Writing on the (John) Wall

We have come to what might — might — be a mini moment of truth for University of Kentucky basketball Wildcat nation.

The nation’s top-rated high school player, and Wildcats coach John Calipari’s top current target, John Wall, has been cited for misdemeanor breaking and entering, according to this report out of Raleigh, N.C.

Now, right off the bat, a few things must be said. This is a misdemeanor charge, and details are not known. It could be something, it could be nothing. At the moment, we just know it was enough that police felt like they had good reason to cite him, so at the moment, it is something.

UPDATE: Wall was detained and cited, but not arrested. A more informative account of the incident is now up at the Raleigh News & Observer web site here. The incident happened April 27.

Of course, when it involves a UK recruit, there are no small stories.

At any rate, this does provide an occasion to talk about this type of thing, which surely will be a topic that comes up again.

There was in John Calipari’s opening news conference in Lexington a key sequence. He was describing a meeting he had with UK officials in which he said he needed to look them in the eyes and know that they would back him in situations just like this one.

What, for me, I needed to sit in front of people and say can we work together. . . . I talked to Dr. Todd and said, and our people from Memphis will know, I do not throw kids under the bus at the first sign of trouble. So, well, this kid did that and that kid did this and why do you keep that kid and that kid was this . . . I just ask you, if it was your son and he screwed up, would you want me to throw him out of school? “Well my son wouldn’t do that.” Oh. You got the one with the halo. The rest of us got those others.

So I told Dr. Todd the situation with Jeremy Hunt, who I loved to death. All right, you know the whole situation. He went through it. He screwed up. He screwed up twice. I threw him off the team. He stayed and graduated. He begged me to come back, but I had said it’s an indefinite suspension that will never change. I used the term, I can’t remember what I said, permanent. He came back to me, he said, a changed man. Changed. I went to the president, Dr. Raines, who was just a wonderful woman and she looked at me like, “What?” And I said, I had the same feeling you had, but let’s talk it through. But you said permanent. Semantics? If they want to attack me, that’s fine, but this is that young man’s life.

I go back to this. The university, because of that decision we made, wasn’t going to change in 50 years. But that young man’s life changed. We let him back. He was a sixth man. Not a starter, a sixth man. He’s now playing in Europe, he’s got a college degree, he calls once a week, his mother sees me and hugs me. We made the right choice. It was not popular. But what’s popular isn’t always right. And what’s right isn’t always popular. I will not throw kids under the bus the first time they screw up.

. . .

But I needed to know, looking across at this man (UK president Lee Todd) that yes this program is big, but this university is not bigger than the kids. The program is about these young people. And when we left, if that wasn’t said, they could not call me back, and I was fine with that too.

But UK did call back.

So no, I don’t think you can expect UK to let up an ounce in its recruitment of John Wall. When Louisville backed off of Tyreke Evans because of legal trouble, Calipari didn’t flinch. When Sean Banks was cited for burning his gang sign into his girlfriend’s leg with a cigarette, he stayed on him.

Calipari mentioned Jeremy Hunt in his opening press conference, and as he was talking I wondered, if a guy beat his girlfriend to a pulp, how would UK fans feel about him putting on that uniform with “KENTUCKY” across the chest again? Kentucky is not Memphis, but we’ll see how these issues play out.

Beyond that, however, there’s a larger question, and one that I dealt with not infrequently as beat writer at the University of Louisville, in the days before writing my opinion was allowed.

And the fact is, I saw several success stories there, particularly within the football program, where guys were given second chances and made the most of them.

The most prominent was of a young wide receiver who was arrested when he and a teammate purchased a bunch of clothes at Dillard’s for far, far less than they were worth. The girlfriend of the other player, if memory serves, was working the cash register.

U of L coach John L. Smith disciplined the kid, but kept him on. And by his senior year, the guy was one of the better citizens on the team. He’s the only college football player I ever knew who showed up after games in a suit and tie to talk to the media.

Oh, and he wound up being drafted, and playing for the New England Patriots, and Deion Branch even won the Most Valuable Player award at the Super Bowl.

Nate Harris was another success story. He was invovled in a more serious crime before coming to U of L, but kept himself in line here and wound up having a good college career.

There are many other stories. And where they work out, I think some praise is due for showing patience. U of L had a pretty lengthy run of those in the football program, though it did miss on a few.

But it can go the other way. Rod Council was involved in stealing some computers as a senior in high school. Virginia Tech got off him, U of L took him, and he had a few good years here, but something snapped the spring after his junior year, and he wound up holding up a convenience store on his way back to his North Carolina home.

And Willie Williams had a long, if not sinister, rap sheet when he arrived at U of L. He wound up being arrested in an embarrassing incident for the program and school.

So there is some risk involved.

I know that the motives of programs and coaches who take kids who have had some trouble is hardly altruistic. If they can help the team, the program is all too willing to help them.

But Calipari’s stance on this is clear. There’s no ambiguity about it. So when something like this comes up with a recruit, don’t expect Kentucky to back off. That’s not part of Calipari’s game plan.

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18 thoughts on “Writing on the (John) Wall

  1. They are just kids. And that is when you make mistakes, at that age. Hopefully they don’t do anything really serious, but if you can’t make a mistake as an 18 year old, when can you make one?Cal is not totally altruistic, I mean, if the kid can’t play, he isn’t going out on a limb.But backing kids under pressure says a lot about him. I hope he is successful at Kentucky.

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