John Wall is in familiar territory. Drafted by Washington with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, Wall was introduced to the Wizards’ fan base with an almost savior-like fanfare. Wall was the anti-Gilbert Arenas — a 20-year-old fresh new face of the franchise tasked with changing the image and the culture of a losing organization.
Wall took the pressure in stride. The former Kentucky star assumed a leadership role from Day 1, averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 assists his rookie season. He also represented the team well at NBA All-Star Weekend, winning the MVP in the Rookie-Sophomore game. The Wizards finished 23-59 that year.
Fast forward to the present, and once again all eyes are on Wall. The third-year point guard has been out with a stress injury to his left patella since late September, and he has to sit on the sidelines and watch while his 0-7 team falters night after night. Wall knows exactly what the fans and many of his teammates are thinking — it will all be different when he comes back.
“It’s tough, but nobody’s making no excuses,” Wall said as he sat in front of his stall in the visitor’s locker room in Dallas. “We’ve been in a lot of games, we just haven’t closed them out.”
With his head down, Wall focused on tying the laces on his sneakers as members of the Dallas media swarmed around him prior to the game against the Mavericks on Wednesday. Whether he’s in uniform or in street clothes, he’s still the main attraction.
“It’s a great opportunity for other guys to step up and prove themselves,” Wall said. “The chemistry is getting better. Everybody’s got to get used to playing with each other.”
But despite being competitive, it hasn’t translated into wins. Wall is hopeful his teammates can pick things up soon.
“We want to get wins now, that’s the main goal,” Wall said. “We’re digging ourselves a deeper hole. Guys on this team are being competitive, they’re strong and they have a lot of confidence. They just have to find a way to go out there and get one win and then just build off of that.”
In the meantime, Wall is staying active and involved. He practices with the team doing non-contact activity on the sidelines. He travels to road games to continue his rehab with team trainers. During games, he’s standing alongside his teammates during every timeout.
“We talk. He’s with us all the time,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s why we bring him with us, both he and Nene. They’re around the team, they’re with us at all the meetings.”
He’s also been a valuable resource to rookie Bradley Beal, who seems to make a beeline for Wall when he comes off the court, as he asks his advice whenever he can.
“I want [Wall and Nene] to talk to their teammates as well while they’re there [on the bench] and see what they’re seeing,” Wittman said. “It’s a different game sitting over there than when you’re out running up and down the floor and they can be a help in that area.”
Asked when either Wall or Nene would return, Wittman deflected the question with his usual humor.
“I don’t have one,” Wittman said. “If you’ve got one, let me know.”
In the meantime, Wall is doing his best to keep up his spirits, though he acknowledged things aren’t getting any easier.
“No,” he said, barely looking up while tying his shoes. “It’s still tough and frustrating. I lock myself in my house with some music. This is my first time going through something like this.”