UK Men's Basketball

Wall could bring more to UNC game

A game-winning shot in the final second against Miami (Ohio). Two clutch free throws in the final 2.4 seconds against Stanford. Fourteen assists (one shy of a school record) against UNC Asheville.

Freshman John Wall has crammed a lot of excellence into his first six games for Kentucky. But teammate DeMarcus Cousins expects even more from Wall when UK plays North Carolina on Saturday in Rupp Arena.

"I believe it'll be another side of John," Cousins said on Thursday. "He'll probably take it to another level."

Considering that Wall is off to the best statistical start by a Kentucky freshman in at least 30 years (see chart), Cousins was saying something remarkable even by his ever-quotable standard.

"I really don't know how good John is," Cousins told reporters. "He does something new every game. I'm waiting just like you all are."

After Kentucky beat UNC-Asheville, a reporter asked Coach John Calipari to compare Wall with his two heralded freshman point guards at Memphis, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.

"He's probably further along," Calipari said. "Did they turn it over like him? Yeah, they probably did. But he's trying to listen to what I'm saying."

The statistics support Calipari. After six games of their freshman seasons, Wall has outscored, outshot and out-assisted Rose and Evans. And, yes, he's had more turnovers, too.

Calipari noted that Wall is trying to get all A's in the fall semester and brings an intensity to the weight room that causes the team's strength coach to refer to him as an "animal" in reports to the coach.

"There are certain kids who have that," Calipari said. "That drive. 'I want to stand out and be the best.' "

Academically, Wall acknowledged he's trying to make up for lost time.

"In high school my first two years, I didn't want to focus," he said. "I was just slacking. But, I know you need that for college. Everything isn't basketball. You've got to have a back-up plan."

All the standout performances on and off the court serve merely as prelude to Kentucky's game against North Carolina on Saturday.

As if a game between college basketball's two greatest dynasties did not produce enough intrigue, Wall brings a personal interest in UK-UNC.

He grew up about 10 miles from Chapel Hill in Raleigh, N.C. He was a fan. "A big fan," Wall said.

His favorite players were Vince Carter and Jerry Stackhouse. Wall's already burgeoning reputation as a basketball phenom got a boost when he dunked on Stackhouse, a facial that can be seen on YouTube.

"That was a pretty good moment," Wall said. "After the dunk, he said, 'You got me.' "

Although it would cost only a gallon of gasoline to drive to see Wall play, North Carolina did not make much of a recruiting effort. Academic questions hovered over the process. Much talk in recruiting circles centered on Wall's AAU coach, Brian Clifton, not getting along with UNC Coach Roy Williams.

"They talked to me twice," Wall said of the Tar Heels. "That one time, when they were going to the (2009 Final Four), they said we'd talk when it's over. They never called and they never offered (a scholarship), so that's the decision he made. I'm happy with all the schools that recruited me."

But, Wall conceded, he liked the idea of staying close to home because his mother had serious medical issues. "The person you love the most, you don't want to be away from them as much as I am," he said.

Wall never learned why North Carolina did not follow up or offer a scholarship.

When asked if he thought the non-offer meant that UNC did not consider him good enough or merely an indication of interest in some other player, Wall said, "I kind of took it both ways. I didn't think they thought I was good enough to play there. ... I just moved forward in my recruiting."

Although Wall did not betray any ill will toward UNC, Cousins suggested there were hurt feelings.

"He never really talked about it, but you just know it's there," Cousins said. "Because I'd feel the same way. ... I'd be pretty mad."

Wall did not deny that he'll bring "a little bit of an edge" into the game against North Carolina.

"But I can't let it overwhelm me," he said, "and get out there and try to do stuff I'm not supposed to do."

Wall said that he must resist a desire to make "hero plays" and instead concentrate on playing fundamentally sound basketball.

"When you're younger, if you were out of control, you wouldn't know how to stop," Wall said. "I'm mature, so I know when I'm over-hyped. I know how to calm myself down or Coach Cal will tell me to calm down."

Calipari planned to talk with Wall about staying calm. But the UK coach expressed confidence in the freshman keeping his emotions in check.

"He's been pretty cool," Calipari said. "Everybody's trying to make their name at his expense. Every player he plays, every guard he plays."

So far, the only player in these matchups making a name for himself is Wall. This week ESPN the Magazine named him one of five finalists on its "NEXT" list, which is an annual group of athletes predicted to shape the future of sports.

Six-game success

John Wall's statistics through six games compared with other notable John Calipari-coached freshmen:

Player, school PPG APG TPG FG%

John Wall, UK 18.5 7.8 4.0 55.6

Tyreke Evans, Memphis 16.2 3.8 3.5 44.9

Derrick Rose, Memphis 17.0 4.3 2.8 50.0

Notable UK freshmen's statistics through their first six games:

Patrick Patterson, 2007-08 (15.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg)

Jamal Mashburn, 1990-91 (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg)

Chris Mills, 1988-89 (12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

Rex Chapman, 1986-87 (16.3 ppg, 3.3 apg)