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May 23, 2008

EA SPORTS Tracker Foreshadowed New No. 1

Recruiting lists are based on a basketball player's future college and/or pro potential and not necessarily on his high school performance. The annual EA SPORTS All-American teams are chosen based on a players performance during the season and are reflective of top players that lead their teams to successful seasons. In basketball more than any other prep sport, the top players are often the top college prospects as is evidenced by the selection of Brandon Jennings of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia as the 2008 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year. Many recruiting services tabbed Jennings as its top player in this year's senior class with Rivals.com listing the point guard as its No. 4 prospect in the class.

There was another point guard near the Appalachians who appeared on the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker nearly every week. A panel of ten respected talent evaluators and journalists aided in the selection process for national player of the year honors, but only one panel member consistently listed junior point guard John Wall from Word of God Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina on his ballot.

Wall did not make the 20-player EA SPORTS All-American first team, but panel member Patrick Stanwood recognized his talent. There are many factors why Wall might not have been recognized more often -- team success, more deserving upperclassmen, the talented crop of point guards in the senior class and the general emphasis of ranking players with a heavy reputation coming into the season. But Stanwood stuck to his guns even though his peers might have overlooked the 6-foot-4 point guard.

"Hell, his team was nationally-ranked for much of the early to mid portion of the season and he put up solid numbers, so I don't know what else he had to do," Stanwood lamented. "It might be that guys are hesitant to give a junior much credit over a senior of national acclaim for national honors. But Wall is, outside of Brandon (Jennings), the quickest player in the country of any class."

Stanwood's evaluation of Wall was nicely justified when Rivals.com recently released its updated player rankings for the Class of 2009. After a show-stopping performance at the Arizona Cactus Classic and spectacular play in general during the spring evaluation period, Rivals.com now ranks the lead guard as its No. 1 player in the Rivals150 basketball recruiting rankings.

"John Wall is a unique talent in the 2009 class," remarked Rivals.com national recruiting analyst and panel member Jerry Meyer, who along with fellow panel member Justin Young collaborate on the Rivals150. "His speed, deft ball handling and court savvy make him nearly impossible to guard. With the game getting faster and becoming more guard-oriented, a point guard with the talent of Wall is invaluable."

For Wall, who averaged over 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists per game at the Cactus Classic and helped Word of God Academy compile a 27-3 mark this past season, it's not a matter of adjusting his game too much. It's more the case of natural progression and finally getting recognition as one of the top lead guards in the country.

"I don't feel the pressure of (being ranked No. 1)." Wall recently said. "I know guys are going at me, but I'm going at them, too. I just want to play as hard as I did last summer. I'm really looking forward to playing against other great players this summer."

Wall, who is compared favorably to recent Memphis standout and probable No. 1 NBA Draft pick Derrick Rose, caught Standwood's eye the first time he saw him play. A potential chink in his armor might be an inconsistent perimeter shot, but Meyer and Stanwood both feel that's an area of his game that can be improved.

"He might be an underrated shooter," Stanwood lamented. "When I first saw him at the Pitt Jam Fest, he really stood out. He was knocking down mid-range shots with regularity."

Needless to say, Wall has a long list of potential suitors and has not narrowed down which schools he'll take official trips to. He currently lists Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Memphis, Kansas, Kentucky, NC State and Miami (FL) and a "few others" as his favorites. Although the 2008 Student Sports Underclass All-American has an open mind about college right now, he does know what he's looking for at the next level.

"I'm looking for a good relationship with the coach," said Wall, who is expected to attend the Pangos All-American Camp next weekend according to camp founder and panel member Dinos Trigonis. "I'm also looking for a good academic school, too. Of course, every school is going to have the academic side, but I'm not sure what I want to major in yet so that part is really important."

For the record, Stanwood listed eventual EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Jennings as the No. 1 choice on his final ballot, with South Atlanta's super junior Derrick Favors No. 2. Wall checked in at No. 3, the spot in which Stanwood voted for the sleeper the majority of the season, with California Mr. Basketball Jrue Holiday No. 4 and New York's Sylven Landesberg, who just missed making the EA SPORTS All-American first team, No. 5 on his ballot.

So how did Wall emerge as one of the nation's top players in the eyes of Stanwood this past season? He took a queue from the Sweet Science to explain himself.

"Sort of like a good prize fighter, every time he steps out on the court, he gives you something. The way I look at it, If I had to pick five guys to go to war with, Wall would be one of my guys."

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