Kwame Brown, Oleksiy Pecherov, Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries. Underachievers in the NBA but promising draft picks at the time to the Washington Wizards. The Wizards have a chance at draft redemption on Thursday when they drop their selection card into the hands of NBA commissioner David Stern. A chance at building a winner. A chance at becoming relevant again. A chance at wiping the slate clean and starting anew. And it all starts with Thursday’s NBA Draft and two simple words; John Wall.
But the 19-year-old Kentucky point guard has a few history hurdles to overcome in his race to first. Only two point guards have been drafted with the top overall selection since 1979 when the Los Angeles Lakers made Magic Johnson the first pick. Critics suggest that championship teams are best constructed with imposing big men, which explains why either a power forward or center has gone No. 1 eight times over the last 10 years.
Although the 6-foot-4 Wall may not be the biggest prospect in the draft, he certainly has some of the biggest qualities. The biggest name. The biggest upside and plays a position that allows for the biggest impact. The media circus that has surrounded the North Carolina native the past two years continues to grow by the day. And was never more apparent than his pre-draft workout last week when more media filled the halls of the Verizon Center to cover a Wizards’ event than at any point over the last few seasons.
All for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet.
However, there’s something special about Wall and basketball browsers know it. Maybe it’s the quickness or the smooth handle. Maybe it’s the pass first mentality or the leadership. Whatever it is, it’s something that’s not present in Washington but could be packaged on the first train smoking come draft day.
The Washington franchise doesn’t have the golden touch of organizations like Boston, San Antonio or the Lakers to stockpile rosters with capable talent. But as seen with teams like Cleveland, Miami and Oklahoma City, all it takes is one dynamic wonder to make a franchise relevant again.
The Wizards had that in Gilbert Arenas before he shattered his knee then later his reputation after being indicted on gun charges. Now Washington is in the hunt again for a player to breathe life back into a listless franchise and restore interest into a team that’s rapidly moving behind the Redskins, Nationals and Capitals in terms of importance amongst the city’s pro clubs. And for a brief moment on the day of Wall’s workout, the Wizards became relevant again. A renewed interest was born and headlines were graced.
All for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet.
After Wall’s workout, new owner Ted Leonsis stood outside the Wizards’ locker room and answered question after question from hungry reporters. During the session, Leonsis talked about building a winner and not trading away his top selection. He mentioned how sometimes a team has to endure a miserable season in order to reap the benefits of a plentiful one. He also raved about Wall’s talent and gushed when discussing how the point guard position is an excellent start to building his masterpiece.
Cornered by media, Leonsis had the look of an owner savoring the taste of the new life that Thursday’s draft is scheduled to bring. He saw the masses of news coverage stationed throughout his building and the mass hysteria that made headline news even on the day of the NBA Finals game seven. It was exciting, it was invigorating and it was unexpected.
And it was all for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet.
It’s not too many ballers who could drop 30 points after entering a game late and fresh off the street, but Kevin Durant is one of the privileged few. The Oklahoma City small forward arrived about five minutes into the evening’s twilight game between his Awash squad and Team H.O.B.O. decked in a Raiders cap and a white tee, but it didn’t take long for him to get suited and thrown into the action.
Durant began his second appearance at Washington, D.C.’s Goodman Summer League on Wednesday much like his debut on Sunday; launching a three pointer on his first attempt just to check the heat on his jumper.
After a flailing airball and a few one-on-one dribble duels with Team H.O.B.O. and local standout Omar Weaver, the man nicknamed KD was finally warmed up and riding with the flow of the game. After Weaver swished a three in Durant’s face, the competitive 21-year-old flashed a confident smirk as he jogged back down the court ready to attack on the next play. Facing up against Weaver on the left side of the basket, KD darted right before swinging the ball back left and finishing over Weaver with a one-handed dunk that left a sparse crowd shaking their heads in disbelief.
If you’ve never seen a 6-foot-10 NBA forward cross someone over and flush, it’s a pretty amazing sight to see, especially live in person. Durant made it his duty to show off his athleticism on the night; angling his body for tip dunks and gliding through traffic for no look passes and fadeaway jumpers.
“He loves it here inside the gates and the gates loves him right back,” announcer Miles Rawls gushed when praising the NBA’s scoring champion. But it was Weaver who finished as the night’s high-point man, posting 37 points and showcasing a game that even a future NBA MVP had to appreciate. Weaver’s performance helped his H.O.B.O. team narrow a 15-point second half deficit to one before KD got serious again.
Durant drew a pair of and ones on a couple of effortless layups and dished off to open cutters once the defense started to double and triple down on him. Despite the late arrival, Durant still finished with 30 points and revived his team just in time for them to finish with the win against a hard-charging H.O.B.O team.
It’s something about a NBA All-Star hooping it up with local regulars that always launches a buzz into the air at the Goodman but it’s becoming a regular scene for attendees these days. Rawls warned the crowd to enjoy Durant’s early summer presence while they can since the budding superstar will be leaving in August to partake in Team USA’s training camp for the 2010 World Championships.
“Enjoy him while you can because he’s gone come August,” Rawls cautioned. “Got some things to take care of overseas.”
Until August, Durant’s taking care of things at the Goodman League and showcasing an Olympic-style game that continues to impress. Even without a proper warmup.
“They say he’s an All-American, well show me something!” one spectator demanded. “This ain’t no Catholic league son, it’s the blacktop,” another bystander informed. The vultures were out in cut throat fashion and ready to pounce on Tuesday at D.C.’s Goodman League. With their sights set on DeMatha High School’s decorated point guard Quinn Cook, the highly coveted junior didn’t disappoint, it just took him a while to get going.
Making his second appearance at the storied ballpark, Cook gave way his starting position to a longtime Goodman veteran on his Drama Detail team. But once his dues were paid, it was time for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year to cash in. Cook entered the game shortly before the half but missed his first three-pointer and had his reverse layup pinned on a fastbreak, a shaky start for the 16-year-old.
On defense, famed streetballer Randy “White Chocolate” Gill had his intentions set on going after “the youngster,” as he was referred to repeatedly by announcer Miles Rawls. Isolated against Cook at the top of the key, the Madness team’s point guard dribbled and dazzled but the DeMatha star was unfazed, staying in front of Gill and deflecting his dribble out of bounds.
The strong defensive stand got “the youngster” going as he would knock down his next two shots; a quick layup and a deep jumpshot that eased the hecklers off his back. Cook started the second half similar to how he finished the first, swishing jumpshots and dishing out no-look passes.
He drew a few claps from an applause-stingy crowd on a double-pump layup, drawing the foul and the basket before converting the free throw. His Drama Detail team would eventually run the Madness squad off the court through a series of fast breaks and highlight dunks.
This summer’s Drama Detail team is strong, with athletic big men and a slew of guards. They’ll be tough to handle for opponents throughout the season.
It’s not easy playing at the Goodman league and for a fresh-faced youngster from a Catholic high school, nerves would typically get the best of most kids, but Cook isn’t your average Xbox-playing adolescent. Day two of the Goodman league featured several quality players but when a high school star comes to visit, attention flags are immediately raised. Cook didn’t explode for 30 or 40 points but he did impress, a performance even the courtside critics had to acknowledge.
“I wanted to come out and have a good game and I think I did that,” Cook said. Any spectator sitting courtside at the Goodman League on Tuesday can vouch for that.