Posted Apr 22 2010 12:31PM - Updated Apr 22 2010 3:34PM
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- John Wall looked toward the back of the room at his mother, Frances Pulley, and just shook his head.
Kentucky's freshman star remembers the way she worked multiple jobs while he was growing up so they'd be able to get by. The long days that would leave her exhausted, so tired she didn't always get to see him play.
He knows it's time to start paying her back and why the opportunities -- and the riches -- that lay ahead in the NBA outweigh returning for his sophomore season.
"I just want to set up a better life for my mom," Wall said Thursday. "All the work she put in after my dad passed, she had 2-3 jobs and not really seeing her as much. People ask me what I'm going to do with my money, I ain't worried about it."
Wall's combination of size (6-foot-4) and speed in the open floor will be highly coveted at the next level. He's considered a favorite to be the top pick in the draft.
If his name is the first one called by NBA commissioner David Stern at Madison Square Garden on June 24, he'll become the first Kentucky player to be taken with the top overall selection.
Not that Wall is concerned about when he'll make his way to the stage.
"If I get that No. 1 pick, it's going to be a dream come true," said Wall, who has yet to hire an agent. "But no matter where I go I'm going to be happy because I reached my goal."
It's a goal Wall feels he wouldn't have been prepared for without spending a year at Kentucky.
Lured to the Wildcats by new coach John Calipari last spring, Wall followed in the footsteps of former Calipari-coached point guard phenoms Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.
The duo spent one season under Calipari at Memphis before becoming impact players in the NBA. Calipari expects Wall to do the same, saying at one point during the season that Wall's development was actually ahead of Rose and Evans.
Wall, the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, averaged 16.6 points and set a school record with 241 assists. Kentucky went 35-3 and won the SEC regular season and conference tournament titles before falling to West Virginia in the regional finals of the NCAA tournament.
Though he was hailed as savior by the Kentucky faithful, Wall deflected the praise for Kentucky's remarkable one-year renaissance to his teammates and his coaches. He is one of five Wildcats -- including freshmen Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton -- who are heading to the NBA early.
Besides, he knows he's just part of a pipeline.
Calipari has already signed Florida prep star Brandon Knight to fill the void at point guard next fall and Indiana high school prodigy Marquis Teague verbally committed to Kentucky in 2011 on Thursday.
"People say I was the guy who changed the program around," he said. "But it wasn't just me that changed it. ... I couldn't do it by myself. This is not high school. I couldn't go one-on-one and just win every game. You had to trust your teammates and Coach Cal taught me how to be a better leader."
Call it part of the growing-up process, both on and off the court.
Though he came to Kentucky with sky-high expectations, he also came with baggage. He made headlines shortly before signing with the Wildcats after he and two friends were cited for breaking and entering an abandoned home in Raleigh, though the citation was later dismissed.
There were no such incidents during his short stay in Lexington. Calipari -- whom Wall called a "father figure" -- praised his precocious point guard's efforts in the classroom. Wall isn't done with school yet, he rushed out of the press conference to take a geology test and pledged to return to Lexington during the NBA offseasons to work toward his degree.
"I grew up a whole lot," Wall said. "From the things I did back in the past, just taking life more seriously, taking school more seriously. I matured a lot."
He hasn't quite mastered everything, however. He laughingly admitted he still struggles with doing his laundry and has no idea how to cook. His wardrobe could use a makeover too. He says he has just one suit -- a black pinstripe he wore on Thursday -- but hopes to find a new one before the draft.
At least he'll have some say over the suit, unlike what uniform he'll wear to work next season.
Wall says he didn't have a favorite NBA team growing up and frowns on fans who jump on the bandwagon when a team finds itself on the upswing.
The expectations that followed him to Kentucky will likely double at the next level. He's talked to several NBA luminaries -- including LeBron James -- about how to handle all the things that come with being a top pick.
"I've asked them for advice because they've had to live up to the same type of expectations," he said. "But I'm ready for the challenge."
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