Prep Tour: Word of God

RALEIGH, N.C. --- One of the great stories of the Class of 2009 is how one of the group's top players completely changed his fate. It's a story worth retelling on the whim that the next standout player shapes up to turn his deal around the way this one did. John Wall's rise mirrors the ascension of Word of God's Holy Rams program.

Sometimes the rise happens so fast that guys forget their roots. Other times, it's the process that defines the player. For John Wall, last summer's meteoric rise that led to his coronation as the nation's top point guard -- and perhaps best prospect -- was precipitated by a near fall.

As open gyms kick into gear and with his senior campaign on the horizon, a visit with Wall helps take an inventory of his path to stardom and where it's going to lead in the future.

Early in Wall's high school career he was best known for his blow-ups, not his blow-bys. However, a few coaches stepped into his life and through some strong words and counseling, helped transform him into the player he is now.

"I think it happened because I got in the right situation," Wall says of the coaches who became a triumvirate of mentors. "I was with Brian Clifton and Tony Edwards at first and then there was hard work and dedication. What really helped me was when I got cut from Broughton and transferred over here.

"Then Coach [Levi] Beckwith helped me out a lot. Attitude-wise, I had a bad one when I got (to Word of God). He changed all that around and didn't let me play with that. (They) set me down and made me realize I had to trust my players and have a better attitude."

These days, Wall's attitude is in check. He's grown up, learned some tough lessons and continues to check himself. "I got frustrated last year when I made passes and they were dropped," he explains. "Now, I just pat (those guys) on the back and tell them to get it next time, so it doesn't stop me from playing."

As Wall prepares to defend his state championship, he can rest easy that he won't have to go it alone. On the receiving end of those "pats" are a collection of talented players. C.J. Leslie, a 2010 power forward who is the future property of North Carolina State, is back to go along for the ride.

"C.J. stepped up a lot and matured more; he's becoming a better player," Wall says.

Recently, rumors swirled that Word of God would have an even larger influx of talent. Guys like Keith Gallon and LaQuinton Ross looked into attending the school. Neither is coming, but Beckwith's Holy Rams are in good hands when the coach looks down the roster and gets past his two most highly ranked players.

After Wall and Leslie head off for greener pastures, WOG's spotlight is poised to shine on 2011 wings Dezmine Wells and Bishop Daniels. The latter is sitting out fall workouts and sharpening his academics after recently transferring in. Daniels will be ready for the season but won't play in front of coaches this September during open gyms. He's viewed as one of the more talented combos in the state, in his class.

Wells ditched football for a chance to hone his skills on the court. An improved jumper and even stronger body are noticeable during 3-on-3 workouts. "Them two, they can be the next ones," Wall says. "I think Dez really listens and you can tell he's getting better."

Other contributors on the team this year include 2010 power forward Montel Baines and 2011 guards Elijah Johnson and Dominique McDonald. Johnson has a trustworthy stroke. He'll be ready to pull it as Wall penetrates and tees them up for the youngster.

While the underclassmen bide their time, there's no doubt this season centers around a sendoff only Wall is capable of putting together. It's his show, just ask the college guys. By now, Wall has heard it all from the best of the best in the nation.

"Everybody tells me the same thing: work on my jump shot and play defense," he says. "They know I can play defense -- they just tell me to do it all the time. Kansas tells me in the NBA about screen and rolls. It's something to listen to because on the college level the stuff I do now is not going to be as easy."

Wall begins his visit slate Sept. 20 with Kansas. Oregon follows on Oct. 4 and Kentucky a week later. Baylor and North Carolina State remain in the chase as does Memphis. Wall's first visit was set with the Tigers for the coming weekend, but due to his mother's illness, will need to be rescheduled.

Since July, Wall's had to deal with a lot more than the typical high school star might encounter. As July drew to a close, Wall was dead center of the hottest recruiting story of the final week.

Baylor hired Dwon Clifton, one of Wall's traveling team coaches from D-One Sports. When Clifton signed with Clemson out of high school, it was under the direction of current Baylor assistant Matt Driscoll. Wall had Baylor on his list and the speculation that he would soon commit ran rampant. From message boards to newspaper articles, the senior intended to lay low but was thrust into the news.

"It's kind of frustrating," Wall says. "He told me before that if he got a job he would love me to go (with him), but he's not going to force me to. He's going to respect me. At first I didn't know and then I heard he got the job and everyone was telling me I committed there. I was already considering them because I went to Elite Camp there."

Dealing with adversity is never easy. Unfortunately, Wall has been through quite a bit since cancer took his father nearly a decade ago.

"We took a family trip to Lumberton and we came back for the first day of school and he died that morning," Wall recalls of that day.

Recently, Wall's mother has been ill and in the hospital. With her illness, the landscape of a once orderly September has changed. The focus has shifted from recruiting to family. Aside from entertaining programs at school, Wall is locked in on his mom's situation. He's in town for another week and a half before he takes his first visit. Sometimes real-life situations get one thinking about staying perhaps closer to home – and that's now the case with Wall.

Regardless, the stress of his mom's health and the rigors of the recruiting process are a lot for a high school player to handle. Mix in school and sharpening up his game and Wall is one of the busiest guys on the block. Knowing Wall, watching his journey and seeing his growth, there's a lot to be said for the manner in which he's handling it all. He's matured with the help of others, figured out some of it on his own and for his efforts has his life and future pointed in the proper direction. Where he's at now is a lot farther than where he was two seasons ago.

"I was sitting home going to the website and looking at other people just wishing I had a chance," Wall reflects on where he used to be. "(Last) summer, that's when everything changed for me."

It sure did.

Since then, Wall's become the best at his craft, won a state championship and is front and center in possibly the biggest recruiting story of the year. Getting ink on websites, newspapers and maybe even a TV station or two isn't an issue anymore for himself or Word of God.

There's a lesson to be learned in his path to success. It's rooted in overcoming obstacles and being willing to put in the hard work to improve one's character as well as one's game. And for that John Wall has become a shining example.

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