USA TODAY High School Sports has been given exclusive access inside the making of the new AAU program started by Washington Wizards star John Wall. Here is the next installment.
FISHERS, Ind. – Kendrick Williams rides shotgun and peers stoically out of the passenger side window of the white Chevy Suburban as it barrels down I-465 West after Team Wall’s second game at the adidas Gauntlet’s second session Saturday.
Seems almost fitting that there’s a gloomy, torrential downpour on this chilly April afternoon. Team Wall has dropped its consecutive game and Williams, Team Wall’s director and coach, searches for answers with assistants Khris Williams and Phil Tockman.
The proverbial meeting of the minds reveals a lack of offensive discipline, poor ball rotation, bad shot selection, poor defensive rotation, etc.
By the time Williams reaches Bob Evans restaurant for lunch, he’s convinced that he and his staff will “have to start from scratch.”
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Williams is the tough, in-your-face, no-nonsense, “things are black and white” type.
His players know that — star or role player — they’ll get the gritty, raw and uncut truth about what they’re doing on and off the court.
That’s why it’s a bit baffling when asked what he thinks about the two-game skid, Williams smiles and simply says, “Hey man, April showers bring May flowers.”
That’s it; the old colloquialism that means often times you have to go through something ugly to get something beautiful.
By Sunday, Williams’ positive perspective would really be needed. Team Wall lost two more.
A winless weekend — almost the exact opposite of its opening weekend in Dallas April 10-12 when the team finished 3-1, and, save a bad half, might have gone undefeated.
“We’re building a program literally from the ground up; it was always gonna rain,” Williams says. “You have to love the process, you have to trust the process. I used to tell John the same thing.”
Williams coached Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall, the team’s founder, during his high school days at Word of God Christian Academy (Raleigh, N.C.) and also in AAU.
Wall, who started the team in February, helped the Wizards complete the first round sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the NBA playoffs with a 125-94 win Sunday.
Still, Wall found time to text Williams throughout the weekend asking how the team was doing.
“I replied, ‘The struggle is real!'” Williams says with a laugh. “John knows how it is. His last two words were, ‘Keep grinding!’ This is the adidas Gauntlet. You don’t get easy games and we don’t make excuses.”
Still, the reality is that they absolutely could.
Team Wall played its first two games with just seven players, which, for their up-and-down, fast-paced style, spelled doom for their tired legs in the second half.
Team Wall was up at halftime of its first two games.
Also, two players couldn’t make the trip because of prom and their best deep threat, Rob Whitfield, fractured his foot and will be out for at least six weeks.
“We definitely don’t wanna start making excuses,” Team Wall point guard Kyran Bowman says. “That never ends and it can break a team apart. This weekend was rough, but I’m a competitor and it just makes me wanna get back in the gym with my teammates and work. It’s nobody’s fault.”
Jalen Harris disagrees there.
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As the point guard, Harris completely subscribes to the old hoops cliché that he’s the extension of the coach on the floor and, therefore, says he’s “taking the blame” for the weekend.
“It’s on me,” Harris says. “I have to be a better leader. I know different guys could’ve done things differently and they’re down about the weekend, but I feel like it falls back on me. We have to get back to the basics.”
The numbers certainly indicate that.
Team Wall shot better from the field in the second session – 46 percent vs. 32 percent in the first session – but it also upped its per game average for turnovers from 4.3 to 15.
“It’s just hard to lose like this because we’re so much better than what we showed,” says Harris, who averaged 16.2 points and 5.2 assists per game at the second session. “It’s not enough to know that though; we’ve gotta show it.”
It wasn’t all bad. Jalen Johnson, who pumped in 18 points and seven rebounds a game over the weekend, picked up and offer from George Washington and Bowman, who averaged 12 points, 4.2 assists and two steals a game, got an offer from East Carolina.
Williams says a handful of schools are continuing to inquire about players.
“From that perspective, we’re happy as a staff,” Williams says. “But these kids are winners, they’ve just gotta buy in to the team concept and relax. I tell them all the time they’ve gotta hurry up and be patient. Trust the process. Kids get worried because they want more offers or they want their first offer, but the ironic thing is that my phone rings more after a game when we’re playing as a team. Go figure that. This is when the work begins; we’ll be fine.”
Harris is sure of that.
Maybe it’s just starting to sink in that he and his team have gone 0-4 or maybe he’s annoyed to watch other teams walk past him for their games as he stands outside the front entrance at Best Choice Fieldhouse Sunday, but Harris, suddenly, makes a bold proclamation before he hops into the waiting white Chevy Suburban.
“I guarantee this won’t happen again,” Harris says matter-of-factly. “I feel like we’ll be a whole new team when we play again next month.”
April showers bring May flowers.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY