The Breakout King

by November 03, 2011
#john wall


Despite solidifying his spot atop of the ’10 Draft class, critics attacked Wall for his perceived disinterest in college, and for using a one-and-done season in the college ranks as a launch pad for NBA riches. But Wall insists he didn’t play his single season at UK with the intent of being the top pick.

“Nah, I wasn’t thinking like that. Everybody said I was because of who I was, but I wasn’t thinking like that,” he says. “I played it to win a National Championship. That was my intention.”

After the Cats were bounced in the Elite Eight, Wall weighed a return to school but ultimately decided he liked his chances of going No. 1 in the Draft. And when the talent-starved Wizards landed the top pick, it was all but a formality.

Washington did indeed select Wall, picking up what was widely considered one of the most valuable young building blocks to enter the Draft in years. It doesn’t take a basketball genius to recognize that 6-4 point guards with warp speed, freakish athleticism and a devastating first step don’t exactly grow on trees.

More impressive even than his pedigree, though, was his immediate impact. In just his third game as a pro, Wall posted the kind of game Wiz fans hope to see many more of in years to come: a 29-point, 13-assist, 9-steal effort in 45 minutes of a 116-115 win over Philadelphia. In his sixth game, he raised the bar again, becoming the third-youngest player in League history (behind LeBron James and Lamar Odom) to record a triple double, with 19 points, 10 boards and 13 dimes in a win over Houston.

Wall’s incredible pace, vision and creativity pointed toward achieving his self-proclaimed goal of winning Rookie of the Year. But nagging foot injuries and a lackluster supporting cast hampered him late in the season—despite upping his scoring to 18.5 per game post-All-Star break—and Clippers rookie Blake Griffin dominated the headlines. Griffin, not Wall, took home the ROY award.

Good thing Wall values team over self.

“I really just want to win,” he says. “I just want to be on a Playoff team. I think I had great numbers for a rookie, but I really just wanted to win.”

For a squad that won just 23 games last season, Wall’s want is easier said than done.

With a world of talent at his fingertips, though, nothing’s unreasonable, nothing’s out of reach. Not even a set of goals that for an ordinary second-year player would sound ludicrous.

“I’d like to average 20 and 10,” says Wall. “I want to be an All-Star. Those things are in my mind as personal goals, but making the Playoffs is first. That’s the main thing I want, to get the franchise back on the map and win an NBA Championship.”

And Wall knows he won’t get there without being a student of the game. That’s why at every summer stop, he’s taken time to pick the brains of veterans he respects, from Chris Paul to Derek Fisher to Chauncey Billups, inquiring about everything from floor leadership to how to best make use of every dribble.

He’s also studied his own game, breaking down film of every win and loss from last season. True to form, Wall isn’t afraid of watching himself fail.

“I got all the tapes from last year’s games to see the things I did wrong. I got highlights of turnovers I had and missed shots I had,” he says. “I don’t mind watching tape of me making bad plays. It’s a good opportunity for me to learn, just by seeing a bad play that I made and knowing it wasn’t a smart one.”

Emerging as a late bloomer in today’s world of pre-adolescent star searching has given Wall the advantage of a strong sense of self-awareness, and more importantly, unwavering motivation to never be satisfied.

Which is why his next chapter—armed with a year of experience, the renewed energy of a Wizards franchise in transition, and, oh by the way, his newest signature sneaker, the Reebok Wall Season 2 Zig Encore—is set to send shockwaves across the NBA landscape.

Wall promises this season, we’ll see a whole new player—a smarter, savvier approach to go with his dizzying dives through the paint at top speed.

“You can expect a breakout year from me,” he says flatly.

And as for critics of his jumper, to no one’s surprise, Reebok’s leading man is willing to let his game do the talking.

“It’s on now, so they’ll just have to guard me.”