John Wall would’ve liked to have led Kentucky to a national championship in his one college season, but his star-studded squad, led by fellow first-round picks DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton lost in the Elite Eight.
And he certainly would’ve liked to have been in New Orleans two years later, when his college coach, John Calipari, made it back to the national championship game. But as the heavily-favored and No. 1-ranked Wildcats take on Kansas for the NCAA title, Wall will be at Verizon Center leading the Wizards against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“That’s disappointing,” Wall said. “Hopefully, we can win the game and get it over with, so I can go watch the ‘Cats win the championship.”
Wall believes that it is time for Calipari to finally add the one missing piece to his accomplished resume – and he will get a chance to do it against Kansas and Bill Self, the same team and coach that denied him an opportunity during Memphis’ epic collapse in the 2008 title game.
“I want him to get his championship. I think he’s been to the Final Four a couple of times. I think they’ve had a great season so far, so to cap it all off, it’ll be good to win a championship,” Wall said. “He never expressed it to me, but you know how much it’ll mean to your coach. Especially after the year that he lost with Derrick Rose, to lose with some free throws down the stretch. We went to the Elite Eight and last year, a team that nobody expected to go far made it to the Final Four and lost to a good UConn team. I think it’s time for him to win one. I think, third time is a charm, so hopefully he can win it.”
Wall said he chose to play for Calipari because of the way he utilized Rose at Memphis.
“I just liked his style of offense,” Wall said. “When I first watched Derrick Rose play at Memphis, I said this is the style I could play in, the way I like to play basketball and see how he got those guys to play. Being competitive and seeing how they was as a team. He had a lot of players there and that made me want to play for Coach Cal.”
Calipari has received heavy criticism because his Final Four teams at Memphis and Massachusetts both had to vacate those appearances because of NCAA violations (the NCAA ruled Rose ineligible over questions about his SAT score and also discovered that Marcus Camby received $40,000 in benefits from an agent during UMass’ Final Four run in 1996). Calipari wasn’t implicated of any wrongdoing in either case.
He has also had no problem taking advantage of the one-and-done rule to recruit the best high school basketball players, establish quality teams, and send them on to the NBA. Wall said Calipari should get credit for getting the most of out his young talent.
“His demeanor, how he treats players on the court and off the court, he’s going to push you to be your best every night and all the drills are competitive,” Wall said of Calipari. “You’re being competitive with those guys every day. You get used to being with each other and he does a lot of stuff to make sure that you’re together, bonding together and getting along. If you buy in or go with the team’s flow, and you’ve got a lot of All-Americans buying into the team concepts, and if not, you probably won’t play.”
Wall believes Calipari has done some of his best work this season in leading the Wildcats back to the title game for the first time in 14 years. Freshman Anthony Davis has swept nearly every player of the year award and is expected to join Wall as the only Kentucky player to ever go No. 1 overall in NBA draft. Fellow freshman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is projected to be a top five pick.
“I think they just got so many weapons,” Wall said. “Different guys can take over at any time. That’s the toughest thing about them, you’ve got to hope three or four of them are off. If one or two of them are off, you can bring one of them off the bench, use another starter to get it going. That makes the team deep, especially if you attack the rim because they are so athletic. [Davis] is just the backbone of their defense, so if you get past them, they’re guards or perimeter players, he does a great job of not fouling and just blocking shots.”
Calipari has been rumored to have interest in returning to the NBA after a failed stint with the New Jersey Nets. Wall wasn’t sure what his former coach would do if he finally won a championship. “I don’t know right now,” he said. “That was his dream job to coach at Kentucky, so I think he’s excited where he’s at. It’s all up to him to see what he’s going to do, but I think if he wins a championship, it’s probably a 50-50 chance, whatever he wants to do. I think he likes the college scene, but we’ll have to wait and see.”