Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Kentucky coach John Calipari completed a blockbuster recruiting class with the commitment of John Wall, the No. 1 prospect in the nation.
“Our relationship helped out a whole lot,” Wall said Tuesday morning by phone. “It was a tough battle to the end, and just the relationship I had with Coach Cal and the other guards he had in the last two, three years, it gave them the edge. ”
Wall joins Demarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Jon Hood, Eric Bledsoe and Darnell Dodson in a tremendous recruiting class for Calipari, who left Memphis to take the Kentucky job.
Cousins is ranked No. 2 in the Rivals 150 for 2009, Orton is No. 22 and Bledsoe No. 23.
Wall had initially listed Memphis as his leader when Calipari was the coach of the Tigers, but then opened up his list after Calipari switched schools.
Cousins, Bledsoe and Wall are not qualified as of this moment. Wall hopes to get his standardized test scores back next week.
Wall chose Kentucky over Duke, Florida and Miami. Many observers thought he might go to Baylor after that school put his AAU coach, Dwon Clifton, on staff. But his ties to Calipari proved too strong.
Brian Clifton, Dwon’s older brother and Wall’s adviser, preferred Duke, according to sources. But Wall informed Clifton that Kentucky was his top choice. Still, many expect that Clifton will be there to represent Wall when he turns pro.
“Brian I think may have liked Duke more but I’m trying to clear things up and letting everybody know it’s my decision,” Wall said. “When it came to the end, it was my choice. Where I’m going to I have to like it. I didn’t want anybody else making a decision. If I picked a school that he liked and I didn’t like it, it would’ve been his fault. If I pick a school and I don’t like it, it’s my fault.”
Many expect Wall will spend one year on campus and then go pro.
“John Calipari majors in one-and-done guards with Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans and John Wall probably sees himself following in their footprints,” recruiting expert Tom Konchalski said. “He can really be a program-changer. He’s an extraterrestrial athlete. He has a different level of athleticism than even the guards in the NBA.
“He’s got to learn a different speed. I think he’s making a real attempt to do that. He’s gotta get his legs into his shot and shoot the ball from the perimeter more effectively and more consistently.
“Going and playing for a coach like John Calipari, one year from now he probably will be ready for the NBA and I will be surprised if he isn’t an immediate factor.”
Wall might have been the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft had he been eligible, but instead will spend at least one year in college.
He and Bledsoe will play together in the Dribble-Drive Motion Offense for one year, and then if Wall leaves, Bledsoe can take over the point.
“I think that’s a great thing,” Wall said of playing with Bledsoe. “Wherever you go, you gotta compete. He’s a great player. It’s gonna be good to go against him.
“I’m gonna make him better. He’s gonna make me better. We’re just going to battle it out….I’m just hoping to help the team as much as I can.”
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky’s 6-10 center, has already announced he will return to campus and shooting guard Jodie Meeks may still do so. Sophomore wings Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins also return, giving Kentucky one of the most talent-laden teams in the nation.
Kentucky now has 16 scholarship players, three over the limit, and will need to get down to 13 before the season starts.
With everyone touting the ‘Cats as a Final Four-caliber team and some rankings installing them as the Preseason No. 1, Calipari must get them all to jell to their potential.
Last year’s Final Four teams — North Carolina, Michigan State, Villanova and UConn — all featured veteran teams that had jelled together over a period of years.
“It’s gonna be a lot of pressure,” Wall said. “A lot of good freshmen [are] coming. “It’s going to be pressure when you start off with a lot of freshmen. I think it’s going to be a little bump I think we can be a great team.”
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.