Building a Great Wall: How John Wall Took His Game to the Next Level
No hype followed John Wall as he strolled through the steel-framed doors of a massive, vacant warehouse next to New York City's East River on a sweltering summer afternoon. The location and its isolation were selected intentionally to limit distractions as the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft took to the court for a basketball skill and training session.
Wall is next in line on the NBA's superstar point guard conveyor belt. Teams either have their floor general or they're still looking for him. Front offices everywhere would love to pencil in their own version of Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose or Chris Paul for the next decade.
So when the Washington Wizards selected Wall, they did so in the hopes that he'd become the face of their organization. But after he did the Dougie on the court right after being introduced before his first ever NBA game, columnists and radio personalities openly criticized him. A lot is expected of Wall, from both the Wizards and the League.
But as he stepped inside, it was just a big building, as raw and unfinished as the man himself.However, on the day we met up with Wall, no onlookers looked, no critics critiqued. There was no hint of the colossal expectations put on Wall. It was just a 21-year-old, a few of his close friends, two basketballs and a portable hoop. Wall was at the newest Basketball City, a state-of-the-art, seven-court mega-gym, which just might grow to become the epicenter of the East Coast basketball universe.
Lessons from Loss
When Wall was seven years old, his father was diagnosed with liver cancer and was told he might not make it through the year. To make the most of John Sr.'s remaining time, Wall's parents decided to take their kids on a summer vacation to the beaches of White Lake, just outside of Lumberton, N.C. During the trip, John Sr. imparted some
final wisdom to his son, explaining the challenges he would face and how he could overcome them. Getting a college education was stated as the top priority.
"Going on vacation to the beach with my dad was one of my best memories," Wall recalls. "I learned so much on that trip, and it was my last chance to spend time with him."
On the last day of the trip, John Sr.'s health deteriorated rapidly, and he was rushed to the hospital. He died the following day.
"At that age, it was tough," says Wall. "Dealing with that helped me be the person I am today. From that point on, my role model was my mom. She took care of me and had three or four jobs, and my sister was watching us. I was the man in the house and had to grow up quickly."
When Wall lost the major male figure in his life, the painful experience left emotional scars that affected him for years to come. He says, "After my dad died, I didn't want my mom to date anybody, and I didn't trust any men because of that." Not surprisingly, Wall's trust issue affected his ability to play basketball. "My coaches were all men, and I couldn't trust men," he admits.
Wall's lack of trust manifested itself in a bad attitude, aggression and lack of respect for basketball authority figures. Although he possessed superior talent to most players in North Carolina, Wall's backtalk and frequent fights made him a coach's nightmare.
The second turning point in Wall's life occurred when his mother moved the family to Raleigh before his junior year. He had been tearing up the competition in high school and AAU games, and his success was expected to continue at Broughton High School, where he joined another rising star, Brock Young. "Brock was the best player in Raleigh at the time, and I was right next to him," Wall recalls. "With both of us playing together, everyone was saying this is going to be the best backcourt in the country."
However, before the promising season even began, Wall's behavior and attitude proved too much for head coach Jeff Ferrell, and Wall was cut from the varsity squad.
"Brock didn't believe it, and I didn't believe it," Wall says. "That was a real motivational thing for me. I realized I had a lot of work to do. I felt like I should've made it, but just like when my dad passed, it pushed me to a new level."
The day he was cut, Wall transferred to nearby Word of God Christian Academy, where he was forced to maintain a clean-cut appearance and learn to respect authority figures. "I got used to wearing uniforms, no earrings and a strict structure," he says. "I had Bible study and chapel on Fridays." Wall knew that this was a great opportunity to adjust his attitude. "It was a good environment for me to change as a person and a player," he says. "I learned to think more about God and be thankful about the opportunity to play basketball. I took basketball more seriously."
Wall quickly developed into his team's floor general, opening eyes around Raleigh with his masterful driving and finishing ability. With a solid team and momentum behind him, he embraced the opportunity to play in a tournament at
Time to Shine
Capping a tremendous high school career, Wall eventually led Word of God to the 1-A championship game. Having matured as an athlete, he handled the recruiting process adeptly, choosing to play at Kentucky under head men's basketball coach John Calipari.
Wall refers to Coach Cal as a "father figure." During his only season as a Wildcat, he took home a horde of hardware. He was named SEC Player of the Year, selected to the NCAA All-American First Team and awarded the Adolph Rupp Trophy as the best collegiate player in the nation. Characteristically, Wall considers none of those accolades his greatest achievement.
"My biggest memory from there is proving people wrong about school," he says. "They thought I wasn't going to take school seriously, and that after the season was over, I was just going to leave. I was one of the ones that stayed and finished with a 3.5 (GPA), and I'm proud of myself for that."
Wall's rapid physical and emotional development made him a top NBA prospect after his freshman season. By making him the first overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Wizards positioned him as the "savior" of D.C. basketball. During his first public appearance in the city, thousands of adoring fans showed up, and the mayor declared it John Wall Day. But Wall remained unfazed. "The key is to not worry about living up to the hype," he says. "I just have to go out there and have fun and enjoy every moment I have the chance to play the game. This is a dream come true. Three or four years ago, I didn't have anything."
