- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

American’s Tony Wroblicky was lounging in his room last June when the news arrived.

Teammate Stephen Lumpkins — a rising senior and the man who Wroblicky played behind last season — was pursuing a professional career.

Oh, and that professional career would be in baseball.

“I got the text from him and I was in shock,” Wroblicky said. “I guess no one really expected him to go.”

But go he did, creating a hole in the Eagles’ lineup Wroblicky initially struggled to fill as he adjusted to the sudden requirement to play 20 minutes a night and avoid foul trouble along the way.

Hints the Californian, who was high school teammates with Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, was growing arrived in brief bursts. Then came the past two weeks, when Wroblicky averaged 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds over four games.

The burst coincides with American’s late push for a piece of the Patriot League regular-season title, which continues Thursday as the Eagles (18-9, 9-3 Patriot) play host to Bucknell (20-8, 10-2) at Bender Arena.

The last time a conference contender came to American, Wroblicky produced 18 points and 17 rebounds (his first career double-double) in a Feb. 9 victory over Lehigh.

“I feel like it was his coming-out game,” forward Charles Hinkle said. “I think he finally realized how much bigger he is [than most opponents], and he was able to use his size and attributes to really score and produce. He’s been playing real well of late.”

Perhaps the realization of the size disparity was inevitable. The Patriot League hardly is littered with towering centers, and at 6-foot-10 and 230 pounds, Wroblicky possesses an obvious built-in advantage.

It just wasn’t one he figured he would have to utilize as much so early in his career. Lumpkins looked like a lock to play 30 minutes a game again, with Wroblicky likely trying to create a niche a little larger than his 7.1 minutes per game last season.

That role just happened to grow with Lumpkins‘ departure.

“When Lump left, it just put a lot more pressure on me — not that it’s necessarily his fault, but he gave me no choice but to step up into that starting role and contribute like the way he contributed,” Wroblicky said. “Over the summer, it helped me out mentally that I’d have to step into that role.”

Still, it was a bit overwhelming initially. American struggled to establish an interior game during the first two months of the season as Wroblicky frequently floated into foul trouble.

While receiving production from Wroblicky was welcome, the Eagles found just making sure he was fully engaged in each game did plenty to improve their chances of winning.

“Oftentimes, I think we’ll know the first couple minutes of the game if it’s good Tony or bad Tony in terms of the concentration,” American coach Jeff Jones said. “A lot of players are like that, but for him whether it’s making his first shot or getting something positive to happen, I think that can springboard him. For Tony, it’s about activity. Does he look energetic?”

Jones has seen more and more verve from Wroblicky as the season has unfolded. The sophomore acknowledged he’s more comfortable scoring and working in the post than he was a few months ago.

Like his own frame, Wroblicky’s impact is big. Maybe larger than he even realizes, and certainly on an even grander scale than he likely envisioned when he learned last summer he was suddenly a starter.

Tony’s just like a little puppy,” Jones said. “He has no idea how good, I think, eventually he’s going to be or how big or how big strong. He’s like, ‘OK coach,’ then he goes out. He wants to please. He works really hard. I think he likes playing basketball, and he wants to be good. It’s simple. It’s not real complicated with Tony.”