Kwame Brown, Oleksiy Pecherov, Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries—once promising draft picks turned NBA underachievers and albatrosses around the Washington Wizards’ neck. The Wizards have a chance at draft redemption on June 24 when they drop their selection card into the hands of NBA Commissioner David Stern. They’ll have a chance at building a winner and a chance at becoming relevant, again; a chance at wiping the slate clean and starting anew. And it all starts with Thursday’s NBA Draft and two simple words: John Wall.

But the 19-year-old Kentucky point guard has a few history hurdles to overcome in his race to becoming the first overall selection. Only two point guards have been drafted with the top overall selection since 1979 when the Los Angeles Lakers made Magic Johnson the first pick. Critics suggest that championship teams are best constructed with imposing big men, which explains why either a power forward or center has gone No. 1 eight times over the last 10 years.

Although the 6-foot-4-inch Wall may not be the biggest prospect in the draft, he certainly has some of the biggest qualities. He has the biggest name and the biggest upside, and plays a position that allows for the biggest impact. The media circus that has surrounded the North Carolina native the past two years continues to grow by the day. And that was never more apparent than his pre-draft workout last week when more media filled the halls of the Verizon Center to cover a Wizards’ event than at any point over the last few seasons. All for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet.

However, there’s something special about Wall and basketball browsers know it. Maybe it’s the quickness or the smooth handles. Maybe it’s the pass-first mentality or the leadership. Whatever it is, it’s something that’s not present in Washington, but could be packaged on the first train heading into town come draft day.

The Washington franchise doesn’t have the golden touch of organizations like Boston, San Antonio or the Lakers to stockpile rosters with capable talent. But as seen with teams like Cleveland, Miami and Oklahoma City, all it takes is one dynamic wonder to make a franchise relevant again.

The Wizards had that in Gilbert Arenas before he shattered his knee and, later, his reputation after being indicted on gun charges. Now Washington is in the hunt, again, for a player to breathe life back into a listless franchise and restore interest into a team that’s rapidly moving behind the Redskins, Nationals and Capitals in terms of importance among the city’s pro clubs. And for a brief moment on the day of Wall’s workout, the Wizards became relevant. A renewed interest was born and headlines were made. All for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet. After Wall’s workout, new owner Ted Leonsis stood outside the Wizards’ locker room and answered question after question from hungry reporters. During the session, Leonsis talked about building a winner and not trading away his top selection. He mentioned how sometimes a team has to endure a miserable season in order to reap the benefits of a plentiful one. He also raved about Wall’s talent and gushed when discussing how the point guard position is an excellent start to building his masterpiece.

Cornered by the media, Leonsis had the look of an owner savoring the taste of the new life. He saw the masses of news reporters stationed throughout his building and the mass hysteria that made headline news even on the day of the NBA Finals’ Game Seven. It was exciting, it was invigorating and it was unexpected. And it was all for a player who hasn’t even been drafted yet.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO