This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2012 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Basketball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
In hoops, speed and athleticism may be the most potent combination in order to achieve dominance.
John Wall combines both attributes at an exceptional level, but it’s his mindset, according to his high school coach and mentor Kendrick Williams, that “has always separated him from the pack."
It’s what led to Wall, a point guard, being named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA first team back in 2009 during his playing days at Word of God Academy (Raleigh, N.C.), what helped him make AP first team All American after his freshman year at Kentucky and what’s continuing to help him excel as the top returning scorer for the Washington Wizards (16.3 points per game) this season.
“John’s an exceptional athlete, there’s no question,” said Williams, who served as an assistant at Word of God Academy until 2010. “But his mindset is a gift that not many people have. When he’s determined to do something he will absolutely do it.”
Williams recalled a game early in the season of Wall’s senior year against Ravenscroft (Raleigh, N.C.) when he chastised Wall for “gambling on defense.”
Wall was anxious for payback against the Ravens after they’d beaten the Holy Rams earlier in the year.
“He gambled twice and it cost us,” Williams said. “The second time I really let him have it during a timeout. Then I didn’t talk to him. He tried to explain and I just walked away. He didn’t like that. So he told me that he was going to steal the ball on the next play and finish with a windmill dunk from his ankles. Then he asked me if that would make up for messing up. I kid you not.”
When Wall came out of the timeout he swiped the ball from the Ravenscroft player, sped down the floor and finished with an emphatic windmill before pointing at Williams and smiling.
“I couldn’t make something like that up if I tried,” said Williams, who now coaches the N.C. Rising Prospects. “My imagination isn’t that good. I just couldn’t believe that he said he was gonna do it and then actually did it. Those kinds of players only come around every now and then. He’s just a rare talent and an even better person.”
Wall averaged 22.1 points, 5.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds and three steals his senior year at Word of God Academy and followed that up with 16.9 points and 6.4 assists in his one season at Kentucky before being selected No. 1 by the Wizards in the 2010 NBA Draft.
Wall turned into a YouTube sensation when he came out at Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness event and did a simple dance turning his fist and head in and out. The dance was named “The John Wall” and different recording artists did songs and videos featuring it.
Now entering his third year with the Wizards, Wall, who will be sidelined for another month with a stress injury in his knee, is ready to take his game to the next level, according to Williams.
“I’ve been talking to John and he’s more focused now than he’s ever been,” Williams said. “I know he’s in for a monster season.”
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