Wizards guard John Wall puts on a show even without playing summer league finale

Former Kentucky point guard John Wall discusses his dream of becoming the overall first pick in the NBA draft.
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- John Wall ended his first competitive week as a member of the Washington Wizards in street clothes, standing and cheering from the bench as his summer league teammates attempted to finish an undefeated session in Las Vegas. The John Wall Show, though, rolled on.

Before the Wizards fell to the New York Knicks in overtime, 109-107, Wall -- wearing warmup pants and a T-shirt -- flipped an underhanded three-pointer at the rim from the sideline, drawing shouts when it dropped through the net. Midway through the second quarter, the PA announcer told fans that Wall would sign autographs at halftime; dozens immediately abandoned the gym to line up in the lobby, and staffers had to cut off the line within five minutes.

Wall acted as a de-facto coach from the sideline, screaming out instructions and remaining on his feet when the rest of the bench sat down. And after a game in which he hadn't played a minute, Wall still drew by far the biggest post-game media crowd.

"I know a lot of people wanted to see me play, see if I was gonna live up to the hype, but I just wanted to come out here and play basketball," Wall said of his time in Las Vegas. "I still have a whole lot to learn, and a whole lot to prove to people."

Wall said a recurring tendinitis issue in his knees had flared up on Friday, and after playing four games in six days coaches decided to keep both Wall and third-year center JaVale McGee on the bench. Wall wound up averaging 23.5 points here -- second-best in the 22-team circuit through Friday's games -- and a league-high 7.8 assists, against 5.3 turnovers. McGee, meantime, averaged 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field.

Both talked about their increasing comfort playing together, with McGee saying "we have just too much chemistry right now" for this week's success not to carry over next fall. Drawing conclusions from the NBA Summer League is a risky business, but as owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog, "I would rather play well in these games than not well. I would rather our best prospects shine than not shine."

And while several players competing for training camp invitations were disgusted with Saturday's game, in which the Wizards lost a 20-point lead and gave away multiple chances to finish off a fifth straight win, the team's most important pieces likely surpassed expectations.

"We had a great week," Coach Flip Saunders said. "John was probably the best guard here, maybe the best player here. JaVale was the best big man here. We want guys we have here to come in and dominate, and they did that."

This group will now scatter, with players mostly working out on their own until training camp. Rookie forward Trevor Booker will return to Atlanta. Guards Lester Hudson and Cartier Martin both said they hope to receive training camp invitations. (Hudson, who spent time with two franchises last season, had 19 points and 9 assists on Saturday, while Martin -- who played eight games with Washington a year ago -- led the team with 24 points.)

Wall, who gave himself "a B or a low A" for the week, said he'd take a couple days off, rest his knee, and then start working out again. He said he'll concentrate on improving his jump shot and locking in his shooting mechanics, and he said he learned a bit about how professional teams will guard him, and how much space he can create by making outside shots. He called summer league "a great experience," but said he's ready for the real thing to arrive.

"In the NBA, you've got a lot of time to get better," he said. "I'm just ready to keep getting better."

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