ORLANDO — John Wall didn’t need any extra motivation.
The point guard was already sick to his stomach of the losing that’s gone with his Wizards at 7-26 at the season’s midpoint. But getting lost in Ricky Rubio mania earlier this season and more recently Jeremy Lin(sanity) certainly serves as extra reminders that if you’re not careful, folks will forget about you.
Wall figures he’ll get his chance to remind everyone exactly who he is tonight in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, a game where the No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft will cede the headliner status to Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin, rookie point guards Kyrie Irving and Rubio and an undrafted member of his own draft class in Lin.
Griffin and all three of those other point guards were among the 11 players that came off the board before Wall in the draft for this game, conducted by TNT analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, who took Wall with the 12th overall pick.
A year and a half into his NBA career and Wall is already being marginalized. What elite competitor wouldn’t be hungry to prove his critics wrong after a snub like that?
“I know what people think but it’s really not just about this one game,” Wall said. “It’s using the second half of the season as motivation to get better for me. And if this game is a statement game for me, and there are supposed to be 11 or 12 guys better than me, then we need to play this game and see.”
Wall isn’t the only player eyeing this game as a platform to showcase his game for the fans and the global audience that will tune in. Bobcats rookie Kemba Walker, who’ll play with Irving, Rubio and Lin on Team Shaq, can’t wait to get on the big stage again to remind a few people that he’s gotten comfortable with his game in the league.
“This is a national TV game for me, really my first once since college,” Walker said. “A lot of guys haven’t seen me a play. A lot of people haven’t heard a lot from me this season. So I’ve got a lot to prove as well. At the same time, it’s All-Star Friday night and All-Star weekend, so you want to have fun with it, too.”
Wall said he plans on having plenty of fun. But first and foremost, there is work to be done, the same way Wall says he has gone about his business all season.
“Anybody that knows me knows I’m going out there and playing hard every night,” Wall said. “Even though we are going through some tough times, my mindset is to get better every game. Even if we’re down 30 I’m trying to work on things to get better.”
Wall has shined this season and especially in recent weeks, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 8.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the floor in the Wizards’ last 10 games. Still, on draft night for this game Wall didn’t get the respect a player of his abilities and production deserved.
“I really don’t know how long it takes to get that respect,” Wall said. “Guys know that I can play in this league. They know there are some tough times we’re going through right now. But eventually, you earn you respect from everybody, coaches, referees and certainly the other players and fans and everybody. they know you’re going to do the right things and play the game the right way and they’ll respect that.”
Wall said that’s why he plans on setting the tone for this game by treating it like anything but an exhibition.
“I’m glad he said it,” Walker said. “With All-Star games, people tend not to play hard and whatever. But the fans want to see us play. That’s right. I’m glad John said that. We need to play hard. It makes the game much more competitive. It’ll be a way better game this way.”