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Correction to This Article
The article about former University of Kentucky basketball player John Wall, who is expected to be chosen by the Washington Wizards as the first pick in the NBA draft, incorrectly referred to Tonya Pulley as Wall's stepsister. She is his half sister.
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Despite the angst that his father's jail stint and death created, John Wall reveres him

John Wall, likely to become a Washington Wizard with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, has already been on quite a journey. Wall's father was imprisoned for his formative years, and died of cancer when his son was 8, creating the angst that eventually fueled the younger Wall's drive.

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Earlier this month, while training in Southern California, Wall rarely deviated between his hotel and the gym. A trip to the ocean would bring back too many painful memories.

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'He was crying out'

His father's death filled Wall, then a rail-thin kid in elementary school, with a rage that manifested itself in violence.

"People have jokes, so I just said, forget the jokes, we can fight," Wall said. "Just so much anger built up. I was mad at everything. I did not trust coaches, people. Anytime somebody told me something, I just said, 'You don't know what you are talking about.' I did not want to believe nobody for some reason. That's just how it was."

Pulley made breakfast and dinner and in between worked a variety of jobs, including driving a small bus for children and working at a hotel. That meant a babysitter for Wall, usually his older stepsister, Tonya, Pulley's daughter from a previous relationship.

"Could not do it," Wall said. "I used to fight them. My sister was my babysitter. She used to be scared. I used to basically keep myself. She used to watch me, but I used to fight her -- get so mad -- she would leave me alone -- drop me in a room."

There were no other babysitters because "I probably would have [fought] them, too."

Wall's worst fight occurred when he was 10, waiting for his turn at bat during a sandlot baseball game. One particularly tall, strong 14-year-old boy would not move from home plate. Wall swung the aluminum bat, and it connected with the kid's eyebrow. The two punched and wrestled and kept fighting -- taking two-minute breaks -- during a marathon slugfest.

Wall's aggression was so intense that, because he lived some 30 minutes from school, his mother would drop him off and sit in the parking lot because she knew he would be sent home in less than two hours. Pulley was unsettled at where she saw her son's life heading. "The same way his father's life was: prison," she said. "In trouble, mostly. It was sad. That was the sad part."

LeVelle Moton, now the head basketball coach at North Carolina Central, has run a youth basketball camp for years. Several years ago, among the players he would let join for free because of their impoverished background was an 11-year-old John Wall.

"Wow, he was crying out," Moton said. "He didn't want any discipline, any structure. John was like, 'I am screaming over here, can you hear me?' I didn't ignore him, but there were like 35 more kids doing the same thing."

When things went Wall's way, he was fine. When they didn't "watch out," Moton said. "He was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode on the basketball floor."

At one point, Moton pulled Wall aside and said if he didn't change his behavior, he would not be allowed to stay. He was banished from the camp a day later. Wall said he didn't know where he was headed in life at that age, but it was not good. And if he didn't find a way to change, he would have little hope.


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