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Originally published Monday, February 20, 2012 at 6:07 PM

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Huskies' Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten in no-lose situation, but here's how they win

One more year in college basketball could be an investment worth tens of millions of dollars when they become NBA players.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Saturday

UW @ WSU, 5 p.m., ROOT

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The lobbying began late Saturday afternoon with an eruption of "One more year!" chants directed at Terrence Ross. As the Edmundson Pavilion sellout crowd filled the arena with its wish, Ross shook his head, not in defiance but in humility. The mellow sophomore guard is still growing into his stardom.

If such a late-game moment had presented itself for freshman Tony Wroten Jr., the crowd likely would've rooted for his return with similar passion. The duo — quite possibly the best tandem in Washington men's basketball history in terms of raw talent — has arrived as a true force in college basketball, and the Huskies are making another late dash to the NCAA tournament mostly because of their stars' maturation.

Ross and Wroten are roommates with complementary skills. Ross is a gazelle with unlimited athleticism and shooting touch, and his game is cloaked in silk. Wroten is a bulldog — not just a Garfield High School Bulldog, but a true, hard-edged competitor — and his game is a combination of stellar quickness, rare court vision and unrivaled fearlessness.

Together, they're clicking now, and the clock is ticking on how long they'll remain in college. While both players will wait until season's end to make an informed decision, everyone else is forming an opinion now.

The general consensus figures to be cries that they're not ready because, well, that's what people are predisposed to saying. But what does "they're not ready" really mean? Our perception of their games is affected positively or negatively by watching them all the time. In the Age of the Unpolished Prospect in the NBA, we tend to evaluate young players' NBA readiness in a vacuum and hold them to unrealistic standards.

In reality, pro readiness should be gauged by asking three primary questions:

• Is the player good enough right now to get a guaranteed contract (all first-round picks receive that automatically; some second-rounders earn it)?

• Is the player mature enough to handle the inevitable struggles of being a pro?

• Most important, how great are the benefits of staying when measured against the opportunity to realize a dream and make good money by leaving early?

It would be a moderate surprise if both Ross and Wroten stay. It's probable that one stays and one goes. It's clear that another year of school would help Ross and Wroten, but if both players decide to leave and are drafted in the first round in June, it'll be hard to argue with their decisions.

So, how should you frame your "One more year!" pleas? There's a more persuasive alternative to "they're not ready."

The most compelling argument centers on the chance to enhance both their legacy and earning potential.

Both Ross and Wroten should be first-round picks. Ross is a potential lottery pick in what should be a loaded 2012 draft. Wroten has more things to prove, such as perimeter shooting ability, but he's a 6-foot-5 point guard with multiple obvious NBA skills (quickness, court vision, size and great athleticism for a point guard), so he's too intriguing for 30 teams to pass up.

But how much money could Ross and Wroten make, over the life of their pro careers, if they refine their skills in college another year and enter the NBA truly ready to make an impact, not just ready to be in the league?

One more year could be an investment worth tens of millions of dollars.

Ross and Wroten will have to think not only about their rookie contracts, but determine how to be in position to maximize their second contract, which is where they'll make the majority of their money.

Besides money, what's a legacy worth? Isaiah Thomas had to answer that question last year. He had an opportunity to break records and set a new standard by making the Big Dance four straight years at Washington. But Thomas decided it was his time to go. Some mocked him. Now, despite being taken with the last pick in the draft, he's starting for the Sacramento Kings, and he just dropped 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds on No. 1 pick Kyrie Irving.

Of course, Thomas had three years' worth of accomplishments when he left. Ross and Wroten are underclassmen. Do they want to be in the record books? Do they want to have multiple chances to make a deep tournament run? Do they want to come back to the Northwest every summer knowing that they owned this region instead of renting it? Do they want to leave Washington as two of the greatest winners in program history and not just arguably the most talented? One more year could cement their legacies and their draft stock.

Ross and Wroten have the talent to make any decision a good one. If they stay healthy, they're destined to be good pros. Don't frown on them if they make the jump now. But if they defer the money and stick around, it's a decision that could be both pleasing to the masses and lucrative in the long run.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

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