Wizards rookie John Wall already up to speed despite first preseason loss

Washington Wizards' John Wall, right, goes up for a shot as Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah watches on during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game in Chicago, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Washington Wizards' John Wall, right, goes up for a shot as Chicago Bulls' Joakim Noah watches on during the first quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game in Chicago, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) (Nam Y. Huh - AP)

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 9, 2010; 12:14 AM

CHICAGO - The first time John Wall watched a John Calipari-coached team, he was mesmerized by the freedom Calipari gave a speedy, athletic freshman to take the ball and run his team. Wall said he only needed to watch Derrick Rose at Memphis for a few minutes on television to decide he wanted to play for Calipari as well.

Before signing to play for Calipari at Kentucky, Wall said he spoke with Rose, who told him, "He's a great coach. He's going to let you play."

Rose took advantage of Calipari's patented dribble-drive offensive system, guiding Memphis to the NCAA title game before the Chicago Bulls made him the first point guard since Allen Iverson to go No. 1 in the NBA draft. Two years later, Wall took a similar path, guiding Kentucky to the Elite Eight before Washington made him the top choice. Wall and Rose were compared to each other for some time, and Calipari had a courtside seat to watch two of his most prized pupils face each other as professionals Friday at United Center.

Calipari, the Kentucky coach, said he embarrassed himself some before the game when he brought Wall and Rose together to pose for a picture. Then he sat back and watched Rose and Wall put on a show, taking turns showing off their dizzying speed and making highlight reel plays. But Rose and Bulls handed Wall and the Wizards their first loss of the preseason, 107-96.

Although it was an exhibition game, Wall said it was anything but meaningless.

"It was a great matchup. It's going to be a great matchup for years to come," Wall said. "We're two fast, explosive guys. I'm trying to learn so much as I can on the NBA level like he did. He got better and better every year and now he's an all-star-type player. That's what I have to do for myself, get better every day and every year I'm in the NBA and hopefully I can get to the level he's at."

Rose quickly established himself as a star in the league, winning the rookie of the year in 2009 and serving as the starting point guard for the gold medal-winning U.S. men's national team at the world championships in Turkey this year.

About an hour before the game, Wall was stretching with head athletic trainer Eric Waters when Rose walked up to him and gave him a hug. Then he decided to teach the rookie a few lessons, as he scored 18 points with five assists. But Wall wasn't afraid to battle back, as he had 11 points and six assists in 29 minutes before showing some fatigue after logging 37 minutes the night before during a win in Cleveland.

Rose started the game by rebounding a Kirk Hinrich miss and pushing the ball up the floor to Luol Deng for a fast-break dunk. Wall responded by hitting Andray Blatche in the corner for a jumper. Rose displayed his blazing speed when he dribbled around Wall, split Blatche and JaVale McGee and made a layup. Wall came back later and went by Rose, juked Joakim Noah with a dribble shake and made a layup, proving he learned after driving on Noah earlier in the game and having his shot sent into the front row.

"Both of them have a competitive spirit that bleeds into the team," Calipari said at halftime about Wall and Rose. "Both of them have leadership skills, but both of them want to defer. That's their nature to make everyone around them better, but they also want to win so bad. Both of those two were tougher on themselves than I was on them. They want to be good."

Hinrich made his return to Chicago, where he spent his first seven seasons, the past two helping Rose make the transition from college to the NBA. He is taking on a similar role with Wall in Washington.

"He's going to be a problem in the NBA," Rose said of Wall. "He's quick, fast, smart, do whatever the coach want him to do, got discipline. He's the right type of mentality. He should be good."

Wall said he realizes he will have a difficult challenge almost every time he steps on the floor as a starting point guard. Aside from Rose, he will also have to contend with the likes of Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Stephen Curry.

"It's a long path," Wall said of the NBA point guard hierarchy. "It's way longer than what it was in college or high school. I was able to sneak my way in there. This level you have to prove yourself against those talented players. Every night is going to be a test and if you just keep proving yourself and get better and better, hopefully they'll be ranking you among the best."

Calipari said he has high expectations for Wall at this level. "What I told guys like John and Derrick . . . Tyreke [Evans] - rookie of the year, go after it. That should be foremost. Go after that thing," Calipari said. "Humble and hungry, that's what we tell him, 'Be humble, be glad you have this opportunity. But be hungry, though. Don't get carried away with yourself, because this thing flips on you real quick.' "

At the start of the second half, Rose stepped back and drained a fadeaway jumper over Wall and Wall gave an approving nod. He anxiously awaited the inbounds pass, quickly sprinted up the floor past Rose and made a layup over Noah. "The only thing I want to do, I want to know who's faster," Calipari said, "because they are both really fast."

"I'll say him," Rose said of Wall. "He's so fast, dog, it's crazy. A lot of people are going to have a problem sticking him."

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