Posts Tagged ‘Kentucky’

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Draft Watch: The Kentucky Freshmen

 

Watching the Kentucky star freshmen of 2012-13 is a reminder of the special level of the Kentucky star freshmen of 2011-12. That’s part of it, the new perspective of how unique Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist truly were in talent and leadership for first-year players on their way to going 1-2 in the draft.

The other part is that the current NBA-bound group has a long way to go to capture front offices, no matter the comparison. Possibilities, absolutely. Depth, yes, although, again, not like last season’s Wildcats that sent Davis (Hornets), Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats) and Marquis Teague (Bulls) to the pros after one season, along with sophomores Terrence Jones (Rockets) and Doron Lamb (Bucks) and senior Darius Miller (Hornets), and had all stick. But not the same early-season buzz.

This group is much more in the developmental stage, as much as Kidd-Gilchrist was desperately lacking a jump shot a year ago. That’s even with the best of the Kentucky prospects, Nerlens Noel, in the wide-open mix for the No. 1 pick in June, and even with the current possibility of four Wildcats going in the top 20. With so much time remaining, that means it wouldn’t be a shock if four go in the lottery, depending on who comes out and who returns for school.

Any school takes this so-called comedown, of course. It’s just that it is not the same in Lexington as 2011-12.

Noel is, like Davis, an immediate defensive presence as a big man and thin at 230 pounds, a shot blocker who quickly gets off the ground. He plays hard. Unlike Davis, though, Noel’s offense is nowhere. He will score very, very close to the basket, but is awkward with the ball. (Davis was so underrated on offense in his one season, because his defense was all the rage and because he was surrounded by so much talent.)

Archie Goodwin: There’s a lot of Eric Bledsoe, the current Clipper reserve, because of the blasts of speed in the open court and to get to the basket, and because Goodwin, like Bledsoe before him as a Kentucky one-and-done, needs to prove he can make the decisions of a top point guard and deliver the ball. If Goodwin begins to play more under control, he jumps way up the draft board.

Willie Cauley-Stein: More of a traditional wide-body center than Noel, an appeal to the NBA, and Cauley-Stein has some inside game. It’s hard to imagine him in the lottery without taking giant steps on the learning curve, or unless a lot of prospects stay in school, but it easy to see a future as a backup big.

Alex Poythress: He already has an NBA body for small forward at 6-7 and 240 pounds, but not the game, needing to show he can score off the dribble and from the perimeter rather than trying to overpower opponents. Those advances could come, though. If they do, Poythress easily jumps to the top portion of the lottery.

And One: Hope vs. Reality

*Not so fast. Having the Pacific Northwest jewel back in the league would be great, but reports that plans for a Seattle arena are gaining momentum may not mean much in NBA terms. At least not any time in the foreseeable future if the next Hornets owner is committed to staying in New Orleans, as David Stern desires, and not any time at all if the Kings get a building in Sacramento, as is possible. It’s still Sacramento’s game to lose.

*Pirating another city is OK now, right? Having it done to you makes Clay Bennett and Stern terrible people, but turning around and doing it to another market would be cause for celebration? Got it. Seattle may have cover since this would be more Sacramento losing the team than it being stolen away, but no one should be naïve. Seattle, or any interested locale, would be on the same hunt under different circumstances as well.

*Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento mayor and former All-Star point guard, was never naïve. A year ago, amid the rising possibility the Kings were bound for Anaheim, he privately put together a list of teams to steal and instal as tenant should his city overcome years of blundering to finalize a new arena. The Hornets, Hawks and Pistons (before being sold) were, he thought, vulnerable to be looted the same way Anaheim was making a vulture play. Now there is no need for a list, only a simple bottom line. Close an arena deal and the Kings stay. Don’t close an arena deal and there’s no NBA in town, for years and perhaps forever.

*Jazz radio man David Locke can try all he wants to turn Jeremy Lin into an ethnic issue, but comparing his journey with Ichiro is such a bad reach. The Mariners outfielder is from Japan, grew up in a different culture with different training methods and had a language barrier when he came to the United States. Lin, whose parents are from Taiwan, was born in Southern California, grew up in Northern California and attended college in Boston. He went undrafted and got cut by the Warriors and Rockets as basketball decisions, not because he didn’t look the part. (Because an athlete with an Asian background clearly would never be embraced in Oakland/San Francisco or Houston.) Sometimes front-office calls, however wrong they seem in this moment of triumph for a class act like Lin, are just front-office calls.

*Never have the defensive talents of Kentucky shot blocker Anthony Davis, the leader to become the No. 1 pick in June, been better illuminated than through the quotes from opponents and Wildcats coach John Calipari in the profile this week by Chris Dortch. “What you have to do to get to the basket against that guy is almost impossible,” Louisville guard Chris Smith said. And: “I went down there one time, and he just told his guys, ‘Just bring him in here, I’m going to block everything,’ ” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. And: “The best shot blockers I have seen are the ones that let people release the ball and then go get it, and that’s what he does,” Calipari said. “Marcus Camby, when I had him (at UMass), that’s exactly what he did; he never blocked it in the guy’s hand, he just stayed down and waited for him to release it.” Great stuff.

*All indications are the Lakers will retire the No. 34 of Shaquille O’Neal next season. The brief delay, as opposed to doing it in 2011-12, is due to the rush of the schedule after the lockout, not any doubt it will happen. The tribute has been an automatic for years, no matter how many wrongly guessed the bad breakup in 2004 might cost Shaq a spot on the Staples Center wall.

*Gisele Bundchen says keep scrolling. I cannot write the story and read the story at the same time.

