The ed­u­ca­tion of John Wall

Wizards star has a lot to learn off the court

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL LEE STORY BY PHO­TOS BY TONI L. SANDYS

John Wall and his friend Ty Wil­liams stud­ied the in­struc­tions on the back of the pack­age, but they didn’t trust them. Ten min­utes couldn’t be enough time to bake a whole batch of choco­late chip cook­ies, they thought; it has to be at least 20 or 25. So, they plopped them into the oven, went back to play­ing video games and waited. ¶ Even­tu­ally, the odor from the kitchen be­came over­whelm­ing and when they opened the oven door, a col­lec­tion of crispy, black, ined­i­ble mounds awaited them. Wall didn’t need it, but he got of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion: He can­not cook. ¶ “They came out black— too black. We­had to open up that door back there to get some air in here,” Wall said with a laugh while play­ing video games with Wil­liams one re­cent af­ter­noon in his lux­ury three-bed­room apart­ment, blocks from Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. “One day I’m go­ing to learn how to cook.” ¶ Wil­liams shook his head and said, “That’ll be a long time from now.” ¶ Bak­ing cook­ies ranks pretty low on the list of pri­or­i­ties for Wall as he ex­pe­ri­ences his first real taste of in­de­pen­dence in a city that’s much dif­fer­ent from his pre­vi­ous res­i­dences in North Carolina and Ken­tucky. Barely 20 years old, the No. 1 over­all pick in last year's NBA draft is ad­just­ing to his new life as the face of the Washington Wizards. He is deal­ing with the pres­sures of be­ing the foun­da­tion of a team re­build­ing project, of be­ing a team cap­tain while still try­ing to learn the NBA game, and go­ing through the phys­i­cal chal­lenge of play­ing back-to-back games and fight­ing through in­juries. ¶ The prob­lems posed by chas­ing the likes of NBA vet­er­ans Der­rick Rose and Steve Nash around the court are un­avoid­able. But Wall has made ev­ery ef­fort to sim­plify his life off the court.

“She wanted me to grow up and be a man, try to learn how to do things on my own,” — John Wall, on why his mother, Frances Pul­ley, turned him down when he asked her to move to Washington with him

When he hops into his SUV af­ter prac­tices or games and drives the short dis­tance to his apart­ment, Wall can un­wind. Here, the showman who an­nounced his ar­rival to the NBA with flashy dance moves and elec­tri­fy­ing play can set­tle into sim­ply be­ing “Jimmy,” the nick­name he’s called by those clos­est to him. As he plays video games or watches movies on the flatscreen tele­vi­sion in his bed­room, Wall is free of the weight of ex­pec­ta­tions and can take his mind away from wor­ries over his sore left foot or aching knees.

Wall has gone from be­ing a self-de­scribed “ashy” kid with corn­rows who sold candy from his back­pack in mid­dle school to liv­ing the sweet life. He’s in the first year of a rookie deal that is pay­ing him $5.14 mil­lion this sea­son and has a five-year, $25 mil­lion shoe con­tract with Ree­bok.

Yet, Wall still talks about re­main­ing “ hum­ble and hun­gry.” At­tempt­ing to avert the pit­falls that have side­tracked other NBA rook­ies, he has put to­gether a tight sup­port team that in­cludes his agent, Dan Fe­gan, and his ad­vis­ers, broth­ers Brian and Dwon Clifton.

He leans most heav­ily on his long­time friend and un­of­fi­cial per­sonal as­sis­tant, Wil­liams, to help him through most of his day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing get­ting to prac­tice, games and the air­port on time. His mother, Frances Pul­ley, drives to Washington about twice a month from her new home in Raleigh, N.C. — which Wall pur­chased a few weeks af­ter the Wizards drafted him — to cook for him, do his laun­dry and pro­vide some emo­tional sup­port.

Wall ini­tially asked his mother to live with him, but she felt it was best if he made the tran­si­tion with­out her, re­al­iz­ing that Wil­liams — Wall’s “ brother” since the two met in sev­enth grade — would likely be along for the ride.

“She wanted me to grow up and be a man, try to learn how to do things on my own,” said Wall, who was just 9 when he lost his fa­ther, John Car­roll Wall Sr., to liver can­cer. “It's tough. She’s try­ing to let me get my space, but I talk to her ev­ery day.”

Pul­ley wanted to stay in North Carolina to be near her youngest daugh­ter, Cierra, who is at­tend­ing col­lege at UNC Greens­boro. But Pul­ley has been a reg­u­lar pres­ence at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. She has also joined her son for road games in Los An­ge­les, Sacra­mento and Char­lotte, among other places.

