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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.

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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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The temperature is well into the 90s, and laundry hangs on a clothesline behind the brick apartment complex on East Davie Street. Inside the two-floor end unit, Frances Pulley rises from the couch and takes the four short steps needed to cross the cramped living room, past the small television and the folding chair set up by a computer desk.

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Pulley approaches a wooden cabinet and opens a creaking glass door adorned with family photos. She reaches past her son's high school diploma and pulls out a drawing that is protected in clear plastic.

"I kept it," she says. She's almost too choked up to speak. She points to the top of the picture, a detailed drawing of Batman, where the words "Happy Birthday" are written. "I think he was 4 or 5."

At the bottom is the name "Johnathan" written in long, sweeping strokes.

The drawing is one of John Wall's most cherished possessions. It had been a gift from his father, who had drawn it for him from a jail cell.

Wall's mother looks at the drawing again and chuckles. Then sighs.

"That's a good one, isn't it?" she says.

The apartment doesn't have room for a lot of furniture, but it houses plenty of memories. There's the small kitchen in the back where Pulley whipped together breakfast before leaving for one of the jobs that kept her away from her children most of the day and night. There's the bedroom where John's babysitter would leave him during his turbulent, and often violent, youth. There's the living room where his high school coach would sit with him, often well after midnight, trying to hash out the differences that sometimes kept one of the country's best young basketball players sitting on the bench.

A plaque that bears the letters "MVP" rests on a chair, along with several packs of cigarettes. Boxes are strewn across the living room floor. Frances Pulley will be moving soon.

Most of the basketball world knows John Wall as the muscle-flexing point guard whom the Washington Wizards are expected to make the first overall pick in the NBA draft on Thursday. Wall sat courtside at the NBA Finals, has dined with LeBron James and is a rare teenager who has earned praise from President Obama and Dick Vitale.

Beneath that glitzy reputation and swagger is a 19-year-old whose inspiration comes not only from a mother who worked multiple jobs to support the family, but also from a father who was born in Washington and spent most of his final 30 years behind bars in North Carolina.

From the time Wall was nearly 2 years old until after he turned 8, he longed for the weekends, because that was when he could see his father, John Carroll Wall. Pulley would drive her son and his younger sister, Cierra, to visit their father in prison.


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