Is that a cliche? Probably. But as I left the Verizon Center, that's the one thing that struck me.
I haven't talked to a ton of players in my year in the locker room, but of the ones I have, one thing struck me: many of the league's best players get tired by cliche questions and love it when you ask them about something basketball-related. Some, like Kobe Bryant, take it to an extreme. Some, like Gilbert Arenas, will talk no matter what, but will go into even more detail when you ask him about his basketball mindset. But chances are, the great players, or at least the ones who handle the media correctly, tend to be boring with cliche questions and interesting when you ask them about basketball.
John Wall talked for 18 minutes today, and he demonstrated this quality to a T. He had lots of cliche answers to cliche questions, such as how he'll play with Gilbert Arenas, what it's like to be in this position with all the attention ("it's a dream come true) and such. He also found a way to make people laugh without being overly gregarious. But when he truly came alive was when he received basketball-related questions. There, he showed how he's humble, analytical and always looking to improve. He talked about his strengths in the most general terms, and went into great depth with his weaknesses. It was very encouraging to hear.
I'll provide some of those answers below the jump, but that is what struck me most. Wall, as opposed to, say, Arenas, is completely subdued and realistic about what he needs to do to improve. He remains low key, but also manages to sound like a complete student of the game. He knows he's not a finished product, and we shouldn't expect him to be one, but of all people, it just seemed like he is the one guy we can trust to make the necessary improvements.
More below the jump:
The workout itself
To be perfectly honest, this wasn't John Wall's best workout ever. It couldn't have been. He missed a lot of jump shots, and later admitted his back had "tightened up." He seemed frustrated too about it, and it almost seemed like Sam Cassell had to encourage him. Of course, I only saw one drill, and he later followed it up with a thunderous windmill jam in the final drill, but he probably has played better before.
When we all walked in, Wall was running through a pick and roll drill where he came off a screen at halfcourt and dribbled into a jump shot. This is where he struggled the most, missing the majority of his shots. Once he finished, he took free throws, then went into a drill where Flip Saunders threw the ball away and he had to retrieve it, take two dribbles, and pull up. Eventually, he went to the side of the court, where he practices running and dunking really quickly. This is where the left-handed windmill happened.
"I think I could have shot the ball a little better, but my back started tightening up," he said. "But I thought I did pretty well."
The workout itself was short: barely 30 minutes.
On leadership and Gilbert Arenas
Before we get to the on-court stuff - we should talk a bit about how Wall feels he can fit into this mix. Unfortunately, Wall was unwilling to say that the Wizards were taking him, but he did provide some clues about how he plans on joining this mix.
First of all, Arenas. Wall said that he and Arenas have been messaging each other on BlackBerry Messenger, sharing jokes and generally checking in on each other's progress. That's pretty much it. When I asked him about how he thinks he can play with Arenas on the court, he didn't say all that much.
"He's a talented player and a great scorer. If I got picked here, the coach would find a way to put us on the court together and let it work from there, but I think I can play with anybody"
He did, however, talk a bit about the locker-room dynamic he expects to walk in. He was careful to note that the Wizards hadn't drafted him, but he did say that, regardless of where he was drafted, he'd probably play with a young team. On that note, he said this:
We'll basically be on the same page and can talk a certain way, but sometimes, you got to put your foot down, put them in their place. And they got to do the same thing to me, make sure I'm in the right place, make sure I'm getting better, make sure I'm in the gym and working out.
The fact that he mentioned putting his foot down first, rather than them putting the foot down on him, can be read a number of different ways. I'll leave the between-the-lines reading to y'all.
Earlier, Wall also said this:
If I'm going to have the ball in my hands, they have to have to trust me, and my coaching staff is going to have to trust me. At the same time, I'm going to have to listen to certain things they tell me, because they've been in this situation before and played on an NBA level, and it's going to be my first season, so I still have a lot of stuff to learn.
Wall on Wall's game
Like I said at the top, Wall was very descriptive when he talked about his weaknesses. I wrote about all those quotes here.
Wall on his new shoes
It's tough to tell whether these are actually Wall's new Reebok shoes. On the one hand, Wall very clearly stated in the affirmative when a reporter asked whether those were his "signature" line. On the other hand, he chuckled before he answered, meaning he could have been joking, and the shoes themselves looked remarkably similar to the generic Reebok Zigs.
But regardless, Wall did talk a bit about why he signed with Reebok.
"I felt like I could be the face of the basketball side there, and that was the key to me. I want to do what LeBron and Kobe and KG did. They were with Adidas and they were with Nike, and they made commercials and did advertisements. I feel like Reebok needed a guy like that, and I was the right guy for their opportunity."
Sure, $25 million helps, but if you believe him, it did sound like he wanted to be his own guy.
Wall, Rod Strickland and staying grounded
Wall talked a lot about Rod Strickland, his assistant coach at Kentucky, today. We all know Rod Strickland as the hot-dogging underachiever that crashed and burned his way out of town, but Wall knows Strickland as his mentor at Kentucky. (Before you laugh: Strickland mentored Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans too). Wall said he didn't talk to Strickland much specifically about Strickland's own career, but did say Strickland gave some advice to him about how to handle himself on the next level.
"He told me it's going to be tough. 'At the beginning, your first year, your going to have to learn a lot.' I know that. I'm not going to come in here and be the best player in the world [right away] and not have ups and downs, so I'm just preparing myself for that."
Wall said that, wherever he goes, he doesn't expect to necessarily make the playoffs in his first year or two. It's almost as if he pulled that one from the Ted Leonsis playbook.
"I know it's not going to come in a year or two where we get to the playoffs," he said.
Odds and ends
- Wall said he was surprised to hear that Evan Turner was not working out with the Wizards. You and me both bro.
- Wall said this was the first time he ever met Ted Leonsis. Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld whisked Wall away somewhere after the workout, so I'm guessing they had a fairly long talk.
- Andray Blatche was in attendance today, along with pretty much everyone from the Wizards' organization. I definitely saw Tommy Sheppard, as well as many of Leonsis' partners.
- Wall admitted that "it'll be tough" for him to find a new number, because Elvin Hayes' is retired.
- Wall talked a lot about his UK tenure, but I tuned most of it out (sorry, it's on my recorder). He did say that Eric Bledsoe was supposed to go do the John Wall Dance at Midnight Madness, but was "scared of heights" and chickened out. Therefore, Wall went and did it and made history. The "Eric Bledose Dance" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Oh, and also, he plans on bringing the dance to the NBA.
- Wall was asked about Barack Obama, and said that he challenged the President to a game of HORSE, but Obama hasn't come through on it. Something about being the president has stopped him.
- Wall said he watched Stephen Strasburg's debut, and also said he tried to check out Georgetown last night, but nothing was going on.
- Question of the day: someone asked him what suit he'd wear on draft night. Wall didn't answer.