Off The Wall: Phenom's Hype is Justified

November 28th, 2009

Benjamin Franklin used to say the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Well, with all due respect to Mr. Franklin, I think his list has a glaring omission…namely that it’s good to be John Wall.


UK’s supremely-talented freshman point guard has more than lived up to his advance billing through the first month of the season. Suspended for the first regular season game, all Wall did in his debut against Miami (Oh.) was score 19 points, dish out five assists and register three steals. Oh yeah, and he also managed to hit the game-winning jumper with a hand in his face and less than a second on the clock. Not a bad start huh?


Since then, the Wall show has been in full effect. The Raleigh product is averaging just under 20 points per game so far, to go along with 6.6 assists and four rebounds.  He was named MVP of the Cancun Challenge, and has done nothing to dissuade talk of him being the top pick in next summer’s NBA Draft.


After a superb 23-point performance against Stanford in the finals of the Cancun Challenge, a game that included two clutch free throws to send the game to overtime, Wall’s teammates were buzzing about his potential.


“NBA, that’s all I’ve got to say,” said All-American Patrick Patterson. “John Wall is a pro player and he wants the ball in crunch-time situations.”


Coach John Calipari also praised Wall after the game, saying his killer instinct allowed the Cats to repeatedly go to him at crunch time, where he delivered in a big way.


With Patterson limited by a sore ankle, and classmate DeMarcus Cousins hampered by foul trouble, Wall carried the Cats as much as his lean shoulders would allow. His 15-first half points allowed UK to stay within striking distance of a hot Cardinal team, and it was his plays down the stretch that ultimately tilted things in UK’s favor.


After the win, which he punctuated with a powerful two-handed jam at the buzzer, Wall was all smiles, knowing that with each passing game, he continues to solidify his status as the top NBA prospect in the country.


Blessed with incredible speed and athleticism, Wall is virtually unguardable in the open court. He has a deadly crossover, terrific vision and is able to get to the basket at will. He also has an improving jump shot, and has shown he can be a terrific defender when he wants to be. He also has shown tremendous poise early in his career, not backing down from big moments and rising to the occasion in clutch situations.


Perhaps, even better is Wall’s attitude on the court. There’s no questioning his killer instinct, but more often than not, Wall can be found with a huge grin on his face, clearly enjoying every minute of what is destined to be a short college experience. Of course, it’s easy to smile when you’re the best player on the floor, but that enthusiasm has been sorely needed in Lexington for a long while. To see a UK player having so much fun on the floor is something that had become a distant memory for much of the Billy Gillispie era, and Wall is doing his best to bring that passion back.


This isn’t to say Wall doesn’t have some faults. He tends to overpenetrate into the lane at times, leading to careless turnovers when he leaves his feet with no plan. He often gambles and freelances on defense, which has contributed to some incredible shooting performances by Cats’ opponents this year. His outside shot is better than advertised, but  is still far from reliable.


But there’s no question he has more than justified the hype. As the most sought-after recruit in the country, and the heir apparent to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans as one-and-done Calipari point guards, it seemed impossible for Wall to live up to his reputation. But he’s done it to this point, and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue.


So keep smiling John. Life is good.