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Washington Wizards select John Wall in NBA draft

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2010

NEW YORK -- In a dramatic, franchise-altering shift, the Washington Wizards have gone from "Pick 1" to the No. 1 pick, moving away from the misery of a horrific campaign into the hope of new one, which arrived at The Theater at Madison Square Garden wearing a chocolate-colored pinstriped suit and powder blue shirt, tie and handkerchief. The worst-kept secret in the NBA finally became official on Thursday, when Commissioner David Stern walked to a podium and announced that the Wizards had selected John Wall, the freshman phenom point guard from the University of Kentucky.

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The electrifying Wall was considered the best athlete and most dynamic player in the draft, providing a ready-made star for the Wizards to build around. After Stern announced that Wall was the choice, he hugged his sister, then embraced his mother, who was overcome with emotion and began to weep. He then hugged his college coach, John Calipari, who stood nearby, and his friends around the table. Wall shook Stern's hand and adjusted the blue Wizards cap on his head. Stern leaned in and whispered into Wall's ear, "You were waiting for this, weren't you?" Wall laughed coolly and walked off the stage, completing a childhood dream to become the top pick in the draft. Now comes the pressure of resurrecting a moribund franchise in the same way that he turned around his life.

"I feel like I had pressure since I became number one in high school and was one of the top players," Wall said. "I always got there hungry, wanting to fight hard and compete in every game. So when I step on the court, I'm going to take on any challenge there."

Wall's selection signified a new era for a Wizards franchise that has been wrought with misfortune and hardship for the past two seasons. He provides a fresh face to go along with new owner Ted Leonsis, who took over nearly six months after former franchise patriarch Abe Pollin died of rare brain disease. The Wizards went 26-56 last season and endured a season in which three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the final 50 games after bringing four guns into the locker room in a dispute with teammate Javaris Crittenton, leaving a note that read, "Pick 1."

With Wall, the Wizards are quickly putting that period in the past. "We're real happy about it," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "He's an outstanding talent. Great speed, quickness, very good defender, has a very competitive nature to him, and he wants to be a really great player. Great work ethics, so we think he's going to be a focal point for this organization for many, many years to come."

But they were not satisfied with only adding Wall. Delivering on Leonsis's desire to add more draft picks, the Wizards made two trades to improve their position. They agreed to a trade with the Chicago Bulls to acquire veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and the 17th overall pick, which turned out to be 6-foot-9 forward Kevin Seraphin. A source with knowledge of the deal confirmed the trade, which won't be official until the free agent moratorium ends on July 8. The Wizards also received $3 million from the Bulls in the deal, according to a league source.

The Wizards later packaged the 30th and 35th picks -- Marquette guard Lazar Hayward and Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica, respectively -- and dealt them to Minnesota to acquire Clemson 6-8 forward Trevor Booker and the 56th overall pick (Rutgers 6-11 center Hamady N'Diaye).

Grunfeld could not comment on the trade with Chicago because it is not official, but he explained the reason for moving up for Booker, a physical rebounder. "There were two or three guys we were looking at, and we were hoping to get two players that we were really looking at at 30 and 35, but it didn't look like it was going to happen," Grunfeld said. "We wanted to make sure that we got the player we were looking at, and that's the reason we moved up, because if we stayed at 30 and 35, we could have lost both those players."

The trade with Chicago provides the Wizards with a defensive-minded veteran guard with the ability to play both back-court positions and the opportunity to add a quality player in the middle of the first round. The Wizards had to absorb the final two years and $17 million remaining on Hinrich's contract.

Seraphin, a native of French Guiana who played at Cholet in France last season, has only been playing basketball for five years but he compared himself to Nuggets big man Nené. "I rebound, block shots, toughness," Seraphin said in his limited English. He then punched his left fist into his right hand to emphasize his point. "I'm a tough player and strong and use my body for that because I have natural abilities. And I can score."

A few moments before he was selected, Wall stood and prayed with his family, advisers and close friend. He said the sight of his mother overcome with emotion made him choked up, realizing the sacrifices that she made, working two jobs at times, to take care of the family after his father, John Carroll Wall, died of liver cancer when the younger Wall was only 9. Wall had to overcome anger problems and later went from a relative unknown high school prospect from Raleigh, N.C., to become the consensus choice to go No. 1.

"Words can't even explain it right now," said Wall, who averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds in his lone season at Kentucky. "Growing up, I lived in a tough neighborhood, getting in trouble in school, especially after my dad passed. As a kid, 10, 11 years old, you want to see your family and spend time and didn't really have it. She was the first lady, she says, 'If you don't change your attitude, you'll never be nothing.' " Pulley continued to suppress tears several hours after her son was chosen. "I was nervous, crying all day," she said. "But it was good tears. I was excited, because I didn't think he was going to make it this far, growing up. He had a bad attitude. I had to work three or four jobs for him to play AAU and travel different places I'm just happy."

Wall already has signed an endorsement deal with Reebok, becoming the new face of that brand after signing a five-year, $25-million deal. Wall has worn the No. 11 throughout his high school and college career, and the number is prominent in his new Reebok commercial, which debuted during ESPN's draft telecast. But that number is also retired for Hall of Fame forward Elvin Hayes, who helped the franchise win its lone championship in 1978. When asked what number he'll wear for the Wizards, Wall was unsure, saying that he was going to seek the assistance of his support team before making a decision.

With the second pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected guard Evan Turner of Ohio State. Derrick Favors of Georgia Tech went third to New Jersey and Detroit selected Georgetown's Greg Monroe seventh.

Calipari has now been responsible for two of the past three No. 1 picks, with the Bulls selecting Rose in 2008. Wall became the first player from Kentucky to go first, leading a record five Wildcats in the first round, the others being DeMarcus Cousins (fifth, to Sacramento), Patrick Patterson (14th, to Houston), Eric Bledsoe (18th, to Oklahoma City) and Daniel Orton (29th, to Orlando).


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