- The Wizards go through their warmups last night (Photo: TBD Staff)
"I was happy to be out there," John Wall said after the Wizards opened their training camp with a special midnight practice at George Mason University's Patriot Center. "It reminded me of college [at Kentucky]."
Many Division I colleges hold midnight practices to celebrate the official NCAA-sanctioned start of basketball practice October 15. Last night, the Wizards brought the concept to the pro game, holding an hour-long open practice in front of a crowd that the Wizards estimated as 4,000 strong. They screamed for Gilbert Arenas. They screamed for Yi Jianlian. One guy really, really wanted to meet Adam Morrison. They screamed for Nick Young, who made a post-practice half-court shot to win a GMU student $500 in cash. And, of course, the place erupted when John Wall was introduced.
"I didn't think we'd have this much of a crowd," Wizards head coach Flip Saunders said last night. "We had a good hour."
I doubt he would have said that as the practice got underway with fast break drills. Whether it was the adrenaline or the late hour, far too many "possessions" ended with either a turnover or a missed shot. Former NBA point guard and current assistant coach Sam Cassell was kept busy exhorting his charges to "stop turning the ball over."
As the team went into a white jersey vs. black jersey scrimmage that took up most of the practice, the quality of play slowly began to improve. Young and Morrison were knocking down mid-range jumpshots consistently. Arenas was able to go to the hoop, draw contact, and get to the line. JaVale McGee appeared to be putting his time spent with Team USA this summer to good use on both ends of the floor, converting a couple dunks off nice feeds from Wall on offense, and making a stunning block on Yi Jianlian on defense.
As for the number one draft pick, Wall was fairly quiet, except for one moment when he unleashed a hellacious crossover on Kirk Hinrich that left Wall wide open for a 20-foot jumper, which he converted the way other players might make a layup. It was the kind of play that impressed Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, a friend of Wizards head man Flip Saunders.
"He has extraordinary intelligence, great vision, and quickness." Izzo said when I asked what made Wall so special. "Sometimes we say a guy has an extra gear. He has an extra two gears, I think."
So, what's John Wall's NBA ceiling?
"I've never seen a player like him," Izzo said. "I mean, we had the Magic Man [Magic Johnson] at Michigan State. He could dish, but he didn't have that lightning quickness [that Wall has]. I'm not sure he has a ceiling."
On an exciting night for the Wizards, that might be the most exciting news of all.