“I want her to be a part of it, be­cause she had two to three jobs, sac­ri­fic­ing a lot,” Wall said. “I al­ways wanted the top-notch shoes, the Jor­dans, and she would al­ways find a way to get it for me. Ev­ery­thing I ba­si­cally do, I do for her. I got her a house, got her a car and she's sat­is­fied. She never would ask for any­thing, but she did ev­ery­thing for me. I don't want to tour the White House un­til my mom can.”

Wall spent a year away from home dur­ing his fresh­man year at Ken­tucky, but it was a much more shel­tered and struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment, with classes and prac­tices dom­i­nat­ing his sched­ule and most of his meals pro­vided by the uni­ver­sity. There, his team­mates were head­ing back to the same ath­letic dor­mi­to­ries, rather than go­ing their sep­a­rate ways af­ter prac­tice, as it is now with the Wizards.

His mother drove 14 hours to Lex­ing­ton to see a few games, but she is thank­ful her son is now close enough that she can make the four-hour drive when­ever she's needed. “ That was a bless­ing right there,” she said.

‘I got to work on my diet’

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, Pul­ley pre­pared some of Wall's fa­vorite foods, which in­cluded shrimp, spaghetti, corn and sweet tea. To make sure he doesn’t in­gest a strictly junk food or fast food diet, Pul­ley usu­ally cooks two or three meals when she vis­its.

The prob­lem comes when mom’s cook­ing runs out.

Wall opened his pantry door to dis­play bags of Dori­tos and Fun­yuns and boxes of oat­meal cream pies, Honey Buns and Cin­na­mon Toast Crunch bars, which he some­times packs with him on road trips. “I got all the snacks. All I do is eat snacks,” Wall said, be­fore re­veal­ing more junk food op­tions in his freezer and re­frig­er­a­tor. “I don't eat veg­eta­bles. My mom got to make those.”

Wall rubbed his stom­ach, “I weigh a lot more than when I got here. I got to work on my diet.”

Wall said he has con­sid­ered hir­ing a per­sonal chef but for now, his mother has as­sumed that role. When she is not around, Wall and Wil­liams can be spot­ted eat­ing at Le­gal Seafood or get­ting take­out from P.F. Chang's.

Wall hasn’t had much time to ex­plore the sights of the nation’s cap­i­tal. He and Wil­liams walked from the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial to the Washington Mon­u­ment when he was pre­par­ing for sum­mer league, but he ad­mit­tedly hasn’t got­ten too fa­mil­iar with the area. When asked if he had vis­ited Dupont Cir­cle, Wall re­sponded, “What's that?”

He es­sen­tially heads to Ver­i­zon Cen­ter for prac­tice and back home, where he spends most af­ter­noons play­ing Mad­den NFL 11 and NBA 2K11 with Wil­liams. A few team­mates have stopped by to play him, and his for­mer Ken­tucky team­mate DeMar­cus Cousins came over when the Sacra­mento Kings vis­ited last month. He some­times plays friends, such as Los An­ge­les Clip­pers guard Eric Bled­soe, on­line.

As Wall and Wil­liams played Mad­den re­cently they also had two com­put­ers rest­ing in front of them, al­ter­nat­ing their at­ten­tion be­tween the big-screen tele­vi­sion and the lap­tops to check their Twit­ter ac­counts.

Wall con­sid­ered mov­ing into an apart­ment in Ar­ling­ton, but he found a more con­ve­nient op­tion close to Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, which al­lows him to get a few ex­tra min­utes of sleep. “I got to get there by 9 a.m. for treat­ment,” he ex­plained. “I may get up at 8:40, 8:30, brush my teeth, wash my face all that, then I'll have five min­utes to get to the gym and I'll be there. I don't have to deal with all the traf­fic. I didn’t want to live too far.”

He re­sides in a se­cure build­ing; guests are re­quired to sign in be­fore be­ing al­lowed to en­ter. Team­mates Yi Jian­lian, Al Thorn­ton and Kevin Seraphin live in the same com­plex, where Wall said he has the largest apart­ment on the premises, feel­ing that he needed more space for when his mother vis­its.

“A house is bet­ter, in the fu­ture, down the road. Right now, I'm sat­is­fied with this,” Wall said as he showed off two walk-in clos­ets and his per­sonal bath­room, which has two show­ers, and an­other hall­way closet filled with boxes of Ree­bok ap­parel.

