LAS VEGAS – John Wall finally got the phone call he wanted but the timing nearly put him in a difficult position. When Jerry Colangelo, managing director of the U.S. national team, extended the Wizards point guard a late invitation to Team USA training camp after Oklahoma City all-star Russell Westbrook withdrew from participation this summer, Wall was only a few weeks removed from having shockwave treatment to relax tendinitis in his left knee.
Wall was upset in January that he was left off USA Basketball’s original 28-man talent pool for international competitions through 2016, and used the snub as motivation to make his first all-star appearance and lead the Wizards into the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in nine years. But coming off a season in which he played every postseason, regular season and postseason game for the first time in his career, Wall focused on body maintenance this summer because he didn’t have any other plans. So, despite his enthusiasm about being invited to compete for one of 12 roster spots for the FIBA World Cup, Wall couldn’t immediately accept the offer.
“I was still in the process of rebuilding and getting that back stronger, so I didn’t know that I was going to have the opportunity to come,” Wall said. “I didn’t want to come and take somebody’s spot that they could’ve gave to somebody else if I wasn’t healthy. So basically I just waited.”
Wall didn’t want to decline the invitation but wanted to give himself a chance to heal and get through a week of intense workouts without complications. When that happened and the Wizards granted him medical clearance, Wall was given the chance to try to fulfill a longtime dream of representing his country.
“I came and I’m here,” he said this week after practice at Mendenhall Center on the campus of UNLV.
Though Westbrook is out of the picture, the competition at point guard – or the back court, for that matter – is the most intense of any position in Las Vegas. Wall is battling to distinguish himself among a former most valuable player in Derrick Rose and fellow all-stars Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Damien Lillard.
Rose is returning after missing most of the past two seasons with knee injuries but has equity after winning a gold medal in the world championships in 2010. The other three point guards are much better shooters and can potentially play off the ball, providing the type of versatility that Colangelo and Coach Mike Krzyzewski have looked for in previous teams. But Wall is the better playmaker of the quintet and believes he has a unique skill set that could be beneficial to Team USA.
“I’m just coming out and playing my game,” Wall said. “My job, I know I can score. I like to get people the ball, get them involved. The main thing is to try to play defense. Be one of those guys that can be a defensive stopper. Play kind of the same role Russell Westbrook played. If you got to come off the bench or whatever and play D, be the guy that brings energy, that’s what I’m willing to do.”
Wall’s role would be much different than in Washington, where he is the primary decision-maker, but he knows that an inability to adjust is the quickest way to get passed over. “It’s different, but you look at guys like [Dwyane] Wade and Carmelo [Anthony], that won gold medals. I don’t care, I just want to win a gold medal and say I played for my country,” Wall said. “That would be a big honor for me. I’ll put my pride aside of being John Wall, the franchise guy of the Washington Wizards and playing with USA across your chest.
“There are a lot of talented players out there, and your role is different than what it might be on your main team,” he said. “You just make those adjustments, but I think it’s fun for everybody. They’re not going to take the best players all the time, they are going to take the players with a great chemistry together and great camaraderie together.”
The call from Colangelo was a confirmation for Wall that the hard work that he has put into his game was being recognized within the basketball community. “It was great,” Wall, 23, said. “I said it the whole time, my whole career, if I was ever healthy, I think I would’ve blossomed sooner. Took me a longer time because I was dealing with injuries most of my career. Other than that, I felt like it was a breakout year for me and it was something I needed and the organization needed to improve our talents, to make it to the playoffs and I think we had a great season.”
And now Wall has a chance to make something of his summer.