In the 18 months since the Washington Wizards drafted him No. 1 overall, John Wall has received an education in the business of basketball that surpasses anything he learned in the online courses he is taking this fall toward his business management degree at Kentucky.
Within two weeks of his red-carpet introduction at Verizon Center, Wall watched LeBron James flex his free agent powers and take his talents to the Miami Heat. Within two months, he watched Gilbert Arenas get dealt to Orlando for a contract that was less unappealing long-term. And after his rookie season, Wall watched NBA owners reestablish their leverage by locking out players for nearly five months, getting a better split of revenues and some restrictions on player movement.
“I knew it personally,” Wall said at Verizon Center on Monday, when asked about the NBA being a business, “but it was hectic for my first year to see all that.”
Now Wall is ready to get back to having fun since the owners and players are closer to finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement and the NBA has softened to allow players to work out at team facilities.
Wall didn’t rush to come back to Washington, as he spent some extra time with his family in Raleigh, N.C., and attended one last game at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. — while playfully wearing some oversized lime-green glasses to help the top-ranked Wildcats defeat North Carolina.
But Wall was so eager to get back to work upon his arrival that he worked out and went over Coach Flip Saunders’s playbook with Wizards’ second-round pick Shelvin Mack — at 3:30 a.m. on Monday.
He returned less than eight hours later for another workout session with local trainer Joe Connelly, Mack, Andray Blatche, Hamady Ndiaye, Larry Owens and first-round draft pick Chris Singleton.
Wall was still exploding toward the basket with abandon, throwing down vicious left-handed dunks and even chasing down 6-foot-9 former NBA player DerMarr Johnson to block a layup attempt.
“It’s great to really see guys and get to play with some of them, see people getting in shape . . . getting our chemistry down pat so you know what to look for from some players,” Wall said. “We’re starting off new. I think it should be fun.”
Wall is eager to bounce back from a first season in which he produced well statistically and finished a runner-up to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin for rookie of the year but also dealt with the disappointment of playing for a 23-win team and battling nagging injuries to his feet and knees. He took two months off after the season ended to rest and recuperate, then attacked the summer-league circuit with a vengeance. He played in numerous exhibitions and dominated the so-called lockout league in Las Vegas, scoring at will against legitimate NBA competition and displaying an improved jumper.
“My confidence is sky high right now,” Wall said. “I’m a smarter player and [have a] better IQ. The first year, you just going off instincts and just playing.”
Wall wants to see the Wizards bring back “a big-time scorer” in restricted free agent Nick Young and has high expectations for the upcoming season, though the team doesn’t plan to make any dramatic roster changes from a team that finished last in the Southeast Division.
“I just want to play in the playoffs, man. That’s the main thing,” Wall said. “My own goals, they’re in my head, in my book, that’s what I want to do, you put those aside. But it don’t get no better than playing in the playoffs.”
Wall had his doubts about when he would be allowed to play again on the Wizards’ shiny, sleek practice court, but he told those close to him that the NBA would be back and running by January.
“That’s what I was thinking, and I was right on time,” Wall said. “It’s a great Christmas present for us and especially for the fans, for the people that work at concessions and do the security. It’s big for them, but it’s also big for us who want to play.”
Wall has studied some of the details of the new collective bargaining agreement and found some added incentive to achieve his personal and team goals. The league established a new rule named after his friend, Derrick Rose, that allows younger players to receive larger maximum-salary extensions — 30 percent of the salary cap instead of 25 percent — if they can make all-NBA team twice, get voted as an all-star starter twice, or win an MVP award during their first four seasons in the league.
“That’s what a lot of people are going to try to do,” Wall said. “It’s tougher for young guys if you want 30 percent of the money, but it’s a lot of stuff they changed, a lot of stuff we gave up. I’m just happy that we all reached a deal that we wanted and it’s back to playing basketball.”