The walls of his apart­ment are mostly bar­ren, with the ex­cep­tion of a few framed pic­tures and mag­a­zine cov­ers. Two paint­ings of Wall in his Wizards jersey flank the tele­vi­sion in his liv­ing room.

Wall finds sig­nif­i­cance in the fact that he gets to play pro­fes­sion­ally in the birthplace of his late fa­ther. Pul­ley said she brought Wall to the District to visit his pa­ter­nal grand­mother at least twice be­fore she died. Wall was an in­fant and has no rec­ol­lec­tion.

“I'm still al­ways go­ing to love Raleigh,” he said. “But I like it here, be­cause I can leave a great state­ment here, do­ing ev­ery­thing I can do and de­vel­op­ing, some­where where my dad was born and raised. God do it all for a rea­son.”

Wall had never been to an NBA game be­fore at­tend­ing the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nals be­tween the Phoenix Suns and Los An­ge­les Lak­ers last May. Now he can get to an NBA gym when­ever he pleases.

“I never thought I'd be two min­utes away from an NBA gym, so that's a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “Even if you take the money away, I'll play this sport un­til I can't play no more. But this is a great op­por­tu­nity to have a chance to take care of my fam­ily and hope­fully my kids down the road.”

The com­pany he keeps

Pul­ley said she is pleased that her son is a home­body. “He's not old enough to go out a lot, so that's a good thing,” she said. “He don't do noth­ing but go to the arena and back home. I'm happy. I hope he don’t get 21 and go crazy. Maybe he’ll stay the same.”

“I may go out once in a blue moon and have some fun withmy team­mates, but I try to keep aware of my sur­round­ings, see who I'm in­ter­act­ing with,” Wall said.

Wall did at­tend a party on New Year's Eve at Love night­club and com­peted in a dance con­test with R&B singer Chris Brown that be­came an In­ter­net hit. But Wall said he has al­ways been cau­tious of the peo­ple he al­lows around him, learn­ing as a se­nior in high school — when he was charged with mis­de­meanor break­ing and en­ter­ing (a charge that was later dis­missed) — that he has to be care­ful about the com­pany he keeps.

He brought Wil­liams along be­cause the two clicked from the moment they met, af­ter Wil­liams moved to North Carolina from Con­necti­cut.

“Hav­ing my brother around re­ally helps me out, keeps me on track,” Wall said.

Wall has a clean­ing ser­vice come in once a week, and his mother is teach­ing him how to sep­a­rate his whites from his darks so that he can start do­ing his own laun­dry.

“When we was back home, she did ev­ery­thing, ev­ery lit­tle thing,” Wil­liams said of Pul­ley. “Ba­si­cally, be­cause we're ma­mas’ boys, so we didn’t have to re­ally do noth­ing back home. Here we got to do ev­ery­thing. We got to try to keep the house clean, do our laun­dry and all that stuff. ... It's hard liv­ing by our­selves right now, be­cause we're so young, but we're adapt­ing to it. We're get­ting used to it.”

Pul­ley is pleased with her son’s progress.

“I feel he's do­ing a good job so far,” she said. “He's got a lot more to learn.”

Wall un­der­stands that he needs to be­come more re­spon­si­ble, which is why he pur­chased a puppy about two weeks ago. Wil­liams named the boxer Jigga, and Wall could only chuckle as he de­scribed hav­ing a pet for the first time since he was a child.

“He's do­ing good, just run­ning around the house, eat all the time, us­ing the bath­room ev­ery­where,” Wall said. “It's a whole lot to deal with. I think I'm do­ing a good job.”

While some things have changed for JohnWall, in­clud­ing a five-year, $25 mil­lion shoe con­tract with Ree­bok that comes with a

hefty num­ber of new shoes, above right, Wall ad­mits not much has changed with his eat­ing habits. “I weigh a lot more than when I got here. I got to work onmy diet,” said the rookie whose re­frig­er­a­tor, left, is filled with frozen meals and sports drinks.

PHO­TOS BY TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASHINGTON POST

Though JohnWall, seen here at a hol­i­day party he hosted for un­der­served chil­dren, is en­gaged in the D.C. com­mu­nity, the rookie has seen lit­tle of the city in which he now lives.

Wall lives with his long­time friend and un­of­fi­cial per­sonal as­sis­tant, Ty Wil­liams, above left, who en­sures the rookie gets to prac­tices and games on time. An­other fre­quent vis­i­tor toWall’s abode is his mom, Frances Pul­ley, left, who cooks meals for her son and also does his laun­dry while she’s in town.

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