John Wall is ready to stop cheerleading and start playing.
The heralded Kentucky freshman will make his long-awaited debut
on Monday when the fourth-ranked Wildcats take on Miami (Ohio).
Wall was forced to sit out Kentucky's season-opening win over
Morehead State last Friday as part of an NCAA suspension for
accepting improper benefits from his former AAU coach. He watched
from the bench in a sweat suit as fellow freshman guard Eric
Bledsoe scored 24 points in a 75-59 victory.
Bledsoe's dynamic debut - he scored the most points by a
Kentucky player in his first game in 30 years - will be hard to
duplicate. Wall doesn't feel the need to top it. That's not his
role. Not yet anyway.
"On this team, everybody, one through 13, can make plays,"
Wall said. "I don't mind giving up the ball, because I have a
teammate who can finish."
Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall marveled at Bledsoe's play
against the Eagles, saying simply "if John Wall is better than
him, then 'Wow."'
When Bledsoe signed with the Wildcats, he was viewed as the
backup to Wall. Instead they'll find themselves playing alongside
each other against the RedHawks (0-1), a decision coach John
Calipari described as a no-brainer.
"If you have your two guys, who are your best two players, you
figure out how to play them together," Calipari said. "That is
what we'll try to do. The greatest thing is they'll have to figure
out more than I do."
Don't expect any sort of rivalry between Bledsoe and Wall,
While Bledsoe allows he had something to prove after people
questioned why he signed with the Wildcats knowing that Wall was
penciled in as the lead guard, the two have spent the last few
weeks trying to develop the kind of chemistry that takes their egos
out of the way.
"It'll be great, both of us are point guards that know the game
so it'll take pressure off of us individually," Bledsoe said.
Calipari's message to both players is simple: whoever takes the
ball in - and he has no preference - will be in charge of getting
the Wildcats up the floor as quickly as possible.
"We're going to be running because they're going to get the
ball up," forward Ramon Harris said. "That's one thing about John
and Eric, they're not selfish with the ball at all. The big men
know if they run the floor they're going to get ball so that's just
going to make everybody else run."
Still, the Wildcats weren't exactly sharp against the Eagles.
They missed 15 3-pointers and turned it over 24 times. Calipari
expects that number to drop significantly with two point guards on
the court at the same time.
"Eric had seven turnovers, but the point guard can't have seven
turnovers, and we all know that," Calipari said. "Hopefully, with
John out there, (Bledsoe) won't turn it over so much."
Calipari can stomach the turnovers if the Wildcats play with a
higher level of energy. He groaned following the win over the
Eagles that he was going to have nightmares because of a lack of
defensive effort, something he never worried about during his final
years at Memphis.
"He just told us that we have a lot of work to do," forward
Darius Miller said. "We looked sloppy at times. We didn't do
everything exactly the way we were supposed to."
Calipari doesn't expect that to happen for several months. He
does expect things to run a little smoother with Wall on the court.
And for all the hype surrounding Wall, the 6-foot-3 guard
considered a can't-miss NBA prospect has been decidedly down to
earth since arriving on campus.
Bledsoe admits he expected Wall to be "a jerk" because of his
star status. He's been anything but a prima donna. Though Calipari
awarded Wall a starting spot on the day practice started, Wall is
only too aware that it can be taken away, especially now that it
appears the Wildcats can survive and perhaps thrive when he isn't
on the floor.
"Just because you start, it doesn't mean your spot can't get
taken away," he said.