Wall calls Hall of Fame induction a ‘humbling experience’

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John Wall arrived at the Woodford Reserve Club at Kroger Field on Friday night rocking a Kentucky blue suit that he’d never worn before. He said he was saving it for a special occasion.

That special occasion was Wall being inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. The former Kentucky point guard was inducted alongside Randall Cobb (football), Collin Cowgill (baseball), Ralph Hacker (broadcaster), Sherry Hoover Bordner (cross country/indoor track/outdoor track) and Sarah Rumely (volleyball).

“It’s an honor,” Wall said prior to giving an emotional speech later that evening. “It’s a blessing to be here for one year and have such an impact that I had. Coming from where I came from, I’ve been through a lot of adversity. A lot of people doubted me, said I’d be in school for four years and wouldn’t make it to the NBA. All those types of things. I just used it as motivation and that’s all you can ask for. To know eight years later I’m coming back to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. You couldn’t ask for nothing more and it’s a humbling experience.”

Former Kentucky point guard John Wall became head coach John Calipari’s first player to be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. At the end of his speech Friday he took off his jacket and put on his old UK jersey and did his popular dance from 2010. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

Wall became the first player coached by John Calipari to be inducted into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. That he was only at Kentucky for one year speaks to Wall’s excellence.

The first national player of the year in program history, Wall was a consensus first-team All-American and the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 2010. He led UK to an SEC regular-season and tournament championship by averaging 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game. His 241 total assists set a single-season record at Kentucky (only to be broken by Tyler Ulis in 2016).

Later, Wall became the first No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick in UK history and is a four-time NBA All-Star. Last season, Wall earned third-team All-NBA honors and became the Washington Wizards franchise’s career leader in assists and steals.

“John helped revive this program,” Calipari said during his introductory speech for Wall. “He did his dance at Big Blue Madness that took over the country. He was on the cover of magazines. He was called The Great Wall. His play was electric and fast. But without him having the attitude of a servant leader, with a kind heart, we couldn’t have done this.

“John changed college basketball. He didn’t just change Kentucky basketball – though he certainly did that too – he changed our game and how we see it today.

“Five players from one school being drafted in the first round, four of them freshmen. Had never been done before. I’d like to think John dragged all of us, including me as a coach.”

Wall’s servant leadership was brought up frequently by Calipari on Friday, who said that many doubted whether Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins could all coexist on one team. Wall and Bledsoe were both point guards and Cousins was a highly rated big man who would want his touches. Not only did the three freshmen coexist, they became inseparable while at UK and remain very close to this day, calling each other the Three Amigos.

Though the 2010 season did not finish how Wall, Calipari and Kentucky wanted it to, it did set the foundation for how Kentucky basketball is seen today, and Wall recognized that other programs have begun to follow suit.

The 2017 UK Athletics Hall of Fame class from left to right: Randall Cobb Sr. (representing his son, Randall Cobb, who could not be present), Sarah Rumely, John Wall, Collin Cowgill, Sherry Hoover Bordner and Ralph Hacker. (photo by Quinn Foster, UK Athletics)

“I think a lot of other schools are starting to follow this trend. It’s great,” Wall said. “But I think the most important thing is we all come back. We don’t ever just be like, ‘Forget Kentucky. We just came to do this and leave.’ We come and we build a family here. It’s all a brotherhood.”

At the time, Wall didn’t know he was about to be one of the first players to start this trend. A self-described, “skinny, little scrawny kid,” Wall struggled at times on campus with all the pressure and attention he received. That’s where Coach Cal, his teammates, friends and family helped him keep a level head. Now, Wall gives his phone number out to the Kentucky players and is always willing to give them advice on how to handle certain situations.

“Man, being 18 years old coming from Raleigh, North Carolina, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Wall said. “Over the years, just maturing as a person on and off the court, you start to realize how much impact I have. … I already know I’m a talented basketball player but I want to be known as a better person, and that’s something we try to work hard and control every day of keeping a clean image, and knowing, and saying and understanding what I’m doing.”

While introducing his star point guard Friday, Coach Cal said Wall helped revive the program. (photo by UK Athletics)

A lot has changed since Wall was a student-athlete at Kentucky. For one, the old Wildcat Lodge, where he and his teammates lived during the 2009-10 season, no longer exists. It was demolished years ago and replaced by dorms. A number of other new dorms and classroom buildings have been built all around the Lexington campus. Still, Wall says it feels like home whenever he comes back.

As a high schooler, Wall originally wanted to remain close to his mother, Frances Pulley, in North Carolina. But when Coach Cal got his mother’s blessing, Wall knew he was UK bound. His first memory of UK came when he was on campus in summer school and the realization set in that if he wanted to talk to his mother he no longer could go down the hall or go downstairs. It was up to him now.

“That made me understand that all I really had was my brothers. That was my teammates and my coaching staff. That was my family while I was here,” Wall said. “The other family I met was all the other athletes I enrolled with and the students we had and the fanbase. And the state of Kentucky embracing me like I was born and raised here. Every time I come back it always feels like I’m home.”

Similar to being the first player at Kentucky called on to drag others with him, Wall is the first of Calipari’s players to be inducted into the prestigious UK Athletics Hall of Fame, but his former college coach is hoping he won’t be the only one.

“My only hope now is that John continues to take people with him,” Calipari said. “My hope is he’s just the first of my guys to start going into this prestigious Hall of Fame, and he takes additional people with him. But he is the first, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”