Up against the Wall ...

Given Tennessee's long-standing difficulty in signing true point guards, Vol fans are understandably envious of what John Calipari has accomplished the past three years.

First, Calipari invaded Chicago to sign 6-foot-3 Derrick Rose, who led Memphis to the NCAA title game as a freshman, then was tabbed by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.

Next, Calipari invaded Chester, Pa., to sign 6-foot-6 Tyreke Evans, who led the Tigers to another great season as a freshman, then was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 Draft.

Next, Calipari invaded Raleigh, N.C., to sign 6-foot-4 John Wall, who just might be the best of the three. Tennessee fans can judge for themselves Saturday at noon, when Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats bring Wall and a No. 2 national ranking to Thompson-Boling Arena.

"They're all different," Tennessee assistant Jason Shay said of Rose, Evans and Wall. "But I think basketball is a skill game and not necessarily a physical game. If you've got the skills you can play at the highest level right away."

Clearly, Calipari has mastered the art of convincing superstar high school point guards to play one year in his system before jumping to the NBA.

"With the rule the way it is he (Calipari) has gotten some players that have high skill level and a chance to make some money," Shay said. "That's where those three guys fit in. They have great skill levels and, obviously, they're very gifted athletically."

Wall may be the most gifted of all. Last November, in just his third college game, he scorched Rider for 21 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. He subsequently made 10 of 16 shots in scoring a season-high 25 points vs. UConn. He dished out a season-high 16 assists vs. Hartford and added 14 more vs. UNC Asheville. He proved himself a clutch player by scoring 10 of Kentucky's final 23 points as the Cats turned a 50-52 deficit into a 73-62 defeat of Tennessee on Feb. 13 in Lexington.

For the season Wall ranks No. 1 among SEC players in assists (6.27 per game), No. 3 in steals (1.88 per game), No. 4 in scoring (16.8 points per game), No. 5 in minutes (34.35 per game), No. 6 in assist/turnover ratio (1.58 to 1) and No. 8 in free-throw shooting (78.2 percent). What he does best, though, is race the ball from one end of the floor to the other.

"He's really fast with the basketball in transition," Shay said. "He's very good at finishing and making plays in transition or scramble situations. And he's very unselfish. I think he's a better passer at this point in his career than Derrick and Tyreke were. That's evident by the number of assists he has on the year. His maturity and that passing ability make him pretty tough."

Being surrounded by players the caliber of Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton has made Wall even tougher. His ability - and willingness - to distribute the ball to his talented teammates makes him the ideal point guard.

"They've done a good job of showing him what he needs to do to be the floor leader out there, where to pick his spots," Shay said. "Still, he's able to run their offense efficiently enough to get the guys the ball where they're most effective in scoring the basketball.

"He's a pretty complete player, and they've done a pretty good job of getting the message across to him of how their team can be successful."

Just like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans before him.


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