John Wall is from North Carolina and plays home games in Washington, but there might not be a place where the No. 1 overall pick has such resounding support as Indianapolis. For the second time this season, Wall played against the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse and nearly half of the crowd was either wearing Kentucky paraphernalia, Wall No. 2 Wizards jerseys or a T-shirt bearing his image.
Indianapolis is a nearly three-hour drive from Lexington, where Wall played just one season, averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 assists, and helped one of the most storied programs in NCAA history reach the Elite Eight. But that was clearly enough time for Wall to connect with the Wildcats’ rabid fan base.
Wildcats fans make the trek in order to get another look at the player who electrified Rupp Arena with his exciting play and entertaining dance move. Outside of Verizon Center, Wall didn’t hear louder cheers this season after every made basket or spectacular play than when he played the Pacers. And, the fans were clearly in attendance to support Wall, and not necessarily the Wizards, since every made basket by one of his teammates was greeted with apathy.
“It’s amazing,” Wall said of the response he gets from Kentucky fans wherever he travels. “I didn’t think it would happen in that short amount of time. It’s crazy that I got a lot of fans and people respect me from Kentucky.”
In two road games against the Pacers, Wall averaged 22 points -- which is the highest against any opponent he faced at least two times away from Verizon Center -- but he lost both games. The Wizards (21-57) got dismantled by the Pacers, 136-112, on Wednesday and Wall struggled for most of the game outside of a third-quarter outburst when he made two three-pointers and scored 12 of his 19 points. As images of Wall fans were shown on the huge scoreboard at Conseco Fieldhouse, Pacers fans booed, while Wall fans cheered with more exuberance.
“Kentucky fans, they’re going to travel, especially for somebody that played there and come in town,” Wall said. “They are going to show support. That’s one thing I like about it. No matter if you leave or stay there as long as possible, if you show like you care while you was there, they got a great fan base to me. That’s always like a second home to me. I’m just glad they came out and supported me.”
At the invitation of his former coach, John Calipari, Wall returned to Kentucky for a regular season game against Tennessee and received a standing ovation as he formed the “Y” during the tradition of spelling out the school name. The Wildcats reached the Final Four this season, losing to eventual champion Connecticut, and Wall admitted that he pondered, even if briefly, what life would’ve been like had he eschewed the money and fame of the NBA to remain in school and make another run. Understandable, since Kentucky won 29 out of 38 games this season while the Wizards can do no better than 25 out of 82.
“You still wish you could’ve stayed in college longer, but I’m enjoying it,” Wall said. “I don’t regret the decision I made at all. College life was fun, and this is a whole different level. I don’t regret it at all.”
FROM THE POST
The Wizards were flattened by the Indiana Pacers last night, ending Washington’s three-game winning streak.
The 136-112 loss was a reality check for the Wizards.
Washington waived Cartier Martin and signed Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers for the rest of the season.
Columnist Jason Reid says team President Ernie Grunfeld has done enough to keep his job.
Dan Steinberg sums up Ted Leonsis’s blog post praising the Wizards’ upside, which called John Wall, Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche “a new big three” (DC Sports Bog).
AROUND THE WEB
Jordan Crawford is climbing the rookie ladder (nba.com).
Before the loss in Indiana, Mike Prada looked at John Wall’s development and his improved supporting cast (Bullets Forever).
Kyle Weidie asks: What’s the difference in Andray Blatche? (Truth About It).
The National Basketball Referee’s Association has filed charges that the NBA has violated federal laws by engaging in unfair labor practices (Yahoo!Sports).