Kentucky coach John Calipari is a consummate recruiter — a combination coach and father. A guy who in private might be tough on his guys, but in public will defend them. Even after they are flown from his nest.
Like John Wall.
The former Kentucky point guard and former No. 1 overall pick is about to enter his third season in the NBA and while he’s been good, he hasn’t been great. He hasn’t been the franchise anchor everyone expected. He was above average with a PER of 17.7 last season, but that is not the 20+, lock All-Star kind of level everyone expected.
Calipari had Wall’s back in a radio interview on ESPN 980 in Washington DC (which Mike Prada quotes at the fantastic Bullets Forever).
“What’s happened is, you took a 19-year old and put the weight of the world on him, saying to him, ‘We’re expecting you to drag this team to another level.’ Well, there are no young guys [who can do that]. [Even] Anthony Davis isn’t that guy,” Calipari said.
“Now, if you have a good team, Anthony and John will make you better. If you remember, I had Derrick Rose. But the way the [ping pong] balls dropped, he ended up playing on a pretty good team. So, all of a sudden, he’s an All-Star in two years, and all of a sudden he becomes the MVP of the league. But he’s on a good team. So, what’ll happen is, as [the Wizards] build that team, John will come out more.”
Um, yes and no.
I agree that Wall was thrown into a tough situation, coming into the Wizards in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas guns-in-the-locker room mess. Flip Saunders is a good coach of professional veterans, but the Wizards locker room was not that and the result was undisciplined play on the court and no focus off it. Asking Wall to walk in, change the culture and lead that team was too much.
But Wall also didn’t take a step forward last year — if anything, his jump shot regressed. He averaged 4.4 long two pointers (16 feet out to the arc) last season and shot 29 percent on them. He shot 7.1 percent from three and only took one every other game. Even with his quickness Wall can be defended in the half court.
Calipari admitted that Wall needs to step up his game. This season the excuses go away — Washington has brought in quality veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and on down the line. Guys who understand about being a professional, about preparation.
Calipari isn’t totally wrong about Wall, but the excuses are now gone. This is the season we really learn about Wall, about how good he’s going to be. His time is now. Calipari knows it, too.