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By LARRY VAUGHT

Nothing helped John Wall during his first year at Kentucky more than the way the Kentucky fans embraced him from day one.

“When I saw the fans when I first got here, I said ‘Whoa — this is kind different than back home.’ Those fans are crazy, but I ain’t never seen no fans like Kentucky fans. Carolina and Duke got some good fans, and N.C. State, but I’ve never seen fans who would sit outside the Wildcat Lodge and sit there for four hours just so you could come outside and sign autographs. It’s crazy,” Wall said.

“I love playing for this program. Kentucky is way bigger than me and this basketball team. They’ve had history in the past, and we’re just trying to add on to the history and bring the program back to where it was before. They’ve had a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches and the fans have supported them no matter what. We’re just trying to get the school back to where it was before.”

Dwon Clifton, Wall’s former AAU coach, is now the director of basketball operations at Baylor. He remains in almost daily touch with Wall and he, too, has been overwhelmed with the way UK fans took to Wall almost from the time he arrived on campus.

“That has kind of surprised me to look on TV and see Ashley Judd doing a dance they say he created. It is a little mind-blowing at times,” Clifton said. “I find myself getting ready for games and I hear his name and I just smile because it makes me proud to just be a part of it.”

Cypheus Bunton, a former player and assistant coach at Western Kentucky, now coaches at South Carolina. The Gamecocks are one of only two teams to beat UK — “we caught them on a good night” — but Bunton says watching Wall has even been fun for him.

“He is an exceptional player. Guys don’t come through like him very often. He is just unbelievable. He has God-given talent most guys don’t have. Experience does mean a lot, but Wall is the exception because he’s so good,” Bunton said. “Very few players could do what he has done.

“I like the way he controls the game and he has unbelievable speed. He can get up and down the court in two dribbles if he has to. It’s just unexplainable how it is. He is blessed with that speed and coach Cal gets the best out of him.”

However, Bunton was even more impressed with Wall’s demeanor. He had heard stories about Wall’s occasional temper tantrums when he was younger and knew of the problem he had before he came to Kentucky.

“But he has been great. You can tell he is very humble kid and he plays the way coach Cal wants him to play. I wish we had him on our team. Who wouldn’t want him? He’s a great player and good kid,” Bunton said.

13 Responses to Fans impressed Wall from the start

  • Andrew says:

    What an honor it was to have him put on the blue & white for a year. He, along with the others who are leaving, will certainly be missed. This team had a connection with the fans like no other and for that reason this was possibly my favorite year to be a UK basketball fan!

  • Jim Boyers says:

    I’m pretty sure HE impressed us much more than we impressed him. Creating a national craze with the “John Wall Dance”, winning his first game with a last second shot, breaking record after record and being named an All-American as a freshman. I think you could call that an okay year.

    GO BIG BLUE!!!!

  • Jackie says:

    We just want you to know our appreciation for all the pride you gave back to us this year. Kentucky basketball is not a game, it is a culture. People literally call in to work just to watch the games and you gave us a lot to cheer for this year. Thank you again and again. I understand that money calls, but some things are priceless…like a lifetime of great college memories!

  • TrueBlueJohn says:

    Larry, It has been great to have Wall, Bledsoe and Cousins for a year, and the rise back to revelance has been wonderful. However, the one thing that is going to be missing is continuity in the program. I applaud the fact that Cal can recruit this caliber of player, and from what we hear, we will wind up with a great class for next year.

    The NCAA needs to do away with the one and done rule, and use the same rules as baseball. If a kid is good enough to be drafted by MLB out of high school, then let him sign. But if he decides to sign a college scholarship, he is committed for three years. I don’t believe Cousins, Bledsoe, or Orton would have been drafted in the first round, and we would have them for three years. No doubt that John Wall would have been drafted out of high school.

