So John Wall it is! After winning the NBA draft lottery on Tuesday night, Washington should waste no time running to the podium on June 24 and slapping a Wizards’ cap over Wall’s head. But what about Gilbert Arenas you ask? Well, what about him? No matter if Arenas stays or goes, Wall is the pick. The type of athletic point guard reminiscent of Rajon Rondo that can run team and control a game isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have.
Ohio State’s Evan Turner might be the more polished player and perhaps even a better fit with his size and playmaking ability but he’s simply not the headliner that Wall is. Wall’s catlike quickness, speed and leadership skills were on full display during his lone year in Kentucky’s run and fun scheme last season. Anticpated by the feats of John Calipari disciples Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, Wall’s freshman year at Kentucky was laced with expectations but closed under the name of “Blue Jesus,” a nicknamed dubbed for Wall at local barbershops, an indicator of the success of his one year Kentucky trial. The 6-foot-4 point guard often made fools out of would-be defenders while outshining nearly every player in the country on his way to Freshman of the Year honors and finishing just behind Turner for the Player of the Year award.
Far from a finished product, Wall could use some work on his shooting and improve his decision making. A five-turnover, 7-of-18 shooting performance in Kentucky’s Elite Eight loss to West Virginia magnified that. But improving his game shouldn’t be a problem for Wall, whose work ethic scouts have raved upon. And for a player that knows he has a ways to go, results should be expected sooner rather than later.
“I’m doing everything I need to right now,” Wall told ESPN inside the home of his agent, Dan Fegan, on Tuesday night about improving his jumpshot. “You just got to get a lot of reps in, that’s all it’s going to take. I think my techniques and my mechanics [are] straight, all I [have] to do is get a lot of reps up and just keep working on it everyday.”
An improved jumper might push Wall into future All-Star considerations but his speed, passing ability and athleticism will be put to use right away in the District. Wizard fans haven’t had a player to fawn over since Arenas injured his knee three years ago and with the return of a healthy Arenas coupled with the arrival of Wall, things could be on the up and up in Washington.
So now what? It’s officially week two of March Madness and unless you have damus somewhere in your name, your bracket is totally busted. I know you penciled in Georgetown, Kansas and Villanova as no brainers to advance to the Sweet 16. And I know you laughed silly at the possibility of the Hoyas going out in the first round or the chances of Kansas being ousted by Northern Iowa.
You may have even had Maryland pegged for some extra airtime just because you’re familiar with the area. But it wasn’t to be. In one of the craziest weekends ever, it was all blowouts, buzzer beaters and upsets (sound familiar). Over 5 million people filled out brackets on ESPN.com and every single bracket filler got theirs wrong. So now what? Now is the time when you seek out a fallback team and ride or die with them, that’s what. And if you’re looking for a team to reinvest in, why not the hottest team remaining in the tourney?
The Kentucky Wildcats may not have the experience you would like to see or the Cinderella story you would like to hear but they sure know how to play ball don’t they? Their two first round opponents were annihilated by 29 and 30 points, respectively, and when it comes to what a complete team should look like, Kentucky’s a full sized centerfold model.
They have size in the paint. They can score down low and defend inside. They’re deadly in transition. Their backcourt is amazingly athletic. They’re deep, fast and talented and perhaps their most attractive feature; they’re all freshmen! Well, maybe not all of them but the likes of first year men John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe make up the nucleus of a well-oiled machine. The majority of Kentucky’s players have never even played in a NCAA tournament before so the fact that they just pummeled their first pair of opponents makes them a team to fall in love with.
I don’t know what head coach John Calipari had to do, say or pay to reel in one of the best freshmen classes in NCAA history but what ever he did, kudos to him. Fans love to see Cinderella teams knock out top dogs in the tournament, that’s one of the things that makes March Madness so special. But in reality, watching a Sweet 16 or a Final Four full of 12 and 13 seeds isn’t something that fans really want to see.
People are intrigued by storylines and what better tale than that of the Wildcats. A team that fell from the graces last season only to land in the prestigious NIT, their first appearance in the fallback tournament since 1979. Out goes controversial head coach Billy Gillispie after last season, in comes the smooth-talking slick-haired Calipari and his star-laden freshmen class.
Now the Wildcats are back on top of the college basketball world because Calipari, Wall and Cousins have restored the swag back into the bluegrass state. Unlike perennial powers such as Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, it’s almost impossible to root against Kentucky because they haven’t been all that relevant for quite some time. Their last NCAA title came in 1998 and the school’s been the hotspot for ridicule ever since.
And let’s be honest, once Wall, Cousins and possibly Bledsoe declare for the NBA Draft after the season, Kentucky may not be this strong again for quite a while. So think of this Wildcat run as a farewell tour of sorts. I know you might be weary about placing your bets on a team full of kids who couldn’t get into most night clubs but from a talent standpoint there isn’t a team left in the tourney that can run with Kentucky.
And besides, with your championship favorite Kansas now sitting at home, what other choice do you have?
John Wall. John Wall. John Wall. If you only glance at college basketball every now and again, you would probably assume that Wall is the only thing flying in the NCAA. And it’s hard not to like Kentucky’s Wildcat wonder. He flies in and out the lane like a Ferrari and jumps higher than Super Mario.
The freshman point guard is in the lead for Player of the Year honors and the top overall draft pick but running right beside him in each race is Ohio State’s Evan Turner. While Turner, a junior, might not have the cameras and stage-promoting head coach to talk him into a household name, he has the game of a perennial All-Star. His statline is ridiculous; 20 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block per night. Compare that with Wall’s 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and half a block per game and it’s not hard to see who should win both races.
Wall gets a lot of love because he’s the freshest on the scene, the newest face in the crowd, the new kid on the block and all those other good analogies but frankly, Turner’s just better. This past weekend’s victory over rival Michigan truly showed Turner’s versatility. The 6-foot-7 point guard/forward’s 11 rebounds and four blocks are numbers you’d be lucky to get from your average center –professional or college– let alone your point man. His ability to play positions one through three is something only select company can lay brag to. Add in his playmaking abilities –he had 18 points and seven assists against Michigan– and he’s a NBA franchise savior waiting to happen.
Several scouts compare Wall to ex-Memphis Tigers guard Derrick Rose. To find Turner’s comparison in my opinion, you might as well stay in Memphis. Former Tiger Penny Hardaway’s numbers as a junior are similar to Turner’s; 23 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Turner may not have the flash and splash of Hardaway but when Turner’s 6-foot-7 frame is jogging down the court whipping passes behind his back, it’s hard not to think Penny.
Turner has the experience edge over Wall from having played an extra two seasons. As fantastic as Wall has been in his freshman year already, there’s no telling where his game will be in another two years. But Turner is already there and at only 21-years-old, he’s still young enough to get better.
His outside shot could use a little work (what college kid’s jumpshot doesn’t) but his midrange game is solid enough to keep defenses from sagging off him. He’s tall enough to see over defenses and he’s the humble hard working kid you would want to build your franchise around.
But Wall’s going to be the No. 1 pick, that you can count on. The fact that he’s two years younger than Turner and the talk of college basketball world will allow him to be a crowd filler wherever he goes. However, a remarkable college season should land Turner the Player of the Year award and a selection in the top three of June’s NBA Draft
It’s unfortunate that Turner has to sit in the background while Wall gets all the pub but that’s the difference when you play for John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats and Thad Matta and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Turner may not be the headlining name of the NCAA but when it comes to collegiate basketball, he might just be the best player.