With their new franchise point guard, D.C. fans hope that by giving Wall the ball, the team can get back in the hunt in the Eastern Conference. Wall has proven that he can be relied upon as a leader, and although the expectations and the hype didn't accompany him to Basketball City, they're always following him. Wall is still projected to become the next great point guard in the NBA.
And he knows it.
"I bring excitement and I'm somebody who's going to play hard," he says. "People have seen that I have the will to win—if I want to take over a game and win, I will do that."
The Wizards hope he will be doing that for many years to come.
Skills and Strength
Since realizing that discipline and hard work pay dividends, Wall has mastered his skill and strength development with frequent oncourt training sessions. Follow his workout to become an athletic, electrifying basketball player.
Wall is extremely fast. But what makes him special is that he's just as fast handling the ball as he is without it. (Wall's sprint time while dribbling was actually a shade faster than his time without the ball.) That's a lethal attribute for a point guard navigating the lane.
Wall's speed, like his ability to guard the ball from defenders, results from his intense skill-based training. "You have to get used to going full speed with the ball and not losing it," he says. "You need to make your handles tight so that people can't rip you, so you can make certain moves and you won't lose the ball no matter how fast you are going."
Perform Wall's patented dribbling circuit (below) to get your handles tight. "This makes you dribble with two balls while keeping your eyes up," he says. "It'll help you protect the ball."
Two-Ball Dribble Circuit
- Perform simultaneous dribbles below knees for 30 seconds
- Perform alternating dribbles below knees for 30 seconds
- Perform simultaneous dribbles above knees for 30 seconds
- Perform alternating dribbles above knees for 30 seconds
Sets/Duration: 4x30 seconds each drill
J Wall: Start with normal speed and then go faster. The faster you can go, the better you'll be when you're going against a good defense.
Wall attributes successful shooting to being a confident player. He demonstrated this by casually hitting 20 consecutive mid-range jumpers while carrying on a conversation with STACK. This confidence is based on his history of sinking clutch shots. In his first regular season game at Kentucky, Wall knocked in a buzzer beater to beat Miami.
He says, "If you miss two or three shots and everyone's booing or saying, 'I told you that you couldn't shoot,' you're just going to lose your head and stop shooting." Wall urges young athletes to stay confident in their own abilities to score from anywhere on the court. "When you're open, you need to make sure you take those shots," he says. "Even if you make one of five, you're showing them that you're willing to take that shot. Eventually you'll be able to knock it down with more consistency and they'll have to come out there and guard you."
Before every game, Wall sinks 150 shots from different spots on the court to make sure his jumper is on. But long before his pre-game routine, he prepares with a dynamic shooting drill (at right).
"This builds confidence," he says. "I know that we're going to run pick-and-rolls a lot, and as a point guard, I want to be able to make the shot that play creates."
Wall calls the drill "Finding the Sweet Spot," because it strengthens his jumper from the position on the court where a point guard has the ball most often. "I can get to the elbow quite a bit, especially with my speed and ability to get past guys," he says. "I want to be able to get to the rim, but taking that beating is going to get to me, so I want to master that mid-range area."
Finding the Sweet Spot
- Take shot from left elbow
- Run to right elbow, receive feed from partner and take shot
- Continue elbow-to-elbow movement and shooting until 10 shots are made from each spot
- Repeat drill with defender's hand in your face
Sets/Reps: 2-3x20 makes
J Wall: Everyone has a different shooting technique that works for them. Just make sure to get a lot of reps with it and hold your follow-through. Jump and get your elevation.
After Wall drives to the rim and explodes upward, he's been known to deliver thunderous dunks over bigger and stronger defenders.
"Finishing at the rim is part of my game," he says. "I've worked on my upper body quite a bit. Finishing strong after contact and getting and-ones means my upper body has been getting stronger." Wall knows how important it is for him to be able to battle against larger opponents. "I have to be able to hold my position in certain situations, play through contact and fight through screens."
Use Wall's Band Circuit to strengthen your shoulders, traps and arms, the key upper-body muscle groups used in finishing at the rim and fighting through screens. Wall says, "This is just like using weights, but without as much stress on my joints. It gets you a good burn for sure."
Band Upright Row
- Assume athletic staggered stance with band under front foot; hold handles in front
- Keeping hands close to body, drive elbows high to raise handles to chin level
- Lower handles with control and repeat for specified reps
Band Lateral Raise
- Assume athletic stance with band underneath feet; hold handles at sides
- Raise straight arms out to side until parallel to floor
- Lower arms with control and repeat for specified reps
Band Tricep Kickback
- Assume athletic stance with band underneath feet; bend forward slightly and hold handles at sides with arms bent 90 degrees
- Without moving upper arms, drive handles back until arms are straight
- Lower handles with control and repeat for specified reps