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Even before he had played a minute of college basketball, Wildcats freshman point guard John Wall was seriously entertaining the question: Is he a contender for national player of the year? "That's one of my goals," says Wall, the country's top recruit and the linchpin of coach John Calipari's audacious instant-revival plans at Kentucky. "To be national player of the year would be great as a freshman, but I still have a lot to prove."
Wall's coach certainly doesn't dismiss the possibility. Calipari has built a cottage industry of turning one-and-done point guards into top 5 NBA draft picks—say hello, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans—and he has a pretty good idea how Wall's first season will play out. "Early in the year, people will say, 'Oh, I'm not sure how good he is,'" Calipari predicts. "That's what they said about Derrick and Tyreke. Neither one was putting his name in the draft in December, but by February you knew they were [gone]."
Calipari says Wall's development in the frenetic dribble-drive motion offense is ahead of where Rose's and Evans's were at the same stage. Wall combines speed, vision and explosiveness to get to the rim easily in traffic, but there is room for improvement in his shooting and game management. "He has to be able to [control tempo] better," says Calipari, adding that Wall has to figure out, "When do I fan things out? When do I get us organized?"
On a team with the nation's top-ranked recruiting class and another player of the year candidate in junior forward Patrick Patterson, it will be up to Wall to make the team's chemistry work. He says his role may be like that of Pau Gasol's on the Lakers—i.e., a franchise-player talent who's willing to support the star (Patterson) if necessary. Then he'll likely follow Rose and Evans to the NBA next year. "If the team has a great season like we're supposed to and I do what I'm supposed to and I'm ready to go," he says, "then I will."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
John Calipari (1st season)