Wizards select Kentucky’s Wall with No. 1 pick
NEW YORK — John Wall is ready to go to Washington and clean up the Wizards. And he’ll have more backcourt help when he gets there — whether or not Gilbert Arenas is still around.
The Wizards selected Wall with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and agreed to a trade for another guard Thursday, hoping they’ve found players who can help them quickly bounce back from a season that was embarrassing on the court and in the locker room.
“I feel like I had pressure since I became No. 1 in high school and was one of the top players,” Wall said. “I always got there hungry wanting to fight hard and compete in every game, so when I step on the court I’m going to take on any challenge there.”
The SEC player of the year is the first Kentucky player ever chosen first overall. He goes to a team still reeling from Arenas’ season-ending suspension for bringing guns into the team locker room.
Wall could replace Arenas as the Wizards’ point guard, or perhaps play alongside him in a potential high-scoring backcourt. He’ll try to become the third straight freshman point guard to win Rookie of the Year honors after Chicago’s Derrick Rose and Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans — who like Wall also played for John Calipari.
The pick came shortly after a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that the Chicago Bulls had agreed to trade veteran guard Kirk Hinrich and the 17th pick in the draft to the Wizards. Hinrich is a solid veteran defensive guard who could help with Wall’s transition to the NBA.
After his name was announced to begin the draft, Wall hugged family members and donned a blue Wizards cap before climbing onto the stage to shake commissioner David Stern’s hand.
Predicted to finish in the top half of the Eastern Conference last season, the Wizards’ season quickly spiraled out of control, reaching its low point on New Year’s Day when news broke of the altercation involving guns between Arenas and fellow guard Javaris Crittenton, who also was suspended for the year. Washington eventually traded fellow stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in a dismal 26-56 finish.
Arenas is eligible to return, but Wall is ready to take charge of the team.
“I was always a leader by example being the first in the gym and the last in the gym,” Wall said. “But I’m a leader that doesn’t mind speaking up to the older guys.”
The Philadelphia 76ers took national player of the year Evan Turner from Ohio State at No. 2. The notoriously tough Philadelphia fans at Madison Square Garden liked the choice, loudly cheering and chanting “Evan Turner! Evan Turner!”
“I don’t have any pressure. I have a lot of demands of myself,” Turner said. “If Philly expects me to be great, then we have a mutual understanding.”
Derrick Favors became the second freshman taken in the first three picks when the New Jersey Nets chose the Georgia Tech forward.
“I pretty much knew John was going to 1 and Evan was going 2, but I had no idea I was going to the Nets, and when they called me I was just excited,” Favors said.
The Minnesota Timberwolves then grabbed Syracuse forward Wesley Johnson, whom the Nets also had considered. Stern seemed impressed by the Christmas-colored slacks worn by Johnson, who held up his leg to show them off.
Kentucky, which hoped to have a record five players taken in the first round, put its second in the top five when DeMarcus Cousins was taken by Sacramento. His lavender shirt matched nicely with the Kings’ purple, but that wasn’t planned.
“We had the suit made long before,” Cousins said. “Guess it’s made for the moment.”
Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh also is headed to Northern California, chosen by Golden State at No. 6. Detroit kept up the run of big men by selecting Georgetown center Greg Monroe with the seventh pick, before the Los Angeles Clippers went for Wake Forest’s Al-Farouq Aminu.
Butler’s Gordon Hayward went ninth to Utah, one spot before the Indiana Pacers would’ve faced pressure to pick the hometown star. Instead, they chose Fresno State forward Paul George before Kansas teammates Cole Aldrich (New Orleans) and Xavier Henry (Memphis) went with back-to-back picks.
The draft hadn’t even started and already the buzz was on free agency, which opens in exactly a week with LeBron James leading perhaps the deepest class ever. Moves were made with July 1 in mind, such as the Bulls’ deal with Washington that opened additional salary cap space for perhaps a second top player.
Toronto drafted North Carolina’s Ed Davis at No. 13, a potential replacement if the Raptors lose Chris Bosh in free agency. There were even a few chants for James, whom the Knicks will make a run at.