coming up, they can be great and stay home.
“If you looked at our success when we had all of the hometown kids sticking around, we were good; two sweet sixteen appearances and that’s because we had the local players. I felt like I was one of the best players in the country and I could hopefully make wherever I was going one of the top schools.”
He did just that.
New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson also weighed in, though his perspective is a little bit different since he was recruited primarily as a football player.
“Other schools seemed more attractive because out here on the West Coast, you only see Pac-10, so when you’re watching the Big East, the ACC and all of these big time schools on TV, kids want to go there because it’s what they’re seeing on TV and they think it’s the right move,” Robinson told Sports Washington.
“Josh (Smith) and Tony (Wroten) have a chance to do some big things,” explained the outspoken former cornerback and NBA Slam Dunk champion. “You know, Tony’s my cousin. He’s interested in a lot of different schools; he likes UW but he sees a lot of other programs on TV. I just tell him to take his visits and make his choice wisely, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time there. I wouldn’t have traded college life for the world. They were the best three years of my life. I had a great time at U-Dub.”
Wroten’s off-the-charts athleticism and feel for the game have made him somewhat of an urban legend amongst the 'youtube generation', and he has the game to back it up. Hailing from one of Seattle’s most accomplished athletic families. Tony Wroten, Sr. was a star tight end for the Huskies, his Mom Shirley was a track star there. His Aunt, Joyce Walker, was a Harlem Globetrotter and his cousins include Robinson and former Oregon State hoopster Jimmie Haywood. It’s safe to say that the family has a fairly solid grasp of the recruiting process even if Tony changes his favorite school on a weekly basis.
Smith, meanwhile, is a juggernaut in the middle. Built like an NFL tight end with a broad body, explosive hips and soft hands, he also happens to be one of the most pleasant players you will ever meet. “Big Josh,” as he is affectionately referred to, is the embodiment of the traits Washington Head Coach Lorenzo Romar prizes most amongst those he targets as recruits. Parents rave about Josh’s genuine attention to their own children at area AAU tournaments, often rattling off stories of Smith’s congeniality. So it should come as no surprise that Romar and his staff have made Josh their top target for 2010, but they face some stiff competition. UCLA and Duke, among others, are giving Josh the full court press.
One Husky may have a rather unique and relevant perspective on the subject. Brockman was also heavily recruited by Duke and UCLA before choosing Washington. “When I first started out in the recruiting process, I didn’t think I was going to come to Washington because I was around it so much,” explained the jovial forward. “I knew all about the program because my sister (Kirsten) went here, and I didn’t know anything about those other schools (Duke, North Carolina, UCLA) but I had always dreamed about playing for them. It’s the common case of thinking the grass is greener on the other side, and there’s a tendency to overlook the little things surrounding a program like Washington that makes it so special because it was in my backyard.
“When I was being recruited, I was down to Washington and Duke and I remember flying to my visit at Duke and I was all pumped and excited to check out the school, meet all the players, spend time with Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), and see what the school had to offer. When I first got there, I thought it was unbelievable, but as things progressed, I started to realize that there wasn’t a whole lot different about the two schools, the people, the facilities. It was smaller but I just remember sitting there on the last day of my visit thinking that if I’m out here, my parents aren’t going to be able to come to my games. My grandparents, my family is here in the Seattle area and if I ended up at Duke, they weren’t going to be able to watch me play. If I went to Washington, they’d be at every single game. For me that meant a lot and was a major justifying factor.
“I tried to justify UCLA, but there was something about it that just wasn’t the same," explained the bruising Snohomish, Wash. native. “I even tried it in Spokane, and even though it was only a few hours away, it didn’t feel like home. Growing up here, I didn’t know it then, but I think Husky was in my blood.
“Washington’s a top level program like everyone else, and by staying at home it makes it that much more special. I think all things happen for a reason and I ended up in the perfect place.”
Roy shared a similar sentiment.
“I feel like because I stayed home, I’ll be forever loved in Washington because I played for the hometown team,” he said. “Even though I’ll always have Portland, and they’re great fans, I’ll always have the love and respect from home. People will never forget I played for the Washington Huskies.
“This gym (Hec Ed), this is my living room. I still feel like part of the team and when this team loses, I feel like I lost a game. I feel like even when I’m forty or fifty, I can still come here and it’ll be my gym.”
As Seattleites enter the post-NBA era, the University of Washington steps into the spotlight as the only show in town. The city now belongs to the Jon Brockmans, Venoy Overtons and Isaiah Thomases, rather than the Gary Paytons, Shawn Kemps and Ray Allens. If ex-Huskies were icons before, they now have the chance to be egends. Josh Smith and and Tony Wroten have the opportunity to be counted amongst the greatest basketball heros in Seattle history if they only heed the call.