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John Wall’s season turned around after Emeka Okafor got in his face

Apr 10, 2013, 5:54 PM EDT

Chicago Bulls v Washington Wizards Getty Images

Once John Wall returned to the Wizards lineup following knee surgery during training camp, you knew it would take a little while for him to find his groove.

But it took a little more than that — it took a veteran getting in his face.

Wall told the story to the Wall Street Journal. It started with a February loss to the Detroit Pistons where Wall had been benched by coach Randy Wittman in favor of A.J. Price. Why? Price was playing better (not turning the ball over, for one).

When Okafor attempted to explain afterward why Coach Randy Wittman had to make the decision to give A.J. Price more playing time, Wall snapped back, leading to a heated argument that was audible from the walls on the other side of the training room.

“It was just me being young and very frustrated. I wasn’t making anything, turning the ball over, and we lost a lot of games that we should’ve won and I put the toll on me,” Wall explained, as he recalled his emotions before the encounter. “A lot of frustration was coming out. As a veteran and being a leader on the team, [Okafor] stepped up and said something. At the time, it was in the heat of moment. I was upset.”

Wall was unaccustomed to having a teammate challenge him, but in hindsight, he couldn’t disagree with anything that Okafor told him: Wittman had to go with someone else if he was ineffective and Wall has to trust that the coach is doing what was in the best interest of the team, which should always come first

It turned around and now Wall looks like the player people expected when he was drafted No. 1 — in his last 20 games he has averaged 23.9 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting and 41.7 percent from three, plus he has 7.8 assists per game. His jumper is falling and that opens up lanes for him to use that incredible straight-line quickness to get in the paint.

This is what veteran leadership can bring. When Wall came into the NBA this was a team with Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee and Nick Young on it. Not exactly the most professional of locker rooms. Okafor and Nene have their flaws, but they are professionals — they take care of themselves, watch tape and generally prepare well for games.

And when a young player needs it, they get in his face. The results speak for themselves.

  1. mp4philly - Apr 10, 2013 at 6:03 PM

    Okafour knows all about being a bust

    • scalfor3 - Apr 10, 2013 at 7:04 PM

      Not his fault that people overvalued him coming out.

      • asimonetti88 - Apr 10, 2013 at 10:00 PM

        Pretty much this. Okafor is a good rebounder that plays solid defense and can score low volumes at an efficient rate. He’s exactly what he was coming out of college- people just overvalued him.

    • camnellum12 - Apr 10, 2013 at 7:11 PM

      Bust? I mean, he’s not the superstar most seemed he’d be, but he still won ROY (Howard averaged a double-double that season too) and he’s a serviceable big man, his career average is basically 12-10.

  2. eboneseagles - Apr 10, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    Yeah, I was suprised how unstoppable he is when I was watching yesterday. People used to let him shoot the outside shots and played off him to prepare for his drive, but now that you have to respect him from the outside it’s a wrap. If he doesn’t blow by you and score or sink a midi, he’ll always be able to get easy foul calls. He’s a very dangerous player, if they can surround him with more pieces they could contend in a few years.

  3. stayhigh_247 - Apr 10, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Can somebody please give Okafor, Beasleys number?

  4. mp4philly - Apr 10, 2013 at 8:27 PM

    Maybe bust was too harsh but he was supposed to be a top tier center coming out of UCONN.

  5. kb2408 - Apr 10, 2013 at 9:06 PM

    I don’t think anyone compared him to Hakeem or Ewing coming out of college. Emeka is a solid player who has had a solid career.

  6. badintent - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:48 AM

    Wall ‘s game is similar to that of Steven Francias. who put up HOF numbers for 5 years coming out to college. Of course Gizzly GM Stu Jackson passed on Odem and drafted Steve , even though Steve told him hell would freeze over before he would sign to play in Vancouver.

  7. saint1997 - Apr 11, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    Exactly how the NBA should work. We forget how young these guys are and it’s important for these kids (especially John growing up without a dad) to have a great role model and his play since had been a great example for kids everywhere

  8. watermelon1 - Apr 11, 2013 at 2:04 PM

    Everyone loves to take shots at Gilbert Arenas and those players… but all I know is, they made the playoffs for a few years straight. Arenas was a big part of that. If Lebron James wasn’t getting every single call back then… the Wizards probably would have been to at least one NBA Championship in the last decade. But no, they ran into the Cavaliers every single year, and that was back when the NBA catered to Lebron and did everything to keep his team playing as long as possible.

    I have yet to see this new Wizards regime look like anything close to being capable of making the playoffs and being even a modest contender.

    Arenas, Haywood, Etan Thomas, Darius Songalia, etc…. these names make you laugh, but they were strong contenders for a couple years not too long ago.

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