He emerged from the elevator at Kroger Field in a sharp, Kentucky blue suit. An outfit he selected for this special night in Lexington. Out stepped John Wall, and with him, his closest companions; his mom, his sisters, his closest friends, all the ones who have been by his side since he was a kid. Now, at 27 years old, he was about to be inducted into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame. He was about to be the first John Calipari product to join the best of the best in Kentucky athletics.
He may have only played one year at Kentucky, his team may have been upset in the Elite Eight, but the impact he made to restore Kentucky basketball is something that city still talks about. Wall was in Calipari’s first recruiting class, one that included stars like DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe, two more of Wall’s closest friends, and two more men he considers his brothers. He spoke that night about the tight bond they formed, first coming together at summer school, and building that strong bond that he described to be unbreakable.
At the time, when they began at Kentucky, Big Blue Nation was in a bit of a funk. They had just missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 18 years, and Calipari was brought in to restore one of college basketball’s most storied programs. Wall was one of the most highly touted high school players and once he committed to Kentucky, joining those other five-star recruits, expectations were high.
He became somewhat of a rock star that year in Lexington, wowing the crowd with his unbelievable athleticism on the floor, while having his ‘John Wall Dance’ take over BBN. He averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds and was the first national player of the year in program history. But, it was more the legacy he left at that time and what Kentucky turned into the decade following his departure as to the reason why he remains so beloved in the Bluegrass state.
So, eight years after he stepped onto campus for the first time, as a self-described scrawny 18-year old kid from Raleigh, he returned as a four-time NBA All-Star, as the face of the Washington Wizards, and as a man.
“I already know I’m a talented basketball player, but I want to be known as a better person, and that’s something I work hard to control every day,” Wall explained to the Kentucky media.
“It’s an honor and a blessing, to be here for one year and to have such an impact, I went through a lot of adversity, a lot of people said I wouldn’t make the NBA, and eight years later I’m back in the Hall of Fame, it’s just an honor to be the first person under Coach Cal to get inducted and to do it so soon , with just one year, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
After speaking to the media and taking pictures, Wall spent the first hour of the evening mingling with the guests on hand for the UK Athletics Hall of Fame dinner. Along with Wall, there were five others entering the Hall. Baseball’s Collin Cowgill, cross country’s Sherry Hoover Bordner, football’s Randall Cobb, broadcaster Ralph Hacker, and volleyball’s Sarah Rumely each had a contingency of people there for their special night. Each athlete/broadcaster had a presenter on hand to say some kind words about what they meant to the university and how they had an impact on and off the field/court/track. The inductees then had their time up on stage to thank everyone who helped allow them to reach this milestone. The speeches were impactful and each had a unique aspect. Wall stood and applauded each inductee, when they went up on stage, and when they came off.
Wall was the last person to speak.
He was introduced by Calipari, who if he wasn’t a basketball coach could probably make a good living as a public speaker. Calipari shared some great stories about Wall when he played at Kentucky and described the maturation he’s seen over the years, as he’s remained close with the star point guard. Then, Wall came to the stage and spoke for eight minutes.
Wall had a speech written, but after his opening remarks, and after he thanked his friends and family, each who have played such a vital role in his life, he went away from the prompter and spoke straight from the heart. The audience stood in admiration and gave an ovation for his mom. He was overcome with emotion and had to take a moment to gather himself. With tears in his eyes, he spoke about his mom, and the sacrifices she made to allow him to be where he is today. He finished his speech by putting on a #11 Kentucky jersey, the one he wore eight years ago, and did his ‘John Wall’ dance, which he made so famous back when he was a student-athlete. After a rousing ovation, he received his plaque, and was officially a member of the 2017 UK Athletic Hall of Fame class.
Wall finished the evening out on the patio and took pictures with everyone who went there to support him that night. He took group photos and one on one’s. He didn’t let anyone in his group get away without getting a photo with him and his UK Hall of Fame plaque. It meant a lot to him. After all, many of those in the photos were the reason this night happened in the first place.
Congrats UK Hall of Famer, John Wall.