Projected No. 1 pick John Wall measures up in the lab

By Dan Steinberg
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; D02

John Brenkus had at least two reasons to feature John Wall in his Sport Science programming on ESPN. For one thing, the host figured Wall was the most compelling athlete in this year's NBA draft, and he wanted to explore and quantify his quickness and vision as the draft approached.

But if there was another motive, it was this: Brenkus grew up in Vienna. He remembers the Bullets winning an NBA championship. His production company has worked for the Capitals for more than a decade, producing many of the team's award-winning in-game videos. He's friends with Ted Leonsis. And John Wall will soon be playing in his home town.

"I always like to see the way they move, their work ethic, how into the game and the sport they are," said Brenkus, who spent about four hours with Wall this month at a Los Angeles studio. "He has that swagger and that confidence. He thinks he can do anything, anything with a basketball. He's just not surprised at his ability."

Exhibit A would be the vision test Brenkus's team devised, giving Wall a basketball and setting up three hoops ringed with red lights 85 degrees to his left, where Wall would be able to use about 2.5 percent of his vision. Wall was asked to wait until the lights on one of the hoops turned green, then pass the ball through that ring while looking straight ahead.

"He never sized it up, he never practiced, it, he doesn't know the size, or how far away it is," Brenkus told me. "Just half-looking, he's bouncing passes through his legs, whipping it behind his back. The whole time he's looking straight forward into my eyes, as if to prove a point."

Wall's first attempt, which made the final edit, was slung behind his back and through the target. Wall turned and walked off the court. But he kept up the assault in take after take.

"He's certainly as accurate as any of the quarterbacks that have come into our lab, whipping a ball behind his back," Brenkus said.

Brenkus was similarly impressed after testing Wall's quickness. He said the point guard gets to nearly 50 percent of his top speed within two strides, is faster than Chris Paul or Deron Williams at his peak speed, and drops just about 2 percent of his speed while dribbling a ball. He said NBA players typically lose anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of their speed while dribbling, and that Wall moves faster with a ball than Kevin Durant without one.

"He's certainly in the upper 1 percent of elite athletes in terms of just pure acceleration," Brenkus told me.

Brenkus, of course, e-mailed Leonsis that he was bringing Wall in, which brings us back to the D.C. angle of this tale. The 39-year-old played football at Madison High, went to the University of Virginia, founded his company -- BASE Productions -- in Vienna and has remained immersed in D.C. sports, even though he now lives in Southern California.

"My 4-year-old son can rattle off the Redskins roster, even the changed roster," he said. "I still follow the Redskins on an hourly basis. I'm a huge Caps fan, a huge Wizards fan."

He's previously brought Alex Ovechkin and Olie Kolzig onto his program, which is entering its fourth season. He is already working on lining up Stephen Strasburg. And Brenkus said he'll be comfortable when the Wizards officially select Wall on Thursday.

"Undeniably he's an amazing athlete," he said. "He's a guy that can step on the court Day One and make a difference."

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