At the conclusion of the Wizards’ 90-89 victory over the New York Knicks, John Wall immediately ran to track down Bradley Beal, who made the game-winning pull-up jumper with 22.9 seconds remaining. Wall and Beal both jumped into each other to celebrate the Wizards’ 40th victory of the season.
This has been a special week for the Wizards’ backcourt, with the franchise clinching a playoff berth for the first time since 2008 and with their respective colleges advancing to the Final Four. While the Wizards take on the Chicago Bulls on Saturday in a potential first-round playoff matchup, Beal’s heavily favored Florida Gators will take on Connecticut and Wall’s late-blooming Kentucky Wildcats will take on Wisconsin.
Wall, the first ever No. 1 overall pick to come from Kentucky, surprised people in Lexington before the NCAA tournament when he picked the Wildcats to lose in the second round to Wichita State and for Florida to win the championship. He later explained that he used his bracket to inspire his underachieving Wildcats to play up to their potential.
“I’m not the master motivator. But that’s what everybody say to me. Everybody still don’t believe me. They ask me, ‘Why did you pick them?’ That’s the reason,” Wall said. “I’m not saying they’d go this far but those young guys knew how good they could they could be.”
Wall said he thought that Kentucky started to come together during the Southeastern Conference tournament, where they lost by one point to Florida. Now, he believes the Wildcats are peaking at the right time and “have a chance to do something special and get another national championship.”
Beal didn’t fill out a tournament bracket, choosing simply to ride with Florida the whole way. Since he would’ve been a junior in college this season had he stayed, Beal has five former teammates still playing – Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Jacob Kurtz and Billy Donovan. The Gators had reached the Elite Eight in three straight seasons before finally getting a breakthrough.
“It was great, just the fact that those seniors have been there since I was there and what they’ve been through and how hard they’ve worked, they definitely deserve it,” Beal said. “They play hard. They listen to Coach [Billy] Donovan and they’re having fun. You could definitely see it. I’m happy for them, proud of them and I’m hoping they can bring it home.”
Beal checks in on his former teammates and offered them some words of encouragement. “I talked to a few of them the other night, every now and then, to see how they’re doing,” he said. “I don’t try to interrupt their rituals and things they’ve got going.”
Wall said he also has tried to stay out of the way. “I’m going to let them stay in their zone and stay focused. They know they’re doing a great job. At the beginning of the year they wasn’t playing well.”
When asked his pick for the national title, Wall said, “I want [Kentucky] to win it all, but I picked Florida. I told y’all what I did – to give them motivation!”