If you Google "John Wall" you'll find thousands of fans, bloggers, newscasters and coaches from all over the country singing his praises, very similar to this bit from Newsday, "I think I have just seen the next big thing in basketball. Not just the college game. The whole basketball world. That's a hard thing to say about a point guard, but Kentucky's John Wall is not your run-of-the-mill rookie phenom. In terms of pure, unrefined playmaking talent, Wall might be the most electrifying player to come down the pike." Young John Wall's play on the court has certainly commanded attention.
That 25 point effort against UCONN was the best freshman performance in a battle of two top 20 programs involving Kentucky since Rex Chapman led the #13-ranked Wildcats into a game against #3 ranked Indiana in the Steve Alford era. The game was played in Assembly Hall in Indiana. Chapman scored 26 that night, dishing 6 assists in a losing effort. It was only Chapman's third game as a Kentucky Wildcat and I remembered thinking to myself at the time, "It'll never get any better than this." After that game Steve Alford, himself an All-American, said that Chapman may have been the best guard in the country.
A few games later, Chapman dropped 26 on Louisville, helping the Cats trounce the Cardinals 85-51. Cardinal coach Denny Crum said after that game that he didn't know of guard in the nation that could stop Chapman. There have been other great freshman performances as well: In 1993 Tony Delk scored 18 points on South Carolina in a game he played only 15 minutes. In 2007 Wall's teammate Patrick Patterson had 24 points and 15 rebounds against Tennessee Tech. In 1996, freshman Ron Mercer had his coming out party in the National Championship game against Syracuse, scoring 20 points in Kentucky NCAA Championship win.
In one of the most exciting college basketball games I have ever seen, freshman Antoine Walker scored 23 points and had 7 rebounds to lead #3 ranked Kentucky in a come-from-behind overtime win against #5 ranked Arkansas, 95-93. Freshman Jack "Goose" Givens had an incredible game against Syracuse in the 1975 Final Four as the #2 ranked Wildcats trounced the 6th-Ranked Orangemen. Goose had 24 points and 11 rebounds in only 28 minutes.
Wall sets himself apart from all the freshmen mentioned above in that, with the exception of Chapman, Wall has not only established himself as the best freshman, but the best overall player on the team – the one player that the team could simply not succeed without. Chapman was that way as well, but Chapman's team went only 18-11 in his freshman year.
For those reasons, it would be hard to argue against John Wall as UK's best all-time freshman player. Though the final chapter has yet to be written on his maiden voyage as a Wildcat, Wall has already established himself as not only the best freshman in the country but the best player on one of the top two or three best teams in the nation.
There are of course many incredible Kentucky Wildcats who were not allowed to play as freshmen. No one will ever know how the likes of Dan Issel, Louis Dampier or Alex Groza may have fared as freshmen.
Wall is in the here and now, however, and those conversations are for another time. Since it is doubtful that we shall see Wall in anything other than the uniform of some lucky NBA team after this year, I invite all UK fans to do what I am doing; sitting back and enjoying the ride while I can.