John Wall placed a star-spangled baseball cap on his head, clutched his Team USA backpack and quietly walked through a tunnel at Thomas & Mack Center and into the Las Vegas sunset.
His second USA Basketball audition had just ended and Wall was headed to Los Angeles, where he had scheduled a workout and a discussion with his agent, Dan Fegan, about a contract extension with the Washington Wizards that will make him more wealthy than he ever imagined.
Wall left the negotiations up to Fegan because he didn’t want them to distract him from making an impression at Team USA minicamp, which he said was “a bigger goal than my contract or anything like that.” But he admitted he was aware of the Washington Wizards’ plans to offer him the five-year, $80 million deal, which he felt he had earned through his first three seasons with the rebuilding franchise.
“It’s a dream come true if it happens that way and if that’s how it goes down,” Wall said, “but I really don’t know what to expect.”
Should Wall and the Wizards agree on the contract, he would join former MVP Derrick Rose and all-stars Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook as the only NBA point guards with maximum-salaried deals, even though Wall has yet to reach an all-star game, make a playoff appearance or win at least 30 games in any season. But he is prepared for the level of scrutiny that will trump anything he has faced as a top high school prospect, a standout college player at Kentucky and the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft.
“I’m ready for anything,” Wall said. “I feel like how I’m working this summer and how I felt last season that I knew what it’d take and when I finally got healthy, and I’m putting everything into my game. I’m always improving and I always had challenges growing up and nothing was ever given to me. I always earned it, so I’m willing to do that.”
Wall, 22, offered hints at his potential last season, when he returned from a stress injury in his left knee and finished with career highs of 18.5 points and 44.1 percent field goal shooting. Wall was dazzling over the final six weeks of the regular season, scoring a career-high 47 points in a win over Memphis and handing out a career-high 16 assists to go along with 24 points in a comeback win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
When asked what people should expect of him in his fourth season, Wall said, “That, and even better.
“I’m confident now and I’m ready to show the world what I’m capable of,” Wall said. “This is the most confidence I ever felt. I’m more confident than I’ve ever been probably in my life. Just knowing what I know. I had a full summer to work on what I needed to. And just moving and growing and maturing as a player.”
Wall felt similar confidence last summer after competing on a USA Basketball select team that scrimmaged against the London Olympic team. But less than two months later, Wall began experiencing discomfort in his left knee that turned out to be a stress injury. He missed the first 33 games of the season.
“Everybody was writing me off,” Wall said. “Nobody believed in me no more, until what I did at the end of the season and then they started believing again. Just more motivation. Fuel to my flames to try to get better.”
Wall has maintained a similar workout schedule as last summer, when he linked up with renowned trainer Rob McClanaghan. McClanaghan has helped Rose, Westbrook and Minnesota Timberwolves forward-center Kevin Love maximize their talents and reach all-star status and was instrumental in helping Wall develop a more consistent jumper. This summer, Wall also has hired a personal chef to get more fit and even worked out with District native and Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant.
“Just seeing how hard he works and what other level he takes to get even better,” Wall said of Durant.
Wall also has traveled to China for the first time with his new shoe company, Adidas; posed nude for the “Body Issue” in ESPN the Magazine; and raised some eyebrows by getting his first tattoos after declaring his intention not to get any because of concerns about his image.
“Since I was like 16, I always wanted it. I just felt like it was time. So I decided to just get it,” said Wall, who got the skyline of his home town of Raleigh, N.C., on his stomach, his mother’s name on his chest and his “Great Wall” nickname on his back. “I don’t want none on my arm. Just on my hiding spots.”
Having earned an invitation to Team USA minicamp and an opportunity to audition for future U.S. national teams, Wall believes his career is back on the right track.
“I feel like I’m being recognized, but I still got a long way to go, to be in the playoffs and stuff like that,” Wall said. “I think the organization is doing a great job. They are getting the pieces they need and how we finished last season, we’re right there. And the main thing is just stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
Wall said that he has put team goals ahead of his personal desires, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t consider himself one of the best players at his position, especially with a looming contract that will support his belief.
“I’m ranking myself high,” Wall said. “I always rank myself high. So I’m ranking myself at the top and I’m not going to do a lot of talking about it. I’m just ready for the season.”