One of the great simple joys in life is when somebody excitedly tells you about a new band, and you stand there, listening to them rhapsodize about their new single, that crazy thing the lead singer does with his voice, and their totally awesome EP. And then you can calmly respond, "Oh yeah, I heard of them like six months ago." The satisfaction of knowing before anyone else is hard to quantify, but it makes you feel pretty awesome, doesn't it?
(To put this in perspective, there's an entire group of people in society that dedicate their entire existence to enjoying just this one thing. They spend their lives trolling the underground, wearing strange clothing, and following middling musical acts--all in the hope that one of those bands or fashion trends might become super popular, at which point they can smugly declare, "Yeah... I mean I'm actually kind of sick of [band or fashion trend]. It was so much better three years ago." We call these people "hipsters," and for some reason, they all seem to smoke Parliaments.)
For normal people, though, if we get on the bandwagon early, it just enhances our affection for someone or something once the whole world falls in love with it. Like, three years ago I became strangely obsessed with Taylor Swift. Weird--and incredibly embarrassing--but now she's one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. And for me, that makes her even more awesome. I knew about her first. For some reason, we take some weird, vicarious joy in seeing someone that feels like your own, private obsession explode into world renown.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying, you NEED to watch John Wall at Kentucky this year.
He is that new band that nobody really knows about, and soon enough he's going to be at the epicenter of the basketball universe. It may not happen this year, or even next year, when he gets to the NBA, but sooner or later, we're talking about a guy that has the skills to truly take your breath away as a basketball fan. Over the past twelve months, he's quietly created a buzz in the basketball world, but for some reason, it still percolates largely beneath the surface. The mainstream media and college basketball purists just don't seem to get it yet: this guy is UNREAL.
Now, this is the type of deifying bluster that accompanies most big time basketball recruits. Everyone leaves high school with a full repetoire of grainy YouTube clips and "OMG watch this SICK Crossover!!!" moments, along with plenty of drooling recruiting analysts heralding their "upside." We see it all the time; sometimes it's justified, sometimes not. But either way, hyperbole isn't indicative of a player's chances for success. People flop all the time; wasn't Jrue Holliday supposed to dominate for UCLA last year?
But this is different. The way people describe John Wall distinguishes him from the rest of the super-recruits that have come through the high school ranks over the past decade. It reminds me of the way people used to talk about Lebron James. Way back in the year 2000, people began to chatter about this rising sophomore that was just destroying people on the AAU circuit, and converted even the most jaded scouts into instant-believers. I specifically remember reading a story on UNCBasketball.com that was just gushing, and even wtih Lebron at 15 years old, predicted he'd never play a day of college basketball. (Because that site no longer exists, I couldn't find the actual story, but isn't this picture awesome?).
And look at some the things that have been said about Wall. First, from our own Blazers Edge:
6'1" point guards aren't supposed to put back offensive rebounds by lasering in from the three point line, catching the ball on the ascent and rising further to dunk with authority over the backs of 7 footers. 6'1" point guards aren't supposed to torpedo in from the wings to block turnaround jump shots near the basket, sending the ball flying to halfcourt. 6'1" point guards aren't usually ambidextrous, capable of crossing someone up or dunking with authority with either hand. That's John Wall.
6'1" point guards are supposed to be the quickest player on the court. They are supposed to be able to get into the paint at will. They are supposed to have eyes in the back of their head. They are supposed to be able to absorb contact and finish. They are supposed to be get low and active on defense. They are supposed to be emotional leaders. They are supposed to have the best basketball IQ on the court. That's John Wall too.
Wall captured imaginations: crossovers, finishes at the rim, no-look passes, behind-the-back passes, left-handed dunks on the break, 2 hand dunks over people, spin moves, lockdown 1 on 1 defense, catapults on the rim that ended with him swinging around the basket to avoid landing on someone in such a way that his feet were above his head, Rudy-like crashes to the floor after jumping all the way over people, blocked shots, 5 steals, and on and on and on.
I spent about 6 hours yesterday giggling in awe.
You see that? GROWN MEN ARE GIGGLING. And it doesn't stop there. Draftexpress.com, one of the best scouting resources on the internet, mentioned in a gushing scouting report, "After watching Wall play Saturday night, it's hard not to come here and spew every bit of hyperbole that comes to mind." Speaking of hyperbole... Free Darko called him "A more athletic, less selfish, Derrick Rose. Like LeBron if he hadn't been made in space and was crossed with Chris Paul." We could continue with these from people all over the internet, but hopefully, like Jerry Stackhouse, you're getting the point.
Doesn't it sound like they're describing some comic book hero on the basketball court?
But here's the thing: it's not as if any of these people have a vested interest in John Wall, the person, or even Kentucky, the program. It's just... as basketball fans, they're compelled to invoke hyperbole because his talent really is that exciting. And it's incredibly rare for a point guard to leave fans shaking their head in disbelief. More common are the Steve Nash, Jason Kidd-types, who methodically dissect the opposition with a series of pinpoint passes and efficient offense. And that's pretty great, and the sort of stuff that any true basketball fan can appreciate.
But John Wall plays a style that's liable to make heads explode. Whether you're a novice or an expert, John Wall does things that'll amaze you. The moments in sports that prompt fans to audibly gasp are rare; football has a few, occasionally a walk off home run will do it, and let's throw in the odd hockey goal just for fun.
On the whole, though, those "gasp-worthy" moments are what makes basketball attractive to average sports fans. They happen in spectacular fashion, and more often than in any other sport. A true hoops addict will watch just about anything--but the majority of basketball fans are there because they want to see something that takes their breath away. Something to leave us just plain dumbfounded. Whether it's a buzzer beater, a jaw-dropping dunk, or an ankle-breaking crossover on a fast break, in no other sport will you hear crowds audibly gasp as often as you do in basketball.
And John Wall will take your breath away more than most. I've seen him on television twice, and watched countless grainy You Tube videos, but I'm tellin ya: he's not just another big time recruit. The YouTube videos that accompany someone like Xavier Henry or Jeremy Tyler are fine, but grainy videos don't make a legend. Instead, it's the gushing testimony from scores of trusted sources that has me convinced: John Wall is on another level. The sort of thing we only see once or twice a decade. Not Steve Nash, Jason Kidd-type stuff; Kevin Durant, Lebron James-type stuff.
What will it look like to see a point guard approach that type of transcendence? I don't know. But if John Wall's a band, then I've got a feeling he's about to hit it big. And until then, his time at Kentucky is like one, big underground concert. There will be stumbles and flashes of brilliance, but watching him will be like watching Lebron in high school or Kevin Durant at Texas.
There's something different about this guy. Check him out while it's still a secret.