UK Men's Basketball

UK players OK with Wall being star

NEW YORK — While Kentucky stretched before a practice earlier this week, Coach John Calipari asked a pointed question.

"Does anybody have a problem with John Wall getting all the press?" Calipari asked.

Calipari might have been wondering if All-American Patrick Patterson — remember him? — had a problem with being overshadowed.

"I don't care," Patterson replied.

Then another player, that Calipari did not name, said of the publicity surrounding Wall, "You know, coach, he's pretty good."

Calipari related the story after Kentucky beat Connecticut 64-61 Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden. Anyone wondering if UK's veteran players truly accepted the Wall mania had only to look to Calipari's left and right. As the UK coach spoke to reporters at the post-game news conference, he was flanked by Patterson and Wall.

As Calipari spoke about the great Wall of Kentucky (surely its wonderment can be seen from space like that other wall in China), the UK players shot glances at each other and smiled. Wall buried his face in his hands and giggled.

Wall acknowledged that Patterson might have reason for resentment. Patterson is in his third UK season — having been a pillar the first two — almost single-handedly giving a proud program a reason to believe it would be great again.

And when the payoff appears at hand, the media only has eyes for a freshman, albeit an extraordinary freshman.

"I know it's pretty tough for him," Wall said before adding, "as a leader and a person, he doesn't mind."

Wall noted how Patterson was the focus of Calipari's practice question about the hype potentially causing a problem.

"He was the main person we asked," the freshman flash said. "He said it was OK. As long as we're winning, he's cool."

Of course, this isn't Patterson's first experience at being eclipsed by a newcomer. After leading Huntington High School to two West Virginia Class AAA state championships, Patterson got relegated to sidekick with the arrival of O.J. Mayo.

If Patterson minded Mayo's trigger-happy shooting, it didn't show.

By contrast, Wall seems acutely aware of his teammates' feelings.

"Oh, it's a big relief," Wall said of Patterson's acceptance, "because this was his team the past few years. I'm just coming in and trying to be the point guard and help us get to the NCAA Tournament."

The Wall phenomenon seems likely only to grow after UK's victory over Connecticut. In a white-hot game televised nationally by ESPN and staged at what New Yorkers claim is the "world's most famous arena, Wall enjoyed a coming out party along the lines of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane.

A career-high 25 points, a career-best-tying six steals. His seven turnovers (also equalling a career high) were more than balanced by scoring 12 of Kentucky's final 15 points, including a game-winning three-point play with 30.8 seconds left.

Afterward, Calipari acknowledged that a big question about Wall coming from high school to college was whether he could perform in the clutch."That was not just my question, that was everybody's question," the UK coach said.

The answer is a resounding yes. After eight college games, Wall has hit winning shots against Miami (Ohio) and UConn, plus made a game-tying jumper and then two clutch free throws against Stanford in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

Wall suggested the questions about his ability to perform in the clutch were justified.

"I'm used to making plays, but I've never been in too many crunch time situations," he said. "In high school, most of the games were blowouts or we lost by 10 (points) or so."

To explain his clutch play, Wall cited practice, listening to the coaches and learning by watching video.

Calipari had his own thoughts.

"Part of it is there's no harder worker on the team," the UK coach said. "He has not missed a class (or) a tutorial session (and) worked harder than anybody on the team in the weight room. ...

"I think he's building his own self esteem, his own confidence."

Wall did not catch UConn by surprise.

Not that a player projected to be the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft is likely to sneak up on anyone.

Earlier in the week, UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said Wall was not a freshman in the wobbly colt sense. Calhoun said Wall was good enough right now to "produce very well for an awful lot of teams."

He meant NBA teams.

Wall foiled the UConn strategy of throwing different defenders at him. He shot over the smaller Kemba Walker. He drove by the taller Stanley Robinson.

Calhoun saluted Robinson for slowing Wall a bit down the stretch and noted that on the game-winning basket, a help defender did not concentrate on Wall, thus giving the UK freshman an avenue past Robinson.

"Big guys dominated the game," Calhoun said of the rock' em-sock' em action around the baskets, not to mention the 16 blocks. "He won the game."

That's about how Calhoun envisioned the challenge Kentucky presented. For all the heroics, it's not just Wall winning the games.

"Patterson is the rock," Calhoun said. "Wall is the race car driver. He's going 100 mph, maybe two (hundred mph)."

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