Wizards’ John Wall excited about return to Kentucky

October 18, 2013

These were some good times. (Associated Press)

John Wall announced his arrival on the college basketball scene in October 2009 with a dance, not a game. As he plopped on a stage at Rupp Arena for Kentucky’s famed midnight practice event, Big Blue Madness, Wall set more than 24,000 fans into a tizzy when he poked out his chest, shaped his arm like a tea kettle, twisted and bopped.

Wall backed up his dance craze with a freshman season that resulted in him becoming the first Wildcat to ever get drafted first overall. On Friday, Wall returned to the place where he became a celebrity as a member of the Washington Wizards, flanked by several of his current teammates.

The Wizards will take on the New Orleans Hornets and Anthony Davis – who also needed just one season at Kentucky to go No. 1 overall – on Saturday at Rupp Arena. Before arriving in Lexington, Wall couldn’t hide his enthusiasm as he discussed playing his first NBA game in front of the fans who supported him during his one college season and continue to hold him dear.

“Oh it’s great. I’m really excited to get the opportunity to be back in Kentucky, in a real game, and not like a scrimmage or anything like that,” Wall said. “I’m excited to see the Midnight Madness and see those young guys improve and keep getting better and see the fans. I’m ready to play on Saturday.”

Wall returns to his alma mater every offseason to catch up with Kentucky Coach John Calipari and work out with members of the team. He played in a charity game last summer and finished with a triple-double with 40 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

“It’s fun,” Wall said. “When you get the chance to play on that court, the fans are crazy. They are amazing. They show a lot of support. I know a lot of people are excited and they’ve been talking about it. Having us, me and my team, the Wizards, and Anthony Davis and the Pelicans coming back. I’m very excited.”

When asked about what makes Rupp Arena so special, Wall had a difficult time coming up with an immediate answer. After pausing to think, Wall replied, “I don’t know. I guess, man, 24,000 people when you’re playing a college game is amazing. They don’t have no NBA team or professional team there, so they treat you like you’re the NBA team. No other college basketball atmosphere is like that. To have 24,000 is more than what most NBA arenas have.”

Kentucky was eliminated in the Elite Eight in Wall’s lone season and he admitted that he often wonders what would’ve happened had he stayed a little longer. “You think about it every day, how much fun you would’ve kept having if you would’ve been playing college basketball,” he said. “But I’m excited and happy that I reached my goal of being in the NBA and being with the Wizards.”

Wall said his desire is to produce the kind of winning atmosphere that could make Verizon Center a similarly raucous venue. “That’s the biggest goal for me. The fans stuck with us, even though we had our tough times. The main thing I want to do is just win. That’s how you get people to show support you is when you’re winning.”

When Wall’s Kentucky class was introduced, rapper Drake stopped by to perform. Wall wasn’t sure what Calipari had in store for Big Blue Madness this season, with Kentucky featuring another highly touted recruited class. But he was certain that he wasn’t going to bring back his infamous dance move.

“Unh, unh,” Wall said, shaking his head. “I’m hoping they don’t ask me too. I’m just trying to go out there have fun, take my teammates to experience what I went through and then have a game.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · October 18, 2013