Breaking the Wall
John Wall discusses going from unranked to the No. 1 pick.
by Franklyn Calle / @FrankieC7
Next week, Reebok will be re-launching its Basketball Breakout Challenge when the brand invites 100 players to Philadelphia on July 6-9. For the past few weeks, Reebok has been holding its Headliner Try Outs at 14 different cities, offering a one-of-a-kind opportunity to aspiring Division I players who haven’t gotten the chance to be seen by major college programs—whether it be because they fell under the radar or just play for an unknown high school/AAU program. The Headliner Try Outs are a one-day event composed of skill stations and games. The top performers of the day for each city earned an invite to Philly.
In June of 2007, Wall—a rising junior—had no scholarship offers and wasn’t ranked. Relatively unknown outside of his hometown of Raleigh, NC, the 6-4 guard took an 18-hour drive to Chicago looking to make a name for himself at one of Reebok’s tryouts. It was there where Wall would go from having no name to instant fame, and go from being unranked to eventually climbing to the top spot of his class and getting drafted as the top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.
To this day, Wall continuously credits Reebok and the Headliner Try Out for granting him the opportunity to showcase his talent and get the exposure that once wasn’t available to him. Following his outing in Chicago, he was invited to take part in the Reebok All-American Camp in Philadelphia. And right from the first game, Wall’s landing on the national stage took place—his explosive guard play turned heads and had everyone asking, “Who’s that kid?” His 28-point performance against the team that featured Brandon Jennings, who was ranked the top player in the nation at the time, set the tempo for a historic week.
His play continued to impress even more as the four-day camp went on. When it was all over, Wall was being followed up-closely by all major college coaches, recruiting services and media outlets. The recruiting letters and offers began to pile up. He took advantage of the national exposure he received and elevated his game to another level.
It’s one of the most compelling stories that you’ll ever find in the game of basketball. “That’s the most inspiring kind of story that you can even think of. Here’s a wiry thin kid from North Carolina who ultimately became the top player in his class and the number one pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Wall had such an impressive week that everybody took notice. It was pretty special to watch,” says Head of Reebok Basketball, Brian Lee.
And so bringing back the Breakout Challenge was only right. “John Wall wanted to provide this opportunity for other kids because he realizes that’s what got him his name and the opportunity to breakout on a national stage. And he took full advantage of the opportunity” says Lee. “He also realizes that there are a lot of John Walls out there. A lot of kids that are known in their particular city, high school or region but when it comes to national recognition, everybody isn’t as fortunate. It’s all about being given the opportunity and what you do with it. John Wall took full advantage of the opportunity.”
With the search for the next John Wall beginning next week, SLAMonline caught up with the former University of Kentucky standout and reminisced on that notorious summer of 2007, when the now Reebok endorser embarked on his journey to stardom.
SLAM: What do you remember about that 18-hour drive you took all the way up to Chicago?
John Wall: I just remember me and my friends going over there with Mohawks—trying to see if we would be the only ones styling. Thought we would automatically get picked out because we had mohawks, at the very least. In the car it was tight. We couldn’t even breathe going up there. We were in there all nervous. But it was a great experience and there was a lot of great talent there that I met. And I got an opportunity to get to the big camp.
SLAM: What was your mindset like going into the camp? What were you trying to showcase to the scouts and coaches?
JW: I just kind of wanted to play my game. Just wanted to play my hardest. I had never been playing in front of college coaches, recruiters and scouts and stuff like that, so I just went out there to play. I didn’t have anything to lose. I wasn’t a big name. I was just an unknown person trying to get where the other guys were. I just think I had a hunger that nobody else had.
SLAM: Once you got invited to Philly, at what point in the camp did you realize that you had a chance of finally making a buzz for yourself?
JW: Ah, it was the first game we played. We played the best team with Renardo Sidney, Brandon Jennings and Isaiah Thomas. We went down to the wire and ended up losing by two. But after, a lot of guys came and interviewed me. I was shocked. I didn’t even know what to say. I’m stuttering. It was the first time I was ever in front of the cameras like that. For the remaining of the camp, I just kept playing well and did what I did that first night.