*If the Warriors looked around for big deals that included Monta Ellis before the season when they rated themselves a playoff team, imagine the internal conversations now that they’re 8-14 and coach Mark Jackson has stayed more than once with the reserves over Ellis and Stephen Curry in the fourth quarter of close games. Curry is more prized around the league, and Golden State reportedly was insistent on keeping him while dangling Ellis in Chris Paul scenarios with the Hornets. The more the losses add up, the more anything is possible.

*Kris Joseph of Syracuse and Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure should have been included in the Tuesday story on the rise of draft prospects from Canada. Both are seniors and have solid chances to be picked. Also, the Canadian at Kentucky is Kyle Wiltjer. Greg Wiltjer is his father who played in the 1984 Olympics. My turnover.

*Don’t be surprised if the Clippers bid to re-sign Chauncey Billups in July even with questions likely to still be surrounding his comeback from a season-ending Achilles’ tear. The intangibles as a leader with championship experience are that meaningful, not to mention a friendship with Paul that pre-dates their arrivals in Los Angeles. As people in Denver and Detroit know best of all, and the Clips quickly learned themselves, Billups makes a valuable contribution apart from the basketball itself. It’s just a matter of agreeing on how much that presence is worth coming off a serious leg injury and turning 36 as training camp opens.

*What’s the big deal about Steve Nash at an All-Star level as he passes his 38th birthday? Great players are supposed to do that in their prime. If he’s still that good in 2024 as retirement approaches, then it will be noteworthy.

The Kobe-Calipari Connection

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kentucky coach John Calipari is a busy man these days, taking yet another team to the Final Four.

He’s got connections with some of the NBA’s best young players and with some of the league’s future stars that are still playing for the Big Blue Nation.

He coached each of the past two NBA Rookies of the Year, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, while they were in college at Memphis.

One near connection that surprised us, though, was Calipari’s link that never was to Lakers star Kobe Bryant. My main man Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports detailed their intriguing history on the weekend Calipari, the former Nets coach, was back in his old stomping grounds to punch the Wildcats’ ticket to the Final Four:

This was 1996. Cal was the new coach of the New Jersey Nets, fresh out of the college ranks at Massachusetts. Bryant was a high schooler from suburban Philadelphia, the first modern player who was academically qualified for college to say he was jumping straight to the NBA anyway.

The Nets had the eighth pick overall, too high, many said, for an unproven 18-year-old. With each drill Cal ran Bryant through at the Fairleigh Dickinson University gym, he grew convinced otherwise.

“If you watched the workouts, you’d say either this kid has been taught to fool us in the workouts or he’s ridiculous,” Calipari said, back here in Jersey, now preparing his Kentucky Wildcats for a Sweet 16 game Friday against Ohio State.

“I worked him out three times and I thought I was losing my mind. Obviously I wasn’t. He was really good. I’d brought him in a third time because I just said, ‘I’ve got to see this kid again because this is ridiculous.’”

(more…)

Cousins bruised, but confident


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By Drew Packham

LAS VEGAS — You can bet DeMarcus Cousins will be getting a mouthpiece tomorrow.

For the second straight day, Cousins was sporting reminders of a physical Summer League game.

Complete Summer League coverage on NBA.com

On Monday, Cousins had butterfly bandages on his lower lip after getting knocked in the face. A day later, he had a fat lip to show for a game in which he faced constant double teams but still finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

“DeMarcus is tough, man,” Kings summer league coach Mario Elie said. “Nothing bothers him. We told him to get a mouthpiece because he’s going to see a lot of that. He’s always in the mix, always fighting for rebounds. He’s a double-double machine. It’s sad that they have to double him in the summer. I can imagine just to let him play one-on-one what he’d do.”

Still, after two games, the bruising isn’t hurting Cousins’ confidence. When asked of his goals for the season, the big man out of Kentucky didn’t hesitate.

“I’m going for the Rookie of the Year,” Cousins said. “I want to win, I want to be the best rookie coming in this season. That’s the goal.”

Patterson pinching his Benjamins

By Drew Packham

LAS VEGAS – It’s refreshing to hear a rookie talk about saving money.

Complete Summer League coverage on NBA.comBut listening to Rockets rookie Patrick Patterson talk Tuesday in Las Vegas, let’s just say I’ll be surprised if he goes the ways of Antoine Walker and so many other riches-to-rags NBA players.

Patterson explained about a recent trip to a Gucci store in which he had an item he just had to have. But instead of just plopping down the plastic, Patterson made a phone call — to his financial advisor.

“It’s just about being smart,” said Patterson, who reached a deal with the Rockets on Tuesday that is guaranteed to pay him about $3.1 million in the first two seasons with options for the following two seasons.

Smart kid.

Cousins’ debut gets chippy


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Posted by Drew Packham

LAS VEGAS — You just knew DeMarcus Cousins‘ first game would get chippy.

Battling against Pistons rookie Greg Monroe (taken 7th overall), the Kings’ No. 5 draft pick known for some feistiness at Kentucky, didn’t back down.
Complete Summer League coverage on NBA.com
On one particular possession, Cousins was fouled hard by Monroe. Cousins turned back quickly, obviously upset, before settling down, rubbing his neck and walking away.

It didn’t help matters that Detroit’s Summer League roster featured Louisville product Edgar Sosa, who once called Cousins a “nutcase.”

Cousins got the last laugh, helping the Kings’ to an easy 97-68 win over the Pistons with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

“There was a lot of trash talk out there, and you already know how I am, so …” Cousins said, drawing chuckles.