NEW YORK — When the Washington Wizards made him the first University of Kentucky player chosen with the overall No. 1 pick in an NBA Draft, John Wall stood Thursday night and buttoned his suit coat for the walk to meet Commissioner David Stern. He also tried to button up his emotions.
"I was emotional," he said of his poker face on a night of dream fulfillment. "When I saw my mom, it almost brought tears to my eyes."
After taking a Wizards cap, Wall hugged his mother and kissed a young woman at his table before heading for the stage.
Only as he shook Stern's hand did Wall smile, and smile broadly. Did Stern tell him that the Wizards last overall No. 1 pick in a NBA Draft was a big bust, Kwame Brown in 2001?
Never miss a local story.
Did Stern let Wall know that the NBA rookie salary cap calls for a $4,286,900 salary next season and $4,608,400 in 2011-12?
"He said, 'You were waiting for this, weren't you?'" said Wall, smiling at the still fresh memory.
Then Wall left the stage at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden to begin a round of interviews.
Wall, who wore a dark gray suit, striped shirt and blue-and-white tie, thanked God and his mother.
"Words can't explain right now," he said of what his mother meant to him. "Growing up, I lived in a tough neighborhood, getting in trouble in school, especially when my dad passed. ...
"As a kid, 10, 11 years old, you want to see your family spend time together, and I didn't really have it."
Wall credited his mother with soothing his youthful anger and urging him to make something of himself.
"To be in this situation means a lot to me," he said, "and I love her to death."
Wall had been projected as the first player taken in the 2010 NBA Draft even before he played his one season for Kentucky.
Wall did not do his dance. "That's all I've been getting in twitter and text messages," he said. "Are you going to do the dance?"
Wall said he wasn't sure if that would be appropriate.
Dan Issel, the UK program's career scoring leader, saw Wall as a fitting player to break that barrier.
"His talents are extraordinary," Issel said. "And I hear he's a nice kid. That's kind of rare these days. That type of character will add to his success."
Wall's selection began an NBA Draft with a strong Kentucky flavor.
Wall dismissed any thoughts of pressure attached with being the overall No. 1 pick.
"I feel like I had pressure since I became No. 1 in high school and was one of the top players," he said. "I always got there being hungry, wanting to fight hard and compete in every game. So when I step on the court, I'm going to take on any challenge there."
His experience at Kentucky and being coached by John Calipari should be helpful in making the transition to a team leader as a rookie, Wall said.
"It's crazy," he said of the UK experience, "but as a maturity level, coach taught me a lot, and I became a better leader vocally. I was always leader by example being the first in the gym and the last out of the gym, and working hard.
"But I'm a leader that won't mind speaking up to the older guys."
When playfully asked about one particular basketball fan in Washington, D.C., who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall grinned. The former UK player noted that President Barack Obama had spoken to him before the Cats played at South Carolina last season. During that conversation, the player and president joked about a pickup game.
"I asked him to play one-on-one (in a game of) Horse," Wall said. "And I will try to ask him again."