2010 Kentucky sportsman of the YearJohn WallHerald-Leader photograph by Mark Cornelison

Wall named Kentucky Sportsman of the Year

mstory@herald-leader.comJanuary 23, 2011 

Even if you had your eyes closed in Rupp Arena, you could tell when John Wall had the basketball in the open court.

You would hear the Rupp crowd inhale en masse with anticipation. After all, Wall was always apt to deliver something breathtaking.

In his first official appearance in a UK uniform, the electric point guard from Raleigh, N.C., hit a game-winning jump shot. The last time he represented Kentucky, Wall became the first player in the storied history of the Wildcats men's basketball program to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Between those two points, Wall was both basketball star and cultural phenomenon. In his one year in Kentucky, he launched a dance craze, became a lyrical staple in rap songs and earned first-team All-America honors by leading a 35-3 UK team.

For all those reasons, members of the commonwealth's sports media have elected Wall the 2010 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sportsman of the Year.

"Kentucky was the team the college basketball world couldn't take its eyes off of last season — and Wall was the one player you couldn't take your eyes off of when he had the ball," wrote Mike Marsee of The Advocate-Messenger in Danville. "Wall was the rare player who provided both the sizzle and the steak."

Wrote Steve Moss of Lexington's WKYT-TV: "Wall became an overnight sensation before he ever took the floor for the Wildcats. His brief appearance in the Rupp rafters during Big Blue Madness fueled a dance craze that fans are still talking about. On the court, Wall showed poise and brilliance that belied his 19 years."

In becoming the 30th winner of the Sportsman of the Year award, Wall (369 points, 14 first-place votes) defeated another UK sports icon, football star Randall Cobb (276, four).

Cobb, who was also a first-team All-American in 2010, edged UK basketball coach John Calipari (271, eight) for second place.

Rounding out the top five were Kentucky women's basketball star Victoria Dunlap, the 2010 SEC Player of the Year, and Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel.

Of the 52 ballots (voters select a top 10) cast by Kentucky sports media members, Wall was named on 42 of them. Cobb also had broad support and was listed by 40 voters.

"Nobody embodied the term 'Sportsman' more than Randall Cobb," wrote Chip Cosby of the Herald-Leader. "In addition to being one of the best players ever to play football at the University of Kentucky, he was a model representative of the program."

Added Herald-Leader Sports Editor Gene Abell: "They said (Cobb) had the 'it' factor. 'It' was combining class, leadership, production and a flair for the dramatic."

Calipari, the 2009 Sportsman of the Year winner, had significant backing for a repeat. That owed to his having coached UK to the NCAA Tournament round of eight, but also to the telethon he organized that raised more than $1 million for Haitian earthquake relief.

"It truly was an outstanding year for Kentucky athletes and coaches, but it is just impossible to ignore what John Calipari did," wrote Larry Vaught of The Advocate-Messenger. "SEC championships (both regular season and tournament), 35-3, the Elite Eight, five NBA first-round picks and Hoops for Haiti. Calipari just has a connection with Kentucky fans ... ."

Wall's numbers were impressive. He led Kentucky in 2009-10 in scoring (16.6), assists (6.5) and steals (1.8). More than that, he performed with elan. Wall's frenetic drives to the basket and the aerial show he put on at the rim kept Rupp Arena filled with oohs and aahs.

Whether it was snuffing out a second-half Louisville rally by scoring six consecutive points or preserving victory at Vanderbilt by blocking a three-point shot, Wall seemed his best when it mattered most.

Besides the game-winner against Miami (Ohio) in his first game as a Cat, the 6-foot-4 guard also hit the winning basket against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden.

Even after Wall has taken his talents to the Washington Wizards, his impact in Kentucky remains. It is apparent by all the UK No. 11 jerseys one still sees, and by the fact people are still doing the wrist-flicking "John Wall Dance."

Wrote Les Dixon of The Times-Tribune in Corbin: "(Wall's) dance moves were more talked about than Justin Bieber's. Enough said."

Added Keith Taylor of The Winchester Sun: "John Wall is one of those players that come along once in a lifetime."

And John Wall is Kentucky's 2010 Sportsman of the Year.

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