By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010; D01
CHICAGO -- John Wall walked into a ballroom at the Sheraton Chicago, lowered his headphones from his ears to his shoulders and looked around for a table with a placard with his name on it. When that proved futile, Wall simply looked for the crowd. He grinned, circled a mob of reporters and cameramen surrounding his table, and before sitting down said, "Thank you, guys, for joining me today."
Wall, the player favored to be selected first overall by the Washington Wizards in the NBA draft, relishes being in the spotlight, a position he embraced through his lone season at Kentucky -- and one that will surely increase if the Wizards decide to take him with the top choice. His possible arrival has already generated considerable buzz around Washington, with the team selling nearly 400 season ticket packages within 12 hours of winning the draft lottery on Tuesday. That night, prospective Wizards owner Ted Leonsis was spotted doing Wall's signature dance move -- a playful jig where his arm forms a tea-kettle shape and his fist moves side-to-side -- which became a craze among Kentucky fans.
"It feels good. It's a dream come true, you know," Wall said of the hype surrounding him. "It's no pressure, you can't let it get to you. You've got to stay humble and hungry. Just keep working and thank God you have a chance to play in the NBA."
Wall met with President Ernie Grunfeld and other Wizards personnel on Thursday at the NBA draft combine, where 52 prospects will hold workouts in preparation for the June 24 draft. Although Grunfeld has yet to reveal his leanings on the choice, one team source said, barring something unforeseen, the Wizards are going with Wall, a 6-foot-4 point guard with incredible athletic gifts and a dynamic floor game.
But the team is also considering Ohio State junior Evan Turner, who met with the Wizards later in the evening. Asked earlier why the Wizards should take him over Wall, Turner scratched his head and said, "Not to be arrogant or cocky, but I won every player of the year award."
Turner is a versatile, 6-foot-7 swingman who served as the primary playmaker for his team. He believes that he matured in his three years of college, especially last season, when he came back early from breaking two vertebrae in his back after missing just four weeks to lead Ohio State to the Big 10 championship.
"I'm not going to tell anybody how to do their job," Turner, 21, said. "They can choose two real good players. John is a great player. He's young, he's smart, he's a nice guy. He did a lot for this draft class, brought a lot of publicity. I love John Wall to death but I just think with my versatility, I feel if Gilbert Arenas is still there, I'll probably fit in a little bit better with him. I did a lot to be the number one pick. You have to consider all the adversity that I came back from, my maturity level now. At the same time, anytime you can play basketball, you're a lucky guy."
Wall is a scoring point guard, but said he would have no problem sharing a back court with Arenas. "I feel I can fit with any player in the world," he said.
Wall added that he wouldn't mind helping the Wizards bounce back from a difficult campaign that included the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin, season-ending suspensions for Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton after they brought guns into Verizon Center, and a flurry of trade-deadline deals.
"I can't worry about the things that happened off the court or anything that happened last year. They had a tough year, lost games and they traded a lot of players," Wall said. "My goal is to go in there, win games and change the organization around. I'm comfortable in any role. The key for me is winning games, you also want to help the community out and things that's going to make the team look better in any way."
Wall said that he has already overcome the most difficult trial of his life -- he was 9 when his father, John Wall Sr., died of liver cancer. He uses it all to help him become a better player. "People saying negative things about me, is motivation, me getting cut from my high school basketball team is motivation, and definitely my dad dying is motivation," Wall said. "I'm ready for the challenge. That's what I've been brought through my whole life, and that's challenges and I'm ready for them."
Turner said he and Wall got to know each other at various player of the year award ceremonies. "Me and John used to joke around like I wish I would've ran into [you] this season," Turner said, adding that where he gets selected is not a major concern.
"From a competitive level it kind of is, but you have to worry about the best fit. I know where I want to go and I know my goals, so I'm already focused. I just want to win an NBA championship, try to be a Hall of Fame player. I just feel like I'm working right away to come away and having an impact and I plan on being a dominant -- no, not dominant, no, I guess so -- a dominant player in this league."
Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson, another top prospect, was asked which player he would select first and said: "I don't know. That's a very hard question. I think they have their hands full with that one. I don't know. I'm siding with Wall, but I'm going back and forth with Evan."
DeMarcus Cousins, Wall's teammate at Kentucky, said the choice should be obvious to Washington. "If I was a GM? Me."