Kentucky basketball has been featured prominently in the media in the past few months. Most of the accolades, though, have been as one of the best teams/individuals in college basketball. Today, John Wall trumps them all by ranking high on a list that spans all sports. ESPN Magazine has tabbed Blue Jesus as its #3 NEXT Athlete, which will be released in the December 14 edition of the magazine. Wall's presence on the list is overshadowed only #1 Kevin Durant and #2 Chris Johnson (thank you ESPN.com for auto-drafting him) and he joins #18 Derrick Favors as the only college player recognized by the Worldwide Leader. Wall's interview with The Magazine gives a glimpse of his life as a basketball player and offers an interesting note: the first time he dunked was when he was 13 or 14 and it was against DeMarcus Cousins' AAU team. And he got fouled. Not really surprising.
While the basis of this award is rooted strongly in the on-court performance of Wall, the NEXT recognition also signifies that he is a player who has the potential to impact the game off-the-court, as well. For those of us who've been following so far this year, we're already getting a glimpse of all the things that make him a special player. An argument could be made that there is no player in the country with a more permanent smile attached to his face and it's an infectious energy that you can see translated to his teammates when he's on the floor. It's also possible that he's the most respectful to the media and the public with his anti-primadonna "yes sir" answers and humble responses to all the hype thrown his way. There is something genuine about the youthful exuberance that he has for the game of basketball that makes him impossible to not like. "He just seems to be having so much fun" has now replaced "Randall Cobb has the prettiest eyes" as my wife's favorite repetitive UK observation and that part of Wall's game hasn't shown up on a stat sheet, so few people outside of Lexington have gotten to see it. ESPN, though, understands that it's all just part of the package that is John Wall.
But, what's up next for #11? As ESPN reminded us, it's a showdown with his home-state Tar Heels. They better be ready for him. But, then agin, I know one UNC great who already knows who is NEXT.
John Wall is in the building.