Sessions: John Wall, all grown up
Wizards guard says he learned to be a better player because of last season's injury
For Sessions, a new regular feature, ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson sits down with the big names in sports for an in-depth interview about life beyond just the game. This time he met up in Chicago with John Wall of the Washington Wizards, whom Scoop has known since Wall was in high school. Wall opens up about having to understand manhood at the age of 9, dealing with overcoming setbacks and the best advice LeBron James ever gave him.
Scoop: What's more important, having great talent or having a high basketball IQ?
Wall: To me, I think high basketball IQ. I mean, you can be talented, and they always say hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. But I think IQ, man, you can't really figure that out throughout a game. You got guys that can read things and learn them quicker and know things about the game that you just can't learn right away. But when you don't have a high basketball IQ, it takes you a lot longer to learn plays, to learn defensive concepts and basically you don't know what to do half of the time you are out there. So I'll take IQ over talent.
Scoop: How much has your IQ, let me put it this way, "changed" or "grown" since you entered the NBA?
Wall: I think me just playing with people that wanna win and know the game being with me helped my IQ. It's changed a whole lot. How I'm reading and seeing the game now. It's kinda what I was saying in my rookie and second year, but certain guys I was playing with didn't see it that way. They had talent, but they didn't have [high] IQ. So that kinda hurt me in making my game look bad, and I also had to develop myself at the same time.
Scoop: Is that something that can be learned? Like, can you work on getting smarter, or do you simply work on getting better as a player?
Wall: I think it can, and I think you can do both. Because in the summertime I work out a lot and work on getting better in my game and improving on certain areas that I'm bad at but at the same time I'm watching film to better my IQ. So I think you've got to do both if you want to be a great player in this league.
Scoop: I love asking people that I know that I haven't seen in a while how much they feel that they've changed over the years.
Wall: Oh, I've changed a whole lot, man. I've grown a lot, matured. I've always been mature for my age
Wall: and me having older sisters and having to become the man of the house at 9 [years old]. So everything with me has changed. Off the court, I think I've matured in a way that helps me handle my business in marketing myself and me having a better image. And on the court, I think I've developed every season by watching more film and getting healthier. This is my first season playing all 82 games, so knowing how to take care of my body and stay healthy, playing and becoming a better leader, not just by example but more vocal. Yeah, I've changed. (laugh)
Scoop: You know they say in this game, injuries and trades change people more than anything.
Scoop: How did your [knee] injury change the way you look at the game and the way you now approach it?
Wall: I've always approached and respected the game because you never know when your last game could be. You can have a season-ending, career-ending injury and it be your first game in the league.
Scoop: Right, right, right, right.
Wall: You wish that never happens, I mean, ever since my rookie year when I sprained my foot. I came back. That was tough for me trying to figure out how to play and learn the game. And when you have those types of injuries where you can't work out or run, you can't get better. So you're still going to be the same player when you come back. So last year when I hurt my knee, it gave me a lot of time to sit back and look at my teammates and see what type of guys we had and how I could help this team. And we were only seven games out of the playoff spot and I missed the first 33 games. That there let me know what I mean to a team and how much my teammates mean to me. And uh, that injury scared me. I mean, they told me [in the beginning] I could miss eight weeks, then turn around and it's two months and then they say I might have to have surgery. I'm like, "Oh, s---! C'mon now, you just told me eight weeks then it went to two months and now I might miss the whole season?" That was tough because the main part for me was coming and playing well at the same level.
Scoop: Explain that fear.
Wall: Scoop, I was nervous. I use a lot of athleticism. I use speed. That's the one thing I'm changing, learning to play at a different pace and playing at different angles and speeds. So once they told me that I might have to have surgery [last year], I knew I won't be too bad because it's the same thing Blake Griffin had done: broke his kneecap. I just knew I was on the verge of that, and I was just like, "Maaaannn, I don't want to break it." But they always say it's better to have surgery that way than to have a sprain or a stress [fracture]. So that whole thing, being injured, frustrated me.
Scoop: But you got to see the game probably for the first time in your life. A blessing in disguise. At least that's the way I see it.
Wall: Like I say, everything God puts you through is a plan. That's what he has for you, and you never question what's God's plans are with your life. And I think those people that are patient, good things happen to them when they come to them. And I think the reason I was an All-Star this year and am playing in the playoffs for the first time and doing all of this and getting my accomplishments and goals set, is because of that. Plus, I have a great organization ahead of me, great coaching staff and teammates.
Scoop: What's the best advice someone in the League has ever given you?
Wall: I got two. First, I got Drew Gooden, who is my teammate, he told me when I first got into the League when I was playing preseason (and the Wizards were losing), he said, "I already know what you are dealing with and what's going on over here. Don't let [losing mentality] trigger into your mind, don't let this start being you. Don't take on what they are doing become you. Always be a leader and don't be a follower to what they are doing. Always stick to what you are doing and play the right way." And then just talking to LeBron and D-Wade a lot throughout my first couple of years. Them just telling me, "We know how hard you are working, and we know it's tough times. Just stick with it." That's always been something I look at. And KD [Kevin Durant], also. He started off not winning games, and all of a sudden they start winning and winning and being in the playoffs. They've always told me to stick with what I do and don't ever buy into losing. And to always lead and get better every year.
Scoop: I keep hearing stories about how players are going to LeBron on some "big brother"-type advice tip.
Wall: Well, I've been knowing him since 10th grade, so he's been like a bigger brother to me for a minute. But KD has really helped me out a lot. I worked out a lot with him this past summer and just being around him. He's one of those people that respects me and appreciates what I'm doing especially doing it in the city he's from [Washington, D.C.]. That's what he always tells me.
Scoop: What's the flip side of that? What's the best advice you can give a young dude, a young player coming into the League who steps to you looking for that same type of guidance?
Wall: To stay professional. This is a business, and anything can happen in any situation. Like I tell my young guys now, "Stay professional. If you get sent to the D-League or anything like that or if you got people trying you, you gotta stay level-headed. And realize that everything you do is being watched and it's not just that one coaching staff looking at you, it's all of the other 29 teams. So always stay professional in what you do and trust that other guys are watching you."
Scoop: Your name always comes up in the conversation about the best point guards in the League when the fellas and I have that conversation. But that's like the only time. To us, we feel you still are not getting the credit that you deserve. Most of us feel that you never will. I know this is a loaded question but -- straight up -- do you think you will ever get the credit you deserve? Ever?
Wall: I like these types of questions because I, I mean, I know what I [am] capable of. Like I said, "Good things come to the people that wait, and God has a plan for everything." I mean, you got guys that are younger that came in and excelled right away in the League because they had the opportunity to get a lot of freedom. When I came in, I didn't have the freedom right away and I had to deal with injuries. Last year kinda let me know that I won't get as much pub as I thought I would because when I was injured they didn't say anything about me. All of the other young guys were going to be "the next."
Scoop: Exactly! Like you were just ghost!
Wall: Nothing about me. And I didn't go ask anyone why. I really don't care, that's their opinion. Their decision. I use it as more motivation. But I don't think I'll ever get it. I think, though, if I win playoff games, like I said, the only way I'll get recognized as one of the best point guards is if I win games, playoff games. Other guys can go average 30 [PPG], and they'll never make the playoffs, but they'll talk about them way more. I say, "Well, if that's how it's gonna be, then let it be that way." I'd rather win and hopefully get me a championship, and then they'll put me in there.
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