When John Wall, the No. 1-rated point guard in the high school class of 2009, sat down for his final recruiting-deliberation meeting with advisor Brian Clifton late on Monday night, Clifton asked him a point-blank question.
"John, what do you want to do?"
Much of the college basketball nation had been waiting months for the answer, as the John Wall Sweepstakes turned into the John Wall Saga, with as many as eight schools still in the hunt for his services in April. The 6-foot-4 product out of Raleigh, N.C.'s Word of God Christian Academy had nearly committed to Memphis, but re-opened the process when coach John Calipari left for Kentucky. The number of angles into Wall's recruitment was overwhelming: He was a North Carolina fan, and Roy Williams phoned him from the Final Four, but never offered a scholarship. Wall's mother was an N.C. State fan. His advisor and former AAU coach, Clifton, was high on Duke.
Clifton's brother, Dwon, another one of Wall's former AAU coaches, was hired by Baylor. Florida pitched him on NBA-style pick-and-rolls; Kansas pitched him on joining a national championship-caliber team. Miami surprisingly secured Wall's last official campus visit, and he nearly committed there, too. Kentucky had been the destination for Wall's first out-of-state visit, back when Billy Gillispie was the coach, and once Calipari arrived in Lexington, he put the full-court press on Wall, and continued to do so even after signing another five-star point guard, Eric Bledsoe. The long-standing feeling amid the chaos was that the Wildcats remained in the driver's seat.
On Monday, Wall finally had an answer for Clifton: "I want to go to Kentucky."
Calipari's sales pitch won out. Wall cited his relationship with the coach "as the thing that pushed [Kentucky] over." Calipari had, Clifton said, managed to assuage any concerns about a glut at the point-guard position in Lexington. "They told John that even though he'd have to fight for the position, he was their guy," Clifton said. "They said they were recruiting him to start, and to run the team. And John was convinced."
A Kentucky source confirmed to SI.com that they'd been contacted on Monday night with the news. Clifton said he believed Calipari was at Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Pittsburgh when he received a text message about Wall's decision. The Kentucky coach they first spoke with was assistant Rod Strickland, whom Clifton said was also instrumental in swaying Wall to Lexington due to his NBA experience at point guard. When they got Calipari on the phone later in the evening, Clifton said the coach's first words were, "Thank you."
It was an understandable time to be thankful. Calipari already had Rivals.com's No. 1 recruiting class for 2009-10 prior to Wall's commitment, but with him Kentucky appears to assembled one of the best recruiting classes of the decade. It includes a second five-star point guard in Bledsoe, a 6-1 prospect from Birmingham, Ala.; two five-star big men in 6-9 DeMarcus Cousins of Mobile, Ala., and 6-10 Daniel Orton of Oklahoma City; a four-star shooting guard in 6-6 John Hood of Madisonville, Ky.; and a four-star junior college small forward in 6-7 Darnell Dodson of Miami-Dade Community College. "We'll have a lot of pressure on us," Wall told Scout.com. "Everyone says we'll be the best class in a while, but it'll be bumpy because a couple of us will be freshmen. We'll get on the right page and make a good run at it."
The expectation is that Wall will be handed the reins to Calipari's Dribble Drive offense in much the same way that true freshmen Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans were at Memphis the past two seasons. Both players were one-and-done at the college level; Rose went on to be the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA draft, while Evans is a projected Lottery Pick in next month's draft.
Wall, who has Rose-like athleticism, is widely considered to be the top prospect in a loaded 2010 draft pool. Because he turns 19 this fall and is in his fifth year of high school, rumors swirled in April that Wall might explore a jump straight to the NBA. But, as Wall told SI.com then, "I already promised my mom and my dad, before he died [passing away from cancer when Wall was 9], that I was going to college, so I'm not even thinking about the NBA this year."
Multiple NBA sources indicated that Wall would have been a highly coveted pick even without a year of college experience. "He would have gone in the top three this year, guaranteed," one NBA executive told SI.com.
Now Wall will be at the helm of a team with four other potential NBA players in Cousins, Orton, Bledsoe and junior power forward Patrick Patterson, who passed up on becoming a first-round pick in order to come back to Lexington for another season. Swingman Jodie Meeks, a senior-to-be, still has his name in the NBA draft pool but is likely to return to Kentucky as well. After averaging 23.7 last season, he'd be a leading candidate for first-team All-America status and provide much of the scoring punch in an offense with Wall at the point. "Kentucky is going to do a lot of good for John," Clifton said, "and I think he's going to do them proud, because there are a lot of people there who've been thirsting to get back to those days of old, when Kentucky was king of the hill."
If the Wildcats can get a strong grasp on the Dribble Drive offense, and find a way for a young team to gel by March -- which is no easy task -- they have enough talent present to compete for a national title. In the meantime, Wall is said to be relieved to end his recruitment, and his final task on Tuesday was to inform the staffs of his three other unofficial finalists -- Miami, Duke and Florida -- about his decision. The 'Canes had hoped to pull off the year's biggest recruiting surprise, and put their program on the map, by landing Wall; the Blue Devils had told him he could take over starting point-guard duties, and would be permitted to go on a one-and-done path; and the Gators wanted him as its replacement for Nick Calathes, who's likely to stay in the draft.
There had been speculation that Wall would drag the process out into June, but his mother, Frances Pulley, told SI.com last week that the plan had been to make a decision before the end of the NCAA's spring signing period. "He wants to decide before the deadline, and before he graduates," Pulley had said. The deadline is Wednesday. Wall graduates from Word of God on Thursday. His next stop is Lexington.