USA TODAY High School Sports has been given access inside the making of the new AAU program started by Washington Wizards star John Wall. Here is the next installment.
RALEIGH, N.C. – Kendrick Williams blows his whistle and yells for more than 30 of some of North Carolina’s most elite high school basketball players to meet him at center court Sunday afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club.
For the last three hours, Williams and his staff have watched intently as the players darted up and down the floor scrimmaging in the second and, presumably, final tryout for a chance to suit up with Team Wall, the newest AAU program on the adidas’ circuit started by Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall, a North Carolina native.
Williams, Team Wall’s director/coach, tells the players that he’ll “be in touch” in regards to their status on the team then dismisses them.
There’s a sort of nervous energy among a handful of the players as the finality of potentially not making the team starts to sink in.
Others, the ones more confident about their prospects of making the squad, show off their hops.
“I’m not worried about making it,” says Malik Johnson, a freshman point guard. “I’m just out here working.”
Makes sense since less than 24 hours ago, Johnson helped Terry Sanford (Fayetteville, N.C.) knock off Ashbrook (Gastonia, N.C.), 67-60, to claim the 3A state title.
“I’ve never really tried out for anything,” Johnson says. “I feel good about this because no one out here can stay in front of me.”
When Williams and his staff huddle around the wooden oval table in a side office to pick players for their 17-and-under and 16-and-under teams, the general consensus, as it pertains to Johnson, was concurrence.
“Oh yeah he’s tough,” says assistant coach Khris Williams.
The other five coaches nod simultaneously.
RELATED: Team Wall holds its first tryouts
They’re equally assured about others; Mount Zion (Durham, N.C.) junior center Iran Bennett seemed like he was trying to tear the bolts off the backboard on ferocious dunks, E.E. Smith (Fayetteville, N.C.) sophomore shooting guard J.J. Smith’s high-wire act was almost as impressive as his mid-range game, Greenfield (Wilson, N.C.) freshman point guard Coby White was a sniper and Word of God Academy (Raleigh, N.C.) junior point guard Jalen Harris got wherever he wanted whenever he wanted to get there.
The differences of opinion abound when debating the guards.
“I mean it’s a good problem to have,” says associate head coach Jawann Baker. “There are a lot of talented guards here.”
Kendrick reminds the coaches that “it’s really important that we think with our heads and not with our hearts.”
“Oh, no it’s gotta be the best players,” assistant coach Anthony Simmons says. “Got to!”
An important message since most of the coaches have personal ties to at least a few of the players.
While Kendrick starts the “no-go” pile in the center of the table, Baker asks about everyone’s opinion on one of the players who drastically underperformed.
Kendrick stops sorting, immediately looks at Baker and smiles.
“Man, did you just bring that name up in this office?” he says while visibly holding back his laughter. “I’m about to put you out!”
The entire room bursts into laughter.
Baker reminds the coaches that they have to take into consideration players who play together or travel together.
“It matters,” he says.
The debate intensifies when Clinton (Clinton, N.C.) combo guard Jeremiah Pope’s name is brought up.
Pope has consistently been one of the most impressive players, regardless of class, at both tryouts; the coaches agree on that much. Where they’re divided is whether the sophomore should move up to play with the 17’s or stick with the 16’s to keep them strong.
“He’s definitely good enough,” Kendrick says. “What do you guys think?”
“He is,” Baker says. “But I think it’s important to keep our 16’s strong.”
As the debate rages on, assistant coach Phillip Tockman reminds the rest of the coaches of the bright side.
“At least he’s one of our guys,” he says. “Eventually, the water finds its well.”
After 45 minutes the coaches have the list down to a workable number when Kendrick offers that there’s a very real possibility that other elite players could be joining Team Wall.
They all laugh.
Said “workable number” is immediately rendered obsolete.
“We probably need to come up with a scenario of who we’d keep if we get more elite kids,” Khris says. “Or see how they do against what we’ve got if and when they come.”
“We may need to see more,” Simmons says.
The coaches nod.
Kendrick shakes his head and laughs; it’s settled.
Twenty-four players will be invited back next Sunday. The goal is to get that number down to 20; two 10-man teams.
“I knew this would be tough,” he says. “But it’s tougher than I thought. No one invites anyone unless it’s cleared by me. We’ve gotta put the best team on the floor and if that means another look that’s what we’ll do. Whatever it takes. We’ll have our team finalized next Sunday; can’t go any longer than that.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY