In the same gym where he was once cut from the Broughton boys basketball team, in the same tournament where he won MVP two years in a row, John Wall returned last week as an icon.
The players weren’t just playing in the prestigious Holiday Invitational, they were playing in “The John Wall.”
The 26-year-old Raleigh native, former Word of God Christian Academy star, first-team NCAA all-American at Kentucky, No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and three-time NBA All-Star of the Washington Wizards called it “surreal.”
“For it to be in my hometown, it was great to put my name on it,” Wall said. “Every time I go back into that gym, it’s surreal. I go back to where I got cut, to that school where I played and had an opportunity to win a (Holiday Invitational) championship … and now I have my name on it – it just shows all the hard work and dedication I’ve been through and I never gave up on anything.”
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Wall watched some of the nation’s top players like Tampa Catholic’s (Fla.) Kevin Knox, Cannon School’s (Concord) Jairus Hamilton and Hillcrest Prep’s (Ariz.) DeAndre Ayton.
Wall caught their eyes, too.
“John Wall stayed and watched us,” said Ayton, who is ranked as ESPN’s No. 1 senior in the nation. “That’s so crazy; we’re so lucky.”
Wall plans to be a mainstay in the North Carolina basketball scene. He has his own AAU club, Team Wall, and he wants to continue to be involved with it long after his NBA career is over.
For Wall, a player who went from unknown to the No. 1 recruit in the nation in a few months, it all comes down to giving kids the chances he was given.
“Yeah, that’s my goal, man. I think just me making it where I made it from, that gives a lot of kids hope,” Wall said. “Now I have the opportunity to have an AAU team and have a holiday tournament and have these kids come and play in it and show everybody that you can make it out, it’s just about the steps you have to take and the direction you really want to go.”
When Wall played in the Holiday Invitational in the late 2000s, his Word of God teams were always the last game of the night and long lines of fans had to be turned away as Holliday Gym reached capacity hours before Wall took the court.
On Thursday, Wall was again drawing long lines. Fans waited to approach him, but he took a picture with anyone who asked.