HARBOR CITY, Calif. – In his first season in the NBA, John Wall(notes) was just one of three players to average more than 16 points and eight assists. The other two: All-Star point guards Deron Williams(notes) and Russell Westbrook(notes).
And yet Wall knows everyone – including himself – was expecting more from the top pick in the 2010 draft.
"I don't think anybody respected it," Wall said of his rookie season. "I don't want to blame my injuries – things happen in this world – but I think I would have had a better rookie season. You see how I played when I started the season healthy. When I injured myself, I lost confidence. When I injured myself, I didn't have the energy."
Wall hopes to return to the dynamic level of play he showed during his lone season at the University of Kentucky when he averaged 16.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds as a freshman. Coming off an embarrassing 26-win season that included Gilbert Arenas(notes) and Javaris Crittenton(notes) earning lengthy suspensions for bringing guns into the locker room, the Wizards made Wall the No. 1 pick. How Wall would co-exist with Arenas was an immediate concern. And from the time training camp started until Arenas was dealt to the Orlando Magic on Dec. 18, Wall said he and Arenas had just one problem – playing together.
"Everybody expected us not to get along, to bump heads," said Wall, who still communicates with Arenas. "When we were playing together, we really got along good. But it just couldn't work with us two, and then you got Nick Young(notes). That's why it didn't work.
"But other than that, he was cool people on and off the court. When Gil got traded, it really helped me to get open."
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Wall's injuries, however, kept him from taking full advantage of Arenas' departure.
His first injury came when he sprained his left foot while trying to block a jumper from Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose(notes) on Nov. 4. He returned after just four games, and that proved to be a mistake: In his first game back, he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee. Wall missed 12 games because of injuries to his left foot and right knee – he also was suspended for a game for a skirmish with Miami Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) – and played with a sore hamstring. He averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals, but the Wizards won just 23 games.
"I learned that when you are supposed to come back one week, you wait another week to make sure you're healthy," Wall said. "I'm just making sure I take care of my body. I'm getting stronger this summer and that is the main thing I need to do. I'm not trying to get big, just get stronger to take the hits I was taking last year."
Wall still had moments when he showed his talent. He dished a record 22 assists and scored 12 points to win Most Valuable Player honors in the rookie game during All-Star weekend. It was about the only time Wall took the spotlight from Los Angeles Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes). Griffin scored 14 points for the rookies, won the dunk contest, played in the All-Star Game and easily won Rookie of the Year.
"What Blake did kind of stuffed it down the drain because he was so athletic and was on so many highlight reels," Wall said of his own season. "That's not all that he is about, but that's what everyone was talking about. I'm not disappointed in that. I'm happy for him to win Rookie of the Year. That was my goal. But that just puts something else on my goal list.
"You will see the real me back with my athleticism, back at my full speed … and that's what I want to prove to people. Whenever the season starts this year or whenever we play again, I want them to see the real me."
Another goal for Wall is to prove himself against a pair of All-Star point guards.
"Derrick Rose, the MVP, he took advantage of me at times," Wall said. "Russell Westbrook did that when we played at Oklahoma, and I'll never forget it. Those are the types of things I'm keeping in my head [for] when we play them next season. It's not going to be a one-on-one battle, but I'm going to prove that I'm back to myself and I can guard these guys."
Wall has played pick-up games at UCLA this offseason, worked out in Santa Monica, Calif., and represented Washington, D.C.'s Goodman League in an exhibition game against Los Angeles' Drew League. He currently isn't interested in playing overseas during the lockout, and says he's focused on making the Wizards better for next season – whenever that is.
Wall likes Washington's roster, which includes Young, Andray Blatche(notes), Jordan Crawford(notes), Rashard Lewis(notes) and JaVale McGee(notes) along with intriguing rookies Jan Vesely(notes), Chris Singleton(notes) and Shelvin Mack(notes). The keys for the Wizards making the playoffs next season, Wall said, are trusting in each other, winning close games and him showing more leadership. Washington hasn't been to the postseason since 2008.
"I went to a playoff game to see LeBron [James] play," Wall said. "I want to be in that situation. It's not fun sitting there watching. I want to be on the court."
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