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Wall came to college a star, left a legend

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MBSK 09_10 UK_UL Web 18.jpgEven with a multimillion dollar contract and the likely No. 1 selection in the 2010 NBA Draft looming in the near future, John Wall, dressed in his one and only suit, had to quickly bounce from his news conference announcing his intentions to stay in the draft and get to class.

Wall had a geology test to take.

"I want to thank everyone for coming out but I've got to go take this test," Wall said as he exited stage right for class.

While fame and fortune waited just a few steps away, Wall remembered a promise he made with his father at the tender age of 9 to go to college and get his degree. Thursday's announcement to remain in the NBA Draft means getting the diploma will be spread out in between NBA seasons, but the experience of college is one Wall would have never passed on, even if the NBA age limit rule wouldn't have been in place.

"I never would have went," Wall said as his mother, Frances Pulley, head coach John Calipari and other UK Athletics staff sat in the background. "I promised my dad before he passed when I was 9 that I would go to college, no matter for how long and that I would come back and get my degree. I always wanted to experience life in college."

Though the writing turn pro early was always written on the proverbial Wall, the point guard proved pessimists outside of the program wrong. The one-year stay at UK wasn't just to bypass his time until the NBA deemed him eligible, Wall said.

This was about becoming a better ballplayer, a better person and a student-athlete, a word he used nearly a dozen times Thursday. That much was clear when Wall threw off the pinstripe suit and lavender tie and picked up a pencil for a test Thursday morning.

"I'm finishing my school year," Wall said. "That's what I came here to do. I didn't just come here to be a basketball player. I came to be a student-athlete. I'm finishing up the semester and taking my exams."

Wall, after leading UK to a 35-3 record and an Elite Eight appearance, spoke to reporters at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday to talk about his decision to stay in the draft, his time at UK and what he will remember most about Lexington.

Although he admitted he never learned how to do his own laundry or cook a meal, Wall said the one-year experience was well worth it; one he or UK fans will surely never forget.

"It was a tough process," Wall said. "The last year or two, people have said I could be the number one pick but when I  came to college it was not my expectation to go one-and-done. I came here to work hard, mature as a player, become a better player and learn a lot and be a student-athlete. The coaching staff ... helped me out a lot. The managers, they helped me become a better player this year and people ... all helped me as a student-athlete. I worked hard all year to be a student-athlete and after all this hard work I put in, I felt like it was my time to go."

Wall's stardom in college is likely a precursor to even brighter days ahead in the pros. In leading the UK renaissance, Wall led UK in scoring (16.6) and assists (6.5), providing such moments as the game-winning shot against Miami (Ohio), the clutch three-pointer in overtime of the Southeastern Conference Tournament finals and the often imitated but never duplicated John Wall Dance.

"I never thought college would be like this fun for me," Wall said. "I say I had fun in high school and AAU, but every time I sit back and watch a highlight video of this team this year I sit back and cry in my room because it's so emotional. I never thought that this team would be as special and to play with a coaching staff like I had meant a lot to me."

But even the thought of coming back to Kentucky for another season to win a national championship couldn't stand in the way of a dream Wall has long had. The NBA is the next step for Wall. It always was.

"When I was 14 or 15 I really started getting into the scene and getting to be seen by a lot of people," Wall said. "I started getting recognized nationally and that's when realized I could be something special. Coach Cal told me I had a chance and that it was just going to take a lot of hard work and dedication and that's the type of person I am. I always want to work hard, stay humble and hungry and I came in and did what I was supposed to this year."

He did a little more. Wall could have gone to class occasionally, signed a few autographs, scored a few baskets and bolted for the NBA as soon as the final buzzer sounded in Syracuse. Instead, he embraced his teammates, the tradition of Kentucky, and his all-encompassing role as student, athlete and ambassador of the program. 

More and more athletes with Wall's talent are going to do what he did. Calipari has said that will happen and he will continue to recruit like that's going to happen. But those one-and-done players should all follow in Wall's lead.

Enjoy college. Enjoy the court. Enjoy the classroom. The NBA will almost certainly wait. But college only comes once. If you're a one-and-done, make it the best year of your life.

Wall did that much. He came to Lexington a star and left a legend.

"I am always going to be a Kentucky Wildcat for the rest of my life," Wall said. "With the fans and the people that support us all season long, why wouldn't you want to play here? I would recommend any other player to come here. Not just to play basketball but to be a student-athlete, also."

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