Injured Washington Wizards star John Wall tries to stay upbeat

When John Wall discovered last Thursday that the soreness in his left knee was the early stages of a stress injury that would keep him sidelined for approximately eight weeks, he walked out of orthopedic specialist David Altchek’s office in New York and took a few minutes to be alone, dejected, and process it all. He sat silently on the ride back to Washington, shutting off his cellphones, so that he wouldn’t have to share his anger and disappointment.

 

Wall had invested significant time and effort in preparing for his third season, one that he believes will define his career in the NBA. He hired a noted trainer and new strength and conditioning coach. He looked forward to getting on the floor with Nene, developing chemistry with first-round draft pick Bradley Beal and several of the other new pieces, and getting the Washington Wizards back on the path toward respectability. Suddenly, that was all delayed.

The emotions remained raw Monday, but Wall tried to appear upbeat as the Wizards players gathered at Verizon Center on the eve of his first NBA training camp as a spectator. He spoke with owner Ted Leonsis, joked around with his teammates as he posed for pictures and dribbled standing still — about all that he is allowed to do because of his current predicament.

“It’s definitely a big blow for me,” Wall said of the injury. “That’s something I definitely don’t want to hear, but it’s something I have to deal with in this game of basketball. I just have to be strong, smart and mature about it and let it pass.”

The knee injury was an obvious setback for Wall and the Wizards, because so much of this season is centered around his ability to ascend tothe status often reserved for the top pick. In his first two seasons, Wall posted respectable numbers — his career averages are 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds — especially considering he was asked to carry a supporting cast with limited talent and experience.

But Wall won’t place the blame elsewhere for his inability to quickly elevate the Wizards, because the expectations for him far exceed those for his teammates — and he will receive the bulk of the criticism if the team fails. With the Nationals and the Redskins generating excitement throughout the city, Wall feels he has a responsibility to help the Wizards “get back to where they belong.”

“When you get drafted number one,” Wall said, “it’s on you to change the program around, change the organization around, be in the playoffs and contend for a championship. That’s something I want to do.”

Kwame Brown was the last No. 1 overall pick [2001] who needed more than three years in the NBA to reach the playoffs. In the draft lottery era, the longest time a No. 1 pick needed to reach the postseason was six seasons — and by then, Pervis Ellison, Michael Olowokandi and Elton Brand were no longer on the teams that selected them.

John Calipari, Wall’s coach at Kentucky, says his former pupil has had to handle a difficult situation in his short time in Washington.