Commentary

Top recruit Wall overcomes tragedy

Originally Published: September 26, 2008
By Jason Jordan | Special to ESPNRISE.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Don't get him wrong, John Wall knows exactly how this will make him sound, but the fact that he'd readily admit something so embarrassing sums up what's cool about Wall: he's transparent, sincere and, most importantly, he's a typical 18-year-old.

That's why Wall doesn't mind fessing up to sleeping in the same bed with his mother, Frances Pulley, for more than a week after he and his teammates went to see "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in 2003.

"That's right, I said it," Wall says with a serious smile. "Man, I should've known not to go see it because I get scared of those horror movies, but I knew my mom would be there for me so I went ahead and did the brave thing. She's always got my back."

That's why Aug. 28 will forever live in infamy for Wall, the top point guard in the ESPNU 100.

On that unseasonably cool Thursday, Wall walked into his two-story, brick townhouse to find his mother in discomfort.

"She looked like something was wrong," Wall says. "She just kept saying that her head was hurting, and then the right side of her body went numb, so we took her to the hospital."

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Jason Jordan. John Wall credits his coaches and family with helping him cope with the loss of his father.

Tests revealed that Pulley had suffered from a light stroke, and as a result, had an aneurism, which kept her in Wake Medical Center in Raleigh for 13 days.

Pulley will find out this week whether she'll need surgery.

Wall visited his mother daily, but it wasn't easy.

Sure, he wanted to be there, but the quiet waiting rooms, the long white coats and the constant beeping noises make Wall nauseous.

"I just hate going to hospitals," he says. "Whenever my sister wants to get me out of her room, she turns on Discovery channel when they show the operations. I'm outta there! They make me think about my father a little too. I was just thinking that I could lose my mom. I was asking God why, but I know that he does things for a reason. No kid wants to lose both of their parents."

Wall's father, John Sr., died of complications from cancer when Wall was just 8.

As he remembers it, the family had just returned from the beach in Lumberton, N.C., and the next day, Wall recalls his father lying in an ambulance.

Wall's mood changes when the conversation turns to John Sr. He seems to tense up. It's noticeable, since his regular demeanor is so upbeat and giddy.

"The next day, I remember seeing my mom on the phone with the hospital," Wall continues. "Then she told me that my dad died. It hit me pretty hard."

The effects lasted for years.

Fighting, trouble in school and backtalk were a weekly occurrence, according to Pulley.

"You wouldn't believe it today, because he's completely different," Pulley says. "But John used to get into all types of mess."

Wall turns around from the computer and nods in agreement.

Scouting Report

Where will John Wall play in college? The top point guard prospect in the Class of 2009 might not follow his former AAU coach to Baylor, writes Jason Jordan. MORE

"Yeah man, it's true," he says, flashing his trademark grin. "I just had so much anger in me because of my dad, and I didn't know how to channel it. I used basketball as my outlet, and I made a choice to change around the eighth or ninth grade, I'd say."

Still, the process was gradual.

Wall's Word of God coach Levi Beckwith recalls a game during Wall's sophomore year when Beckwith had to teach Wall a lesson in attitude adjustment.

Up eight midway through the third quarter, Wall downed a small cup of water and asked Beckwith to put him back in the game. Beckwith told Wall to hold off. He didn't like it.

Once the opposing team regained the lead, Beckwith told Wall to sub in, but Wall continued to sulk.

"He walked up to the scorer's table, but under his breath he said, 'I shouldn't even go in,' " Beckwith recalls. "I immediately told him to sit down. We lost the game because he didn't play, and I was fine with that. I met with him and his mom that night and told her that if she let me discipline him, we'd make a great man out of him. I only played him a few minutes over the next three games to teach him a lesson. That's when he really got it."

Adds Wall: "Honestly, I don't know where I would be without my coaches and my mom. I had a really bad attitude, but I started to realize that I needed to be a positive male figure in my home for my sisters [Tanya Pulley, 29, and Cierra Wall, 16] since my dad passed. I changed a lot here."

That's due in large part to the academic standard Wall's school has set for its athletes.

In 2006, Word of God was one of 25 schools that the NCAA refused to accept transcripts from in its crackdown of "diploma mills."

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Kelly Kline Wall put on a show at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 event in August.

Now free and clear, Word of God founder and pastor, Dr. Frank Summerfield, has upped the GPA requirement for athletes from the private school state recommended 2.0 to a 2.4.

Wall holds down a 2.6.

"This mandate will help John in the long run," Summerfield says. "He's already smart, but he didn't know what he could do until now. The thing that impresses me the most about him is his humility."

Spend one afternoon with Wall and his celebrity is undeniable. Still, he's anything but the "Hollywood" type.

Not when two women interrupt his lunch to take a picture with him, not when a man stops him in Wal Mart asking him to consider Georgetown, and not when a group of NC State fans surround him and scream "Let's go State!" over and over.

"Not ever," Wall says. "I think it's cool, and I'm just not the type of person to be rude. I just like to be regular. I respect everyone, and I'm nice to everyone."

Adds Pulley: "He wasn't raised to be stuck up. John's made a lot of changes for the better and he's honest. He just tells it like it is. Doesn't matter how it's gonna make him look. He's a typical teenager."

And suddenly, almost on queue, an attempt to save face.

Wall rethinks the whole "too scared to sleep alone" story and changes the details of the night he and his teammates braved seeing the "true" story of the chainsaw wielding psycho in Texas.

"See what had happened was," Wall backpedals. "Now that I think about it, I wasn't actually in the bed. … It, was, uh, more on the floor, beside her bed. Yeah, that's where it was."

Typical teenager indeed.

Jason Jordan writes for ESPNRISE.com and ESPN The Magazine.