John Wall was one of the most exciting high school basketball players I have ever seen.
He was blink-and-I’m-gone quick, performed dunks unseen before and made passes that had you wondering how the ball got from here to there. The impossible was possible when Wall took the court.
Wall played at Dave Telep’s annual Carolina Challenge, a one-day camp that attracted the best high school players in the state, before his senior year at Raleigh Word of God. Every other player there wanted to see him play. His games were always packed. His peers didn’t want to miss anything.
He didn’t need to pretend he was ripping his shirt open to reveal a Superman logo. Everybody already knew he was Superman.
Wall’s college recruitment was a national story. Grown men spent hours ruminating about where he would go to college, or if he might use a loophole to jump from Rock Quarry Road to the NBA.
There were rumors about rumors. Many of our conversations in those days began with Wall saying, “I never said that.”
No, his AAU coach wasn’t going to pick his college. No, he wasn’t thinking about the NBA. No, he wasn’t going to play in Europe. No, he didn’t know where he was going to college. No, he was not holding off the announcement to generate more attention. No, he was not going to be ineligible.
Wall chose Kentucky. He played a year for the Wildcats and was chosen first overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA draft. The Washington Post says he has a five-year $80 million deal.
Wall is averaging all-star type numbers with 19.7 points and 8.8 assists per game and he has averaged 8.1 assists in his 200-plus NBA games.
But as good as he is, and as good as he may become, he barely makes my list for the 10 best NBA players to come from our area.
Is he among the best high school players ever in the area? Unquestionably. But the best in the area high school players from the area also would include Garner’s Donald Williams, who didn’t play in the NBA, and Broughton’s Shavlik Randolph, who has played a contributing role in the league.
Wall is not in the discussion yet when you talk about the top players from the state either, but that says more about North Carolina basketball than it does about him. I’ve argued many times that North Carolina high school products have done more to change basketball than the players from any other state.
Michael Jordan of Wilmington Laney changed the marketing of the game; Pete Maravich of Broughton changed the showmanship of the game; David Thompson of Shelby Crest was the greatest college player of all time; and Phil Ford of Rocky Mount forced rule changes that included the college shot clock shot.
Judging strictly by their NBA careers, here are my top 10 area players at this moment. If Wall continues to play the rest of the season like he is now playing, I expect this time next year I’d have him among the top five:
10. John Wall, Raleigh Word of God, 2010: I had Danny Young, a 12-year NBA player from Enloe High and a four-year starter at Wake Forest, in the 10th spot, but reconsidered even though Wall has played in the league less than four years. Wall has averaged 17.3 points since entering the NBA in 2010. He has played in 216 games. Young averaged 9.9 points and 6.3 assists in 574 games.
9. Randy Denton, Enloe, 1968: Denton played in the ABA and NBA only six years, but averaged 11.5 points and 8.6 rebounds. He was an all-America selection at Duke.
8. Chris Wilcox, Enloe, 2000: Wilcox led Whiteville to the state 2A title as a junior and joined 6-foot-10 Michael Bell at Enloe for his senior year. Bell drifted outside more than Wilcox, who was a powerful player inside. Wilcox helped Maryland win the NCAA championship in 2002 and played in the NBA for 12 years.
7 Nate McMillan, Enloe, 1982: McMillan wasn’t highly recruited out of high school but he continued growing and improving and became a star at N.C. State after transferring from Chowan (then Junior) College. Nate the Great played in the NBA for 12 years and later coached the Sonics. He led the NBA in steals in 1994 and was a two-time all-defensive team pick.
6. Rodney Rogers, Hillside, 1990: Rogers was one of the most powerful high school players I have ever seen. In the 1987 Holiday Invitational, he smashed through a dunk against the eventual Kentucky state champions on the Hornets’ first possession. It was a statement dunk. The Kentucky coach said he had been told Rogers was the strongest high school player in the country, but admitted he was surprised nevertheless. Rogers was the ACC Player of the Year at Wake Forest in 1993 and played in the NBA for 12 seasons.
5. John Lucas, Durham Hillside, 1972: Lucas is in the discussion as the greatest athlete ever in the area. He was tremendous in basketball, but even more dominant in tennis. He won NCHSAA 4A singles titles three years and was overpowering. He played in the NBA 14 years and, like McMillan, later coached in the league.
4. Horace “Bones” McKinney, Durham, 1940: McKinney, 6-6, played in the NBA for six seasons during an era when many players had offseason jobs. He was all-NBA in 1946-47 and 1948-49. McKinney was a key player on the famed Durham High teams in the late 1930s. Those teams won 69 consecutive games against high school, prep school and college freshman teams. McKinney later coached at Wake Forest and with the Carolina Cougars of the ABA.
3. David West, Garner, 1998: West, who transferred to Garner from New Jersey, had given up on basketball before Garner coach Eddie Gray hounded the 6-8 powerhouse to give the game another try. West didn’t get the national accolades he deserved as a high school player and spent a year at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military before going to Xavier, where he started four seasons and was the national college player of the year in 2003. He has played in the NBA 11 years and has been an NBA All-Star twice.
2. Pete Maravich, Broughton, 1966: Maravich is a Naismith Hall of Fame member and changed the way basketball is played. He led the NCAA in scoring three consecutive years and still holds NCAA scoring records despite rules then barring freshmen from varsity contests and playing without a 3-point line. Maravich was a five-time All-NBA player and led the league in scoring in 1977. John Havlicek once said Maravich was the best ball-handler of all time. Knee injuries shortened his NBA career.
1. Tracy McGrady, Durham Mount Zion, 1997: McGrady flourished for coach Joel Hopkins after transferring to the Durham school from Auburndale, Fla. In high school McGrady would occasionally have designated quarters – nothing but dunks, nothing but 3-pointers, nothing but drives, etc. He entered the NBA directly from high school after being named the USA Today’s high school basketball player of the year. He was a seven-time NBA All-Star. He led the NBA in scoring in 2003 and 2004.