  • larryvaught says:

    It was amazing how John grew to love the Big Blue fans and how much he talked about them whenever he got a chance. I think he enjoyed this year more than we will ever understand

  • Tana says:

    Larry, this feature story is still another fine one, and thanks. Too, like Jim, I think John Wall impressed us fans more than we impressed him. I had definitely been impressed with him “from the start.” I had not thought I could want a recruit to come to Kentucky as much as I had wanted Patrick Patterson to commit, but then I watched John Wall play at the first All-Star game — and listened to the commentators’ remarks a along with hearing about his unselfishness and his humble nature, traits I value. From that moment I had SO badly wanted John Wall to lead this team this season, and we were SO blessed for that to have been the case.

    Too, what I had seen that night is exactly what we’ve seen from Wall. His teammates’ comments about him really say it all. I especially remember Patrick’s saying that he loved having John Wall on the team — for Wall wanted TO WIN as much as he did. I think we all saw that. Too, they won a whopping 35 games together this season. Again, we Kentucky fans were blessed.

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    Jonn will always be a cherished member of the Big Blue Family. He’s an amazing young man and a big part of the reason our team chemistry was so good this year. If he had come in with an attitude, no doubt the season would not been nearly as special as it was.

  • LindaS says:

    John has been a very impressive individual on and off the court. It truly amazed me that he was not an egotistical better than thou player on the court. He helped make everyone look better. He passed, he dunked, he twisted his body in ways that no man should be able to do, he stole balls, he dove for balls, he controlled the game and of course we can’t forget, he had a few turn overs also. But the young man’s attitude was unbelievable. No big head, no ball hogging. We were so lucky to be able to witness this young man playing for the Cats and not some other team.

    Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! “Look! Up in the rafters!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s John Wall!”! Yes, it’s John Wall, extraordinary athlete from another place, who came to UK with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! John Wall, who can change the course of games, smash a basketball with his bare hands, and who, disguised as a mild-mannered freshman student/athlete for the greatest basketball program in the world, fights a never-ending battle for steals, dunks, assists, and the Kentucky Wildcats way!

  • TrueBlueJohn says:

    Karen’s remark about chemistry is right on the mark. It is amazing that so many top-flight players could come together, sacrifice their egos, and care so much for each other. I enjoyed seeing the grin on John wall’s face when he fed one of his teammates for a bucket. It takes special young men to mesh together like that.

    Also, how Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris dealt with the acceptance of their roles after being starters for so long was a compliment to their character.

    And then what can we say about Patrick relinquishing center stage to the freshmen, putting the welfare of the team first. All I can say is that some NBA team is going to get a great team player.

  • larryvaught says:

    Glad all enjoyed and just another way to show how special this group was and how the national media didn’t get that this team really cared about each other and had fun

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    The lasting picture for me is when Mark Krebs hit the 3 near the end of the NCAA tournament game (Wake Forest?), and the bench just erupted. You’d think we’d won the national championship! These guys pulled so hard for each other, and there really didn’t seem to be any jealousy on the team. Great leadership from Patrick and John. I don’t think Cal got enough credit for recruiting guys that have amazing talent but also had a team first attitude.

    I’m going to miss these guys so much! One of the recruits being interviewed at the McDonald’s All American Game said that Cal said something about 9 slots to fill…. Holy Cal!

  • Tana says:

    Larry, you are so right that it’s a shame that the national media never “got it” in regard to how much these young men cared for one another and had so much fun this season. Most did not paint this team as the special team it really was.

    Also, Karen, thank you for that “lasting picture” you paint here — Mark Krebs’ hitting that three and the bench’s erupting as if it had just won a national championship. You know, since the players didn’t get that actual national championship, I’m surely thankful that they got THAT moment, one neither they nor we fans will ever forget. In fact, as I still feel for the players’ disappointment, I’m going to try to focus, instead, on the memory of that beautiful moment of total happiness, our players’ being that happy for a teammate.

    That picture captures what this team was and the national media missed. Too, back to John, that fine leadership of John’s and Patrick’s, along with Coach Cal’s working so hard to make the team a family from Day One, along with the type of people the returning seniors were, is exactly what made this team so special, in my opinion. How I, too, will miss them — and how I will remember that lasting picture that will be my lasting picture, too, Karen.

  • larryvaught says:

    I have some information left over with Krebs I was hoping to use in a Final Four preview that I think I will put out and use now. Thanks Karen and Tana for reminding me

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