John Wall had a harsh introduction to USA Basketball protocol last week when confusion over the departure time for the first Select Team practice led to him being about five minutes late for the bus from the hotel. The punishment: USAB Chairman Jerry Colangelo told Wall that he would have to pay a $600 fine.
“I didn’t know the time. Didn’t nobody send me the time,” Wall said, explaining his tardiness, after concluding practice on Monday at the Thomas and Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
A panicked Wall was concerned for two reasons: He didn’t want to leave a negative impression on the body that will select future senior national teams – and since he is already avoiding the casino tables in Las Vegas, Wall definitely wasn’t trying to just give away his money. Colangelo later put him at ease.
“They was playing. They wasn’t really going to fine me,” Wall said with a grin. “They was joking. They said they couldn’t fine me . . . but I thought I got fined.”
Since that initial misstep, Select Team coach Jay Triano said Wall has been among the first players on the bus, ready to train against the U.S. Olympic basketball team. But that didn’t stop Colangelo from taking advantage of the situation and using it as a motivational tool for Sunday’s scrimmage – while having a little fun with Wall.
“I said, ‘Okay, I have 600 of John’s [money]. I’m going to throw another 600 in. We’re going to let the two teams scrimmage and the money goes to the winners,” Colangelo said, adding that he held a fist full of $100 bills for effect. “It had nothing to do with the money, it had everything to do with the principle, and it got right down to the last couple of shots and they were like, ‘Hey man, this is for the money. This is for the money.’ ”
Wall is in Las Vegas hoping that the opportunity to compete against elite point guards such as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams would help him elevate his game. Wall, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and Philadelphia 76ers point Jrue Holiday are the players who have been assigned to help the U.S. prepare for the London Olympics by running offensive sets from other international teams.
The experience has been part humbling and enlightening for Wall, with the level of play exceeding what he has faced in regular season games. Wall admitted that he struggled in the first scrimmages, with the overly-aggressive Olympic team smothering him every time he touched the ball.
“They wouldn’t let me do nothing. I was running pick and rolls. I’d barely get the ball up the court. They was trapping, grabbing, everything,” Wall said. “A lot of these guys play hard throughout the season, but just this intensity they have for this is totally above anything you’ve ever seen. I mean, you hear about how they play, but when you’re playing against them and watching them workout, they are very intense and very serious about it. There is no joking around and all that.”
But Wall has been enjoying his time in Las Vegas, where he will continue to train through Wednesday. “It’s a great honor and you just use it as motivation going into the season,” Wall said. “It’s great, because they think we can be the next future guys. Some of us think, they feel we can be the future going down the road. It’s a great honor for us to be here.”
Scrimmages have been closed to reporters, but some observers of the practices said that Wall has encountered some initial problems getting the team into sets and still needs to improve his jumper. Wall has been focusing on both areas, in addition to working on changing speeds and using tempo, but quickness still remains his most dangerous asset.
“I can play at any level. The main thing for me, it’s just if I’m knocking down jump shots,” Wall said. “If I’m making jump shots, it makes it easy for me and makes it tougher for guys to guard me.”
Colangelo and Triano both said Wall has improved with each scrimmage.
“The one thing I like about John is, we’re calling plays from international teams and he’s already figured out how to have a real nice attack in transition and when to call out a play and get his team to run an offense,” said Triano, the Team USA assistant and former Toronto Raptors coach. “Everyday, he’s been better. And that’s part of the growth. He got kind of shellshocked the first day. I mean, everybody. We couldn’t score. Then we started to play better and adjusted to the talent level a little bit. These guys have a long way to go, but that’s why they are here. To have them grow.”
Colangelo added that this is Wall’s opportunity to learn and gain from the experience. “He’s one the top point guards in the league today, one of the best young point guards,” Colangelo said. “When you look at the Walls and the Kyrie [Irvings], you’re looking at the potential guards for the future. That’s why they’re here. Many, many players have used the Select Team as a springboard for making our team.”
As for the fine? “It was no big deal,” Colangelo said. “He’s been great. No big deal.”