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Tony Wroten's Memphis Mentor

by Max Rappaport, Sixers.com
Posted: April 11, 2014

Standing before his newly assigned locker on the opening day of Grizzlies training camp in 2012, Tony Wroten blended in with the crowd. Just 19 years old, he was one of nine players donning a Memphis uniform for the first time.

Once he took the court, however, he quickly caught the eye of one of the team’s most respected veterans, shooting guard Tony Allen.

“He was a young kid with ambition to get better every day,” the 32-year-old Allen recalled before a game against the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center in March. “He just loved to compete, and every day was a grind for him.”

Drafted by the Celtics in 2004, Allen began his career with a Boston team that was relatively young aside from a core group of veterans. As a result, the Oklahoma State alum saw minutes right away, averaging 16.4 minutes per game and starting 34 contests as a rookie. 

Wroten, on the other hand, took a largely redshirt role in his first NBA season. Drafted 25th overall in 2012, he played a total of 35 games, averaging just under eight minutes per contest as a rookie. Despite the lack of playing time, he kept a positive outlook and made sure to learn as much as he could from his veteran teammates.

“He knows what it takes to be not just good but great. He learned from the best, and one of the best defensive players in the game… me,” Allen remarked with a smirk before turning to teammate Marc Gasol and winking. “He was just waiting for his opportunity but staying patient and thankful for the chance to be in the NBA. He was a great rookie and someone that was always willing to learn.”

It wasn’t long after that first season in Memphis that Wroten got that chance. A trade late last summer sent the 20-year-old combo guard from Memphis to Philadelphia, where he would join a team that featured the league’s youngest roster. With the Sixers, he was given the opportunity to earn ample playing time.

Wroten has logged the fifth-most minutes of any Sixer this season, averaging 13.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 24.6 minutes per game. He attributes a great deal of his success as a sophomore to the lessons he learned as a rookie.

“Memphis made it to the Western Conference Finals my first season, and seeing first-hand the preparation and the dedication that they put into that season, I saw what it takes to win in the NBA,” he said. “Tony Allen’s one of the best, if not the best, on-ball defenders there is. In practice, I had to go against him every day. He showed me the ropes with and what it takes to make it in this league. He helped me out a lot.”

Despite being a three-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Team, Tony Allen was not always known for his prowess on that side of the ball. Becoming an elite perimeter defender took dedication, hard work, and the maturity to realize the immense value of the role. It’s something he stressed to Wroten as a rookie, and something he continues to reiterate today.

“Paul Pierce always told me, ‘You have to do things that are missing on your team.’ I was playing alongside Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, but they didn’t have that guy who could just defend. I was physical enough, I had the right body-type for it, and I just took that role and ran with it,” Allen said of his own development as a player. “I tell Tony that where he needs to find his niche is on the defensive end. If he can control that, he’s going to be in this league a long time. His upside as a point guard is huge.”

The Sixers take on the Grizzlies in Memphis Friday night at 8pm (EST). Catch the action on CSN Philly and 97.5 The Fanatic FM.