John Wall has been magic for Wizards

Posted: November 02, 2010

WASHINGTON - Donovan McNabb was benched in the final minutes of his team's game because his coach basically said a lifetime backup had a better chance of winning the game than McNabb, a 12-year pro with six Pro Bowl appearances.

That, folks, is not even close to being the hot topic of sports discussion in the nation's capital, however.

Donovan, you're not in Philly anymore.

All the hype - and it is blatantly evident as you walk the historic downtown streets amid No. 2 Wizard jerseys - is John Wall.

Amazingly, the Washington Wizards moved up to the top spot at this year's NBA draft lottery and landed the heralded point guard out of Kentucky whom many anointed the best player in the draft - by far. The 76ers, of course, landed the second pick, with which they chose national college player of the year Evan Turner out of Ohio State.

Each will be looking for his first pro win tonight when the Sixers visit the Wizards at the Verizon Center.

While Turner thus far is being looked at by the Sixers' brass in terms of what he will mean in the future, Wall is the here and now for an organization that has won 45 games combined the past two seasons and was devastated by the death of owner Abe Pollin last year. Pollin's wife, Irene, was present when the Wizards moved up to the top slot in May.

Wall has been dubbed "The Great Wall of Chinatown," as the Verizon Center is planted in that part of D.C.

"He's someone you can build on for the future," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said after yesterday's practice. "He's your cornerstone, he's your building block as far as he's not only a great player but he's a great person."

As Saunders spoke, a twinkle was in his eye and a slight smile formed. It is a familiar look. After talking to Wall's teammates, they all seem to develop the "I know something that you don't" look.

If it's that Wall already is a great player, after one college season and two games in the NBA in which he's averaged 21 points and nine assists, well, that just would be too obvious. It seems that Wall might be even better than any of his coaches, teammates or fans envisioned, or hoped.

He speaks as fast as he plays, though he was slowed a bit yesterday as he mildly sprained his right ankle in Saturday's loss at Atlanta, a game in which he had 28 points and nine assists. (He will play tonight.) He probably would be wildly successful in the league if he was simply given a ball and told to go out and play, but Wall also is a student of the game and a strong critic of himself.

"Every game, I watch to see what I'm doing bad and what I'm doing good so I can learn from my mistakes," he said. "[The NBA] has all been great, everything I expected. You're going to have people asking for autographs, you're going to have the walk-throughs and the shootarounds. But everything is going good right now except for the losing."

Losing is something he has in common with Turner, something neither is accustomed to. Though they'll be competing tonight, Wall roots for Turner and other rookies who are learning the ropes the same way Wall is, except with not as much expectations.

"I look at all the guys, we're all friends," Wall said of his fellow rookies. "We like to play against each other and compete to make each other better. I enjoy watching [Turner] play. I watched [Clippers forward] Blake Griffin play, DeMarcus [Cousins, his former teammate at Kentucky, now with Sacramento]. I watch all the guys when I can and when I have time."

Wall's arrival couldn't have come at a better time for an organization that was reeling from last season's 50-game suspension of star guard Gilbert Arenas, who pleaded guilty to bringing guns into the Wizards' locker room.

His arrival into the city, a day after he was drafted, was complete with an SUV-limo ride to the Verizon Center. There, he was greeted by fans and a red carpet that led him into the arena. Waiting for him there was a video greeting from McNabb, Washington Nationals stars Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman, along with Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals.

You can imagine how one would react to such hoopla, especially considering that Wall was all of 19 at the time (he turned 20 in September). But he has a way about him that enables him to put the love-fest aside and keep his concentration on basketball. Perhaps helping to form that was his year at Kentucky, in which the team boasted five first-round draft picks and went 35-3, the season ending with an Elite Eight loss to West Virginia.

"I'm not surprised that he handles things the way he does," Saunders said. "When he was at Kentucky and to go through that situation with the way their fans are, no one really understands the pressure those kids go through. They are under scrutiny 24-7. That prepared him for being the No. 1pick. Plus what they went through last year with being undefeated and the fabulous freshmen and everything else, he's kind of used to all that pressure. I think that helped prepare him a lot."

Said fellow guard Kirk Hinrich, of Wall: "John's a special talent, obviously. He's going to have big games like he did in Atlanta and we're going to look for a lot more of that from him."

Then that look appeared that seems to come across everyone's face when talking about Wall. It's the anticipation of what this kid can accomplish.

And it's what keeps a quarterback controversy a secondary topic of discussion in Washington. *

For more Sixers coverage, read the

Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at

Follow him on Twitter at

comments powered by Disqus