Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Updated: May 19, 12:46 PM ET
Wall wants to be Wizard come draft day
By Andy Katz
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- John Wall played cool, calm and collected throughout the first 11 announcements of the NBA lottery order Tuesday night.
Then the ESPN broadcast went to commercial break and he exhaled. Surrounded on agent Dan Fegan's couch by his close circle of friends who are considered family in Brian and Dwon Clifton and Tyrone Williams, Wall started to get a bit fidgety.
All of his anticipation of where he could be playing next season, the buildup for two years of his likely destination after being anointed the top pick in the 2010 NBA draft as a high school senior, was finally about to come to a close.
"I think it's going to be the Nets," the Kentucky freshman point guard said. "I've just got a feeling."
Fegan, who openly cheered when the Minnesota Timberwolves got the No. 4 pick because he represents Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio (selected by Minnesota last year but choosing to stay in Spain), was ecstatic at the final three teams -- New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia -- announcing to the group that they were all East Coast cities for the Raleigh, N.C., native and all major media markets.
When the Nets went No. 3 and the Sixers No. 2 there was silence and then a realization that the Wizards had secured the top pick, leading to a round of applause from within the room.
Wall's not the only winner in this situation.
With the widow of Abe Pollin, Irene, representing the team in Secaucus, N.J., the Wizards lucked out after enduring a season in which Gilbert Arenas brought guns to the locker room and was subsequently suspended by the league and had to serve jail time.
Arenas is still under contract so there's no indication of what will occur with Washington but the roster has been undergoing a makeover, one which will likely continue.
"They need a fresh face coming in right now when the organization had been at an all-time low," Fegan said. "The only place to go is up and if he goes there he can help them win."
Wall and his circle of friends and agents were thrilled over the Wizards getting the top pick. While they were all being cautious not to offend the Sixers or Nets in case the Wizards had a change of heart, there was a clear indication that they anticipate going to Washington. Don't expect Wall to work out for any teams outside of the top three, if it even gets below No. 1.
"I was real nervous coming down to the wire," Wall said. "My goal is to be the No. 1 pick. I can't wait for June 24 and see."
It seems likely Wall will reach that goal as ESPN.com polled a third of the league and the consensus was that the point guard will be the No. 1 pick. Now Washington is on the clock.
"President Obama can be at your games," said Wall, as he stood outside on Fegan's patio. "I'll keep working hard and hopefully they'll pick me."
Fegan said he just wanted for Wall to get a "good opportunity. This is a big market with a good opportunity. I've been in situations where we wonder what the teams are going to do. This one is 'wow.' "
"Wow" might also describe the Wizards' season as the team finished with the second-worst record in the East at 26-56 under coach Flip Saunders in his first year with the team.
Those numbers don't faze Wall, however, who said he'll be able to handle going to a team with a losing record just like he went to Kentucky after it had a down year the previous season.
"It wasn't just me," Wall said earlier Tuesday after working out at the 360 Athletic Club in Reseda. "The team believed in me as the point guard. Patrick Patterson was there. We had talent. Wherever I go, there will be a new coach [for him], a new team and I'll be ready to play."
Wall was indeed part of a gifted Kentucky team, but his talent stood out above that of his teammates. Wall's exceptional speed at the point from one end to the other differentiates him from other point guards. His 6-4 frame allows him to elevate and finish. His ballhandling is not an issue. If there was a point of contention with Wall it's his outside shooting. Wall led the Wildcats with 16.6 points a game but shot 32.5 percent on 3-pointers.
"I'm working on all the angles on my jump shot," Wall said. "My jump shot is the key thing. Guys go on the pick and roll and will force me to knock down shots. I want to be one of those point guards who knock down shots you have to get over the top. I want to make it easier on my teammates. I'm not going to take bad shots but take shots that are open for me. I feel like I can be a great defensive player when I put my mind to it for the whole game, not just half the game."
To that end, Wall is already scouting his future competition to pick up a few pointers. Wall was at Staples Center for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Monday night to watch the Lakers and Suns and said he spent the evening studying Kobe Bryant's footwork.
"I have to work on mine," Wall said.
Wall has no problem with putting in the work, on the court or off as he compiled a 3.5 grade point average in his second semester at Kentucky. Wall's GPA dwarfed the overall fall semester GPA of the Wildcats which was reported by The Lexington Herald-Leader as being at a seven-year low of 2.025.
"People thought I was just going to look over college basketball and not take it seriously, not do my school work and just look to the draft," Wall said. "But that wasn't my goal or my mindset. I went to Kentucky to be a better player. Coach [John Calipari] and [assistant] coach [Rod] Strickland helped me get better. The college experience jump-started me to the NBA.
"I finished the semester with a 3.5 and people thought I wouldn't finish school or blow past it since I knew I was going to the NBA," Wall said. "It made me feel good because people say I'm not smart enough or I don't take my school work seriously. But I took it seriously both semesters and finished with a great grade point average."
Now Wall is focusing on his life away from the classroom.
Earlier Tuesday, Wall worked out with noted pre-draft trainer Joe Abunassar as part of his Impact Basketball training group.
Next Wall plans to head to Chicago this week for the NBA's pre-draft combine. As a lottery selection, Wall won't go through the basketball drills but will go through the strength and agility testing as well as medical testing.
Brian Clifton said Wall will get a brief stop in his native Raleigh for a few days before using Tampa as his home base for much of June prior to the draft with a likely stop in Washington at some point prior to June 24. Clifton wanted Wall to be in a much more isolated area and out of the spotlight in his prep work for the draft.
But hiding from the fame has been hard in the sport for Wall recently. He was pegged as the next golden child in a sport that loves to cradle its next super stars from early on in high school through however many years he's in college.
Wall said he's convinced had the NBA not had the rule that a player must sit out a year (in addition to being 19) that he wouldn't have been ready for the league out of high school.
"I wouldn't have been one of those players that could have been something," Wall said. "I needed the maturity to go to college. The one year of experience, listening to the coaches and playing in the Elite Eight helped."
After the euphoria of the lottery selections died down, Wall and his friends sat around Fegan's couch, with the sun setting over Beverly Hills and watched Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Magic and Celtics.
Wall, who will turn 20 on Sept. 6, said his mother Francis Pulley, who was at home in North Carolina, was simply "happy" about the lottery order.
As he looked out over Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Wall collected his thoughts about how far he has come in a few short years of stardom.
"I sit back sometimes and think about it," Wall said. "I think about my life, how my dad passed, how my mom had to have three to four jobs to take care of me and my sister, this means a lot right now."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.