- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

John Wall knows all about pressure. Last season’s No. 1 pick, Wall became the face of the Washington Wizards before his first day in uniform. In his second season, he found himself in the role of mentor to another rookie point guard, former Butler star Shelvin Mack.

Both players had a steep learning curve, and thanks to the lockout, a short window to do it in. Fortunately for Mack, there was at least one thing he already did better than Wall.

“I’m better at video games than he is,” Mack said. “He’d probably say he is, but I think it’s me.”

Mack and Wall play video games together frequently, go bowling, and just “hang out a lot” Mack said. The two were friends before they became teammates, and the camaraderie helped them endure a 20-46 season.

“We have a good friendship,” Wall said. “He’s the person I hang out with mainly on the road, and try to give him guidance. We have a great relationship. I met him when I was in college when he went back for his junior year.”

By the time Mack joined the Wizards, he’d already had been learning from elite NBA point guards. Mack was one of 10 players chosen, along with current teammate Chris Singleton, who starred at Florida State, to play for the 2010 USA men’s world championship team in New York.

“I played with most of the top point guards in the league — Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo,” Mack said. “It helped give me confidence.”

It was that extra boost of confidence which helped Mack navigate a season that started with a lockout, had no summer league, a limited training camp, a condensed season and a coaching change.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Mack acknowledges.

Wall made it easier.

“He’s just been trying to learn and understand what he needs to do to lead our second group,” Wall said. “There was a point when I was in a slump, and he played better than me. Then he was in a slump for a while. I just tried to give him advice and told him to keep being aggressive and play his game.”

Coach Randy Wittman saw Mack go through the typical rookie growing pains but liked the way he toughed it out.

“To come to the NBA and be asked to be a distributor, a set-up guy, learning the point position and everything that goes with that, we’ve seen his ups and downs,” Wittman said. “But he persevered through some tough times where he didn’t played very well, and he stuck with it and stuck with it. He and Wall both showed a lot of growth this year.”

As it turns out, Wall’s reach extended far beyond the locker room. In the final two weeks, the Wizards beat the Charlotte Bobcats twice, helping contribute to the Bobcats’ 7-59 record. Charlotte’s winning percentage of .106 was the worst in NBA history.

For Bobcats rookie point guard Kemba Walker, it was a devastating year of futility. But Walker had a small circle of people who helped him get through the tough times. One of those people was Wall.

“I talk to John a lot. He’s kind of in the same situation as me,” Walker said. The Bobcats and Wizards finished with the NBA’s two worst records. “I don’t think we talked about basketball a lot. We both had pretty rough seasons.

“We just tell each other to stay positive, regardless. We have to get better as players. We have a lot of years left in this league. Our future could be really positive. One day, we’ll both be in playoff races.”

Walker and Mack will run into one another during the summer-league games, as things will return to normal this offseason. Wall said he’ll confine his summer activities to workouts and plans to skip all those games he played in last summer. But he’ll be around if Walker and Mack need a little guidance.

“As the year went on, I felt like I got better as a player, especially my leadership skills, finding guys, knowing where to be on the court,” Mack said.

“I learned it from John.”

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