John Wall is facing adversity for the first time at Kentucky. For the first time in his much ballyhooed career, not every shot is falling, not every pass is getting there and not everything is going his way.
"To be honest, I really haven't been having fun for the last two weeks," a dejected Wall said after Saturday's win over Vanderbilt. "It's just being frustrated and things like that, so I just got to figure it out before we go further in league play."
Wall's reaction came after two mediocre performances by the superstar's standards and a day removed from his head coach's comments that he played "awful" in the South Carolina game.
"I didn't think I played that bad," Wall said Saturday, eyes directed to the floor. "I don't know what to expect. He's probably going to say I played bad today, too. I just try not to listen to him and go out and play basketball and try and help my team win."
Head coach John Calipari spoke on Monday for the first time since Wall's eyebrow-raising comments.
"He comes in like a puppy dog and I'm looking at him like, 'Are you alright?' " Calipari said. "He said, 'Coach, I'm frustrated.' "
Calipari's reaction? Criticism happens. Get used to it.
"Kid, you're trying to live up to this hype that they've built on you and you're going to be unhappy if you try to live up to it," Calipari said he told his star point guard following Saturday's comments. "Just play, have fun and enjoy yourself. When you play bad, it's OK to play bad. Derrick Rose and Tyreke (Evans) had bad games. It's OK. You act like you can't play bad. Yes, you can."
After watching the game tape from the South Carolina game, Wall said he realized his head coach was right, admitting that he let his emotions get the best of him.
"I listen to coach Cal because I know he knows what he was doing with Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans," Wall said Monday. "At the same time, I felt I didn't play bad at the time. That's why I said the things I said. I was frustrated. When you're frustrated you're going to say a lot of things you don't mean."
In one aspect, Saturday's remarks were a good thing, Calipari said. The first-year UK coach called Wall's humbling the "greatest teaching tool" UK has received all year.
"This is a young 19-year-old who just turned 19 who is dealing with stuff for the first time in his life," Calipari said. "He doesn't deal with everything the right way but he's maturing and he's learning. For me this was a great teaching time for him and our team on how to deal with stuff. It's not always rosy. They're trying to find kinks in your armor and how do you deal with that."
Calipari remained adamant in his affection for Wall and appeared more excited about Wall's misstep than he was upset. While he said it probably was the wrong way to handle the matter, it offered the perfect reminder to his young team of how far it has come and how far it still has to go.
"He's never been in this environment or this kind of situation," Calipari said. "Perfect. Because I hate to tell you, the rest of his career he will be. If we can teach him now how you have to respond in these kinds of situations, it's going to be good for him. It was a good teaching lesson."
Statistically, one could laugh at the notion that Wall is going through a slide or playing "awful." His 16.8 points and 6.8 assists per game would suggest otherwise.
But there's little doubt that Wall is facing adversity for the first time this season. Lanes that were once open are closed, attention that was once focused solely on him has shifted a bit to DeMarcus Cousins, and teams are hounding him with taller, faster defenders.
"People didn't know how fast and quick he was," Calipari said. "People didn't know he could race the court. People were running back wide and he was getting layups. Now they're all running right into the lane. They're trying to put bigger guys on him and back off and hope he's not making shots and hope he gets to his head.
"The other thing that's happening is DeMarcus Cousins has got it going. You've got to keep throwing him the ball and the kid understands that. How does he respond to that? Part of the reason DeMarcus is having such a field day is they're concerned with John Wall. It opens up the whole court."
Even Wall, with the incident now squarely behind him, laughed at himself at how long it's been since he's had a game-changing dunk.
"When you're a freshman and so much is on you, you're just going to try to live up to everything," Wall said. "I try to come out there and make spectacular plays or try to score the points that you need when I really don't have to do that. All I've got to do is lead this team and get us some wins."
And yet he's still averaged 16.0 points and 5.5 assists during this so-called two-game slump.
Even though his pride was initially wounded, it's been a blessing in disguise for Kentucky's most dynamic star.
"It was tough for me to hear it from coach Cal because he says so many great things about me, but he also tells us the truth," Wall said. "If we're doing bad, he's going to let you know. ... I've just got to mature and take it in and try to believe what he says and get better at it."
Maybe he already has. Even though he's been the player most responsible for UK's 20-1 start heading into Tuesday night's Ole Miss game, he is ready to take on an even bigger role for the No. 4-ranked Cats.
"Whenever we lose again it's going to be my fault because I'm going to feel like I didn't play the point guard role like I was supposed to," Wall said.
That sounds more like the nation's No. 1 player. Evidently, the water is already underneath the bridge.
"I love coach Cal and he loves me," Wall said. "We're just trying to get everything down pat. We're cool with where we're at."