Top point guard lists Kansas, Memphis as early leaders
The consummate professional, Wall quickly shifts from slouched to upright in the bleachers at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., folds his hands together and makes dead-on eye contact when asked if there's any truth to the rumor that he's planning to follow his former AAU coach and Baylor's new director of player development, Dwon Clifton, to Waco, Texas.
"Not necessarily," Wall said. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I understand why people would think that, but what most people don't know is that I have been considering Baylor ever since I went to their Elite Camp on June 15. My coach [Clifton] got a job there after the Vegas tournament [July 31]."
Then a pause.
He shakes his head and smiles before adding, "So, yeah, it is a little frustrating, but I get it. It comes with the territory."
Wall would know.
ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates the 6-foot-3 point guard as the top point guard in the Class of 2009, and his recruitment over the past two months has mirrored that of a made-for-TV drama.
Clifton's brother Brian, who founded Wall's North Carolina-based AAU team D-One Sports, advises Wall in the recruiting process, as does Word of God coach Levi Beckwith, but insists that all decisions are left up to Wall.
Said Wall: "I'm gonna go to a school because I want to."
"My role is to advise him and to support his decision," said Brian, a former licensed agent. "Dwon let John know that he would absolutely love to continue coaching John, and if he thinks that's in his best interest, then that's what he'll do. If not, he'll go somewhere else."
Wall of Fame
John Wall, the top-ranked point guard in the class of 2009, is treated like a celebrity everywhere he goes. After losing his father at age 8, the North Carolina native learned early on how to deal with pain -- and success. MORE
If Wall had to decide today, he would choose the latter.
"I would say that I'm leaning toward Kansas and Memphis, not specifically in that order," he said. "Those are the two coaches who I've had the best connection with so far because they've been in for in-home visits."
Wall will admit this much, that those visits were as enlightening as they were typical.
Kansas head coach Bill Self told Wall he'd "have to work for everything" despite his megastar reputation. Memphis head coach John Calipari made the Derrick Rose comparison to show Wall how he'd dominate the ball, which Wall said was "attractive." Rose led Memphis to the national title game last season before being selected by the Chicago Bulls as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
When asked if he too was a probable one-and-done player, Wall answered, "If the opportunity presented itself probably. So the success of their guards and how they use them is something that I liked."
"Coach Cal was funny because he kept saying 'and just one more thing,' but he kept talking," Wall said. "That had me cracking up. I was thinking just keep talking. It was funny."
In addition to the Jayhawks, whom he visited this past weekend, the Tigers and the Bears, Wall is considering North Carolina State, Oregon and Kentucky, which Brian Clifton said "may not get an official visit since he's been down there a few times." NCAA rules permit only five official visits.
Wall was scheduled to visit Oregon on Oct. 4, then Kentucky on Oct. 11, but after his mother, Frances Pulley, suffered a mild stroke on Aug. 28, Wall said he focused all of his attention on tending to her.
"Everything that wasn't about her got put on the back burner," Wall said. "It's scary because I'm so close to her. She's doing better now, and we're starting to try and reschedule some visits."
He admits that the scare made him re-evaluate picking a school that would put a plane ride between him and his mother.
So does that make him lean toward the Wolfpack?
"It's definitely something that you've got to look at," Wall said of the distance factor. "Everyone wants to play at home, and that's why I kept them [NC State] on my list. It's a great school. If your mom's not healthy you don't want to go so far away that you have to fly to see her."
Pulley leans back on the couch in the den of their two-story townhouse and smiles at the thought of her son running out of the tunnel at the RBC Center decked out in Wolfpack paraphernalia. She grew up a Wolfpack fan and had a particular admiration for former NC State forward Rodney Monroe.
For now, Wall's focus is threefold: rescheduling his visits, enhancing his skills on the court and getting a qualifying score on the SAT when he retakes it on Oct. 4.
"He was less than 100 points off of the qualifying score last time," Brian Clifton said. "He wasn't as prepared as he could've been, but he'll be ready this go-round."
Whether it's setting a private school state record (23 feet, 11 inches) in the long jump or leading the Holy Rams to the state title for two consecutive years, ever ready may well be the best way to describe Wall.
So one can understand his frustration with the impression that he purposely shied away from better competition in mid-June when he opted to attend the Five-Star Basketball Camp in Hampden Sydney, Va., instead of the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va.
Wall clenches his jaws tight and shakes as he explains his decision. "I just don't get how people could ask that," he said. "I turned my paper in late, to be honest, and they had me on a waiting list. So I went ahead and booked my trip to go to Five-Star. Then the NBA Camp's paperwork came after, but I'd already committed to Five-Star. My mom told me to honor my commitment. What's wrong with that?"
His talent is undeniable during workouts on this overcast Wednesday, and yet it's Wall's desire to improve that trumps the most wicked dunk he could throw down or the sickest crossover he could make.
At times the desire to improve his perimeter jump shot, which most experts agree is the weakest part of his game, turns into an obsession.
When he opens shooting drills with five straight makes from the left corner, Wall is the picture of confidence. The sixth misses off the left side of the rim. Wall mopes. He moves to the next spot on the wing, makes two and misses the third.
"Come on man!" Wall says to himself, wearing a deep scowl. "Let's go!"
Beckwith pulls his coattail with a speech about remaining even keel, be it a make or miss.
"OK coach," Wall responds with a slight grin. "I gotcha."
Wall jogs to the top of the key to continue the drill, makes three straight and misses the fourth. Only this time he claps his hands together ferociously and yells, "That's OK. We're getting better fellas! Let's go!"
When the workout concludes, Beckwith expresses his hope that Wall would choose a coach who will not only hone his "Boy Scout" approach, but also develop him as a man.
"I would literally die for my players," Beckwith said. "John needs to find a coach that will come as close to taking a bullet for him as he can get."
That may make the decision a bit tougher.
As for ending said recruitment any time soon, don't count on it.
"I'm gonna pick a school as soon as possible," Wall said. "But at the same time there's a lot that goes into this decision. I want to see who is gonna leave and that may happen after the season. This is the most important decision that I've ever made so I'm gonna take my time and make the right one."
Jason Jordan writes for ESPNRISE.com and ESPN The Magazine.
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