Sidelined since September because of a stress injury in his left patella, John Wall hasn’t had much else to focus on beyond getting healthy, studying the game by sitting next to the Washington Wizards’ coaching staff during games and displaying a keen fashion sense with a colorful and stylish array of suits, jackets and ties.
“I stepped it up this year. You got to step it up from time to time,” Wall said after Wednesday’s practice while flashing a grin, before concluding: “I’m tired of suits. I want to put on a jersey.”
Wall is edging closer to putting on his No. 2 jersey soon and said that he plans to be back on the court against Atlanta on Saturday if he doesn’t have any setbacks in practice. He returned to practice last week and said that he hasn’t had any complications moving around as he did before.
“I’m good, I’m just tired right now,” Wall said. “I’m just working my way back in shape and just excited and happy to be back out there with my teammates and go through a full practice without no pain and just see how I feel. Hopefully everything will keep going well so I can be back out there with my team on Saturday.”
Coach Randy Wittman said he wouldn’t put Wall back on the court until he gets the proper approval from the Wizards’ medical and training staff.
“They have to ultimately clear him,” Wittman said. “His conditioning isn’t near where it needs to be at this time. I don’t want to put him in a situation out on the floor where conditioning is going to have a tendency to cause another injury. I have to be careful with that on my own without a doctor telling me that.”
Wall moved around with abandon during Wednesday’s practice as he stripped point guard A.J. Price and sprinted down the court for a left-handed dunk, made a 360-degree spin before making a dish and even drove into the lane to attempt a twisting layup, got knocked to the ground and popped back up.
“John’s hit the floor a hundred times,” Wittman said. “He knows how to hit the floor. I want him playing that way. That’s who he is. So does it scare me? No. Actually, I like seeing that, that he’s not tentative, not thinking about going to the basket and getting hit.”
The Wizards (5-28) have struggled in Wall’s absence, off to the worst start in franchise history, but the former No. 1 overall pick provided a boost with his blazing speed to an already energized practice coming off an impressive 101-99 victory over the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder.
Wittman joked that several players unfamiliar with Wall have cursed in awe at how fast he gets up and down the floor. He urged his players to push the tempo in practice, with Wall’s presence bringing an end to the walk-it-up phase of the season.
“Sometimes, you think you’re ahead of him and ‘pyoooon!’ He’s right by you,” said rookie Bradley Beal, who is eager to finally share the floor with Wall. “It’s going to be an opportunity for us to show that we’re going to be one of the best back courts, from this year and years to come as well. I really look forward to it.”
Wall, 22, invested a lot of sweat into improving his game last summer, and has had a difficult time sitting out while his team languishes in the NBA’s cellar and his ascension stalled by inactivity. His patience has been tested with the delay to his third season, but he views his pending return as a belated holiday gift.
“That was my Christmas present. I didn’t want nothing for Christmas but just to go home and see my family for a couple days and just play basketball again,” Wall said. “That was my New Year’s resolution and my Christmas present, just to play basketball again. Hopefully, my dream comes true soon.
“I’m even more motivated because I had to sit out so long,” he said. “God just tested me, and things happen for a reason, and I’m just sitting back and taking my time.”
Wall expects to get a nice ovation from the home fans whenever he makes his debut.
“I think they’ll be very excited,” Wall said. “Some people seem like they’re very excited so I just hope I get a warm welcome when I come back and play. I miss playing for this city of D.C. I’m just ready to put on a jersey, the real jersey — and play — instead of the practice one.”
And certainly not a suit.