TONY WROTEN was a junior wide receiver at Garfield High School in Seattle, playing wide receiver. He was running a crossing pattern when the ball was thrown to him. He planted his right leg to cut across the field and suddenly found himself down on the ground. He walked to the sideline, tried to run a little bit there to make sure he was OK, but was told he wasn't going back in the game.
Wroten was set to be a star in college at the University of Washington as both a football and basketball player. But that knee injury, diagnosed the next day as a torn ACL, put an end to that. Football was not an option anymore, so Wroten concentrated on basketball.
He played his senior year at Garfield and had a successful one-year run at Washington, where he averaged 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He was taken with the 25th pick by Memphis and played a season there before coming to the 76ers in an August 2013 trade. He was in his second season with the Sixers when he tore up his knee again last January. One year in college and two-plus NBA seasons before getting hurt were all played with a tremendous amount of pain.
"I got the MRI the next day and they said it was a torn ACL," said Wroten, remembering his high school injury. "I just went to the local hospital, got the surgery. After it, I did a little bit of rehab, maybe once a week or something like that. I had pain in the knee ever since that surgery. I hadn't been 100 percent since that first surgery. When I tore my ACL this last year and I went to see Dr. (James) Andrews, he said, 'Wow.' He was surprised I was able to play this long on the knee I was on. Coming back this year, it's a whole difference. I'm more explosive. The last injury that I did in high school, it took me a minute to get back to me and to get back to normal. Now, I just feel like a totally new person with a different mindset."
The team released point guard Phil Pressey on Friday and added Wroten and fellow point guard Kendall Marshall to the roster from the team's NBA Development League affiliate Delaware 87ers.
For a team that struggles mightily to score and has had trouble keeping the pace coach Brett Brown so desires, the return of Wroten - and soon of Marshall, who says he's about a week away - is a welcomed sight to Brown.
"Kamikaze energy. Downhill aggression," is how Brown described the 22-year-old's style of play. "There are problems at times with that, because he hasn't played for so long that you're going to have to expect some turnovers and expect him to play in a crowd. But I'll trade all that to have him back and to have his, in our world, seniority, our version of a veteran. I'm just really excited for him and for us that we can welcome him back."
Brown said Wroten will be restricted to 12 to 14 minutes a game to begin with. The coach also must figure out exactly how to use his most explosive player on the roster, whether it be at point guard or shooting guard.
"Historically, Tony has been about speed and pressure on the rim," Brown said. "The way the league is playing pick-and-roll defense right now - where most of the five men sag back and they just kind of protect the rim and then figure out if they have the driver or the roller - that's the world of big men. Tony puts those bigs in a place where he's going to go dunk on them or he's going to go finish. Bigs have to make a decision at the rim. They can't just let him have a dunk or a layup. So that drop-off pass, that air-time pass (alley-oop), that floor pass to the roller ends up everything. It's borne out of him attacking the rim and it puts those other people in that type of decision mode."
While his body won't permit him right now to play the way he eventually will, Wroten can't stop his mind from forging ahead at full speed.
"I'm not really nervous, I'm more anxious and excited," said Wroten, who has averaged 14.1 points in 102 games as a Sixer. "I haven't played in 10 months, and being (so close to) coming back, I'm just looking forward to the game. I just want to be able to help my team and play in front of the great fans. I just want to do what I can do to help my team win, help my teammates. We have a lot of pieces. We have shooters that we didn't have last year. We have great bigs. I feel like my talent can help. I told the team and I told coach that I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win.
"I feel like I am the point guard of this team. That's the way I feel. I want to be a leader and help the team. We're young, and I feel like I'm the guy for the job for the present and future. I'm not going to try and get everything back in one game. It's going to take some time, and I'm excited for it."