It’s hard to dream up a better backcourt than the one being showcased in Washington. One half of it belongs to John Wall, who wants nothing more than to embarrass his defender with an unthinkably quick step before finding an open man in the corner. His complement is Bradley Beal, often the recipient of said corner-dishes and owner of perhaps the sweetest three-point stroke you’ll find north of Ray Allen.
Washington faithful has ached for a talented and inspiring core to come along for decades. Juwan Howard and Chris Webber’s Bullets didn’t pan out in the mid-’90s. The Gilbert Arenas/Caron Butler/Antawn Jamison squads of the mid-naughts never quite delivered, either. Washington hasn’t made the conference finals since 1979, when they faced the Spurs in the second round. (Yup, it’s been so long that a round has since been added to the postseason, and the damn Spurs have swapped conferences.)
So if you think Wizards fans are excited about the promise that Wall and Beal bring, you’re very, very right. Just don’t forget that among the massively hopeful is Beal himself, who was gracious enough to speak to SLAM about Washington’s rise, its exciting future and plenty more.
SLAM: You’re in St. Louis partnering with Gatorade on a great project right now. What’s going on there?
Bradley Beal: They have a program called Beat The Heat. I’m thrilled to be the first NBA player to represent them, because it’s a program strictly about hydration. When you sweat, you’re losing so much more than just water. You have to be able to replace it all with electrolytes and things like that—Gatorade allows you to refill your body. It’s important for players to know that, because dehydration can definitely limit your game, limit your mobility, cause illnesses and injuries and things like that.
SLAM: What sort of audience are you focused on speaking to?
BB: My camp, so ages 8-16. You got little kids, you got middle school kids, and some high schoolers here as well.
SLAM: How is your camp going this year?
BB: It’s been going well. These kids are all active learners, active listeners, and they want to be the best that they can be. You can just see it in their faces that they want to compete, that they want to get better and they’re having fun. I’m just trying to push them to know that anything is possible if they put their mind to it.
SLAM: Your Wizards pretty much ran right through the Bulls in the Playoffs. There’s a great mix of young talent and veterans on the roster. How would you describe the team’s chemistry in the postseason?
BB: Chemistry has been awesome since Day 1. We added Andre [Miller] and Al [Harrington] and the pieces that we needed to obtain, and they adjusted well. It’s terrific because we just feed off each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s what got us as far as we did—we played the right way on both ends of the floor.
SLAM: You then fell to the Pacers in Round 2, but you took them to six games and had two very close losses. How quickly after the series were you able to draw positives from it?
BB: You can take a lot of positives out of it, man. Nobody likes to lose. That hurt us the most because, you know, everybody in the locker room felt that we could have won this series, we could have beat this team, and they were very beatable. But at the same time, it’s our first experience together, and it’s always gonna be a learning process. As long as we continue to sign these guys back that we need, and go out there and search for the right pieces to put around this core that we have, we’re gonna be fine.
SLAM: Marcin Gortat just re-signed. Soon Trevor Ariza likely will, too. How nice is it to know that ownership is willing to spend to keep you guys together long-term?
BB: It feels great—the front office is doing a terrific job. It’s awesome to be a part of this—be a part of something good moving into the future. We have a good team. We believe that, and we have the right pieces for it. We just have to continue to grind it out, continue to get better and never settle for less.
SLAM: There’s a funny parallel between the Warriors and Wizards. Stephen Curry got drafted in 2009, Klay Thompson two years later. John Wall got drafted in 2010, you joined two years later. Do you guys look at them as a sort of model for what you can be?
BB: Oh yeah there’s always comparisons. Me and John feel as though we’re right up there with them, if not better. That’s the confidence we have in ourselves. We feel as though we’re the best backcourt in the League, and we’re gonna play like it. Because we push each other to be the best that we can be, we hold each other accountable for some things, and on top of that it’s just our confidence and our swagger that we have. As long as we continue to work hard and continue to show people what we’re capable of doing, we’re gonna have that title in no time.
SLAM: John Wall opens up so many things on the floor with his speed and driving ability. How nice is it to play alongside him?
BB: It’s awesome. Whenever you have a point guard like that who can just find you at any given point and all you have to do is catch it and knock it down, it makes your life easy. He’s a great leader, he leads by example, is very talkative and communicates with you. And he holds you accountable for things. On top of that, he’s a great guy off the court. I wouldn’t ask for a better point guard.
SLAM: You played at the University of Florida and John played at Kentucky. Is there friendly competition there between the schools and you guys?
BB: Oh yeah we always have little rivalries. When we play each other there are always little bets that we make. Like he had to wear a onesie last year—like a pajama outfit—because his team lost.
SLAM: Do you have to guard Wall in practice?
BB: Yeah. The only time I’d say I struggle is when we’re going full court. Because there’s no way I’m gonna keep up with him when he’s dribbling the ball 100 miles an hour and going for the dunk or layup or finding somebody for a three. But it just makes me better on defense.
SLAM: Your 2012 Draft class is producing some stars like Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Andre Drummond and yourself. Did you play against them much growing up? What’s it like to have reached this level together?
BB: Yeah I grew up with them, playing with them in AAU and things like that. There’s always constant battles with all of us and I think what I love the most is just to see that other guys in your class have made their dreams come true. Just to be a part of that means a great deal.
SLAM: The Wizards first-round pick last year, Otto Porter, had a tough rookie year. What sort of positive signs have you seen from him?
BB: His skills are going to continue to grow. I think the biggest thing that he does well is that he works hard. I think injuries kinda pushed him down to the side a little bit, but at the same time he constantly worked and worked and worked, and when the opportunity is given to him, he’s gonna take full advantage of it. We need Otto—he’s going to be a great piece for us.
SLAM: You go up against gifted scorers most nights. Who’s the toughest one to guard?
BB: Kobe. But JR Smith is right up there. He’s so versatile. He plays off the wrong pivot foot, so it kinda confuses you on what he’s about to do, and it gets crazy out there.
SLAM: You also draw the other team’s best defender most nights. Who’s the best one-on-one defender out there?
BB: [Thinking] [Matthew] Dellavedova from Cleveland is a great defender. He’s a pest, he annoys you. I give credit where it’s due, man, ’cause he’s definitely one of the toughest that I’ve been against. [Iman] Shumpert from New York, he’s a great defender as well. And of course Tony Allen.