[Editor’s Note: This story was originally written and published on Feb. 23, 2020, following the Kentucky vs. Florida basketball game inside Rupp Arena. It has been reposted today in honor of John Wall’s birthday].
John Wall has been making a continuous impact on the University of Kentucky basketball program since the moment he arrived on campus. It began when he did “the” dance, announcing the return of a certain “coolness factor” that had been lacking with the program under former Coach Billy Gillispie. It continued when he made the decision to return to school and keep working on his degree years after being drafted into the NBA, silencing the one-and-done nay-sayers and re-emphasizing the concept of a “student-athlete,” despite the money he’s earning in the league.
It happened again on Saturday night, when he returned to campus as a spectator for the Kentucky vs. Florida game. Even though he was really only there to watch the game, raise his arms in the air like a ‘Y’ and maybe take a few pictures, he did much more than that, like he always seems to do.
He was an active cheerleader for Kentucky throughout the entirety of the game, especially when Immanuel Quickley drained three consecutive three-point shots. Although he was sitting courtside, he was up out of his chair, fully invested in the game, as seen in this picture captured by Cats Illustrated’s Jeff Drummond.
— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) February 23, 2020
For players like Quickley himself, it was almost unbelievable.
“I actually did see something on Twitter of him cheering for me. I actually got to see a video of him,” Quickley said shortly after the game. “It’s always cool to see John come back. He’s one of the best players to ever come through here. A great leader on and off the floor. It was great to see him.”
Quickley has repeatedly credited Wall with being one of the reasons behind his own interest in pursuing a career at Kentucky. When Wall had his own break out at Kentucky a full decade ago, a much-younger Quickley took notice.
“Definitely one of the reasons why I committed here. He basically started all of this stuff,” Quickley told reporters. “All the quote-unquote one-and-done stuff, all the “best point guards” and stuff like that… John Wall is John Wall — you don’t gotta say too much about that.”
— John Wall (@JohnWall) February 23, 2020
Wall also met with the team after the game to offer a little perspective from someone a few years removed from the college scene: just listen to your coach.
“Just keep fighting, keep listening to Coach Cal. Go out there and do what he says and execute to a T,” Tyrese Maxey said.
“He said this team will go as far as Nick [Richards] takes us and as far as the guards take us,” Quickley added. “So, really, just taking that to heart. We want to get back to work and keep working harder and stuff like that. Just try to get ready for a run in March.”
Quickley showed off a career-high night in front of Wall, but so has Maxey. If you can reach all the way back to November, you’ll remember John Wall was actually in attendance for Kentucky’s very first game of the season, when Maxey scored 26 points of his own over Michigan State.
“Yeah, we met him in Madison Square Garden, too,” Maxey said after the Florida game. “But he just came in and talked, gave us some words of encouragement. Same old, same old.”
Same old, same old? That’s John Wall you’re talking about, sir.
Actually, it isn’t. Because to these guys – players, especially guards, who also have the opportunity to suit up for the blue and white – John Wall is more than a great point guard or even a legendary figure in the Bluegrass. He’s held a constant presence around them and the program, dating all the way back to before they were even officially Wildcats themselves. They’ve gotten used to his impact.
Tyrese Maxey to the max.
John Wall is LOVING IT. pic.twitter.com/FUCdiameVH
— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) November 6, 2019
These pictures were taken at a USA Basketball summer minicamp back in 2018. Maxey was still just a UK commit, but Wall (and DeMarcus Cousins) made him feel like part of the family already.
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) July 28, 2018
Could Wall have worked more of his magic Saturday night?
Another potential Kentucky guard was in the building for the UK vs. UF game: Kennedy Chandler, a five-star recruit for the 2021 class, and the only point guard who currently holds an official scholarship offer from Coach Calipari. He, too, was inside Rupp Arena (in the front row, I might add) when Wall received a roaring standing ovation from the sold-out Rupp Arena. He, too, was there to witness the “John Wall dance cam” that took over the arena during the game.
He saw the impact Wall still has on more than 20,000 of his biggest fans.
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) February 23, 2020
And after the game? Wall didn’t immediately jump on a jet and fly back to Washington D.C. or some other “exotic” location for a few extra days off before getting back to work rehabbing his left heel injury.
No, he stayed on campus. In fact, he signed autographs and took pictures with current UK students all night. He potentially, maybe, possibly even served a few of his signature drinks (appropriately named after John Wall himself) inside a campus bar as a guest bartender (which, when you think about it, is pretty iconic).
While I was working/sleeping late last night, John Wall signed my friend’s crutches…. That’s how you make being on crutches more fun I guess?
I am not ok. The jealousy is real pic.twitter.com/7blTz8TLCx
— Maggie Davis (@MaggieDavisKSR) February 23, 2020
Remember that “certain coolness” factor I talked about at the beginning? Yeah, he’s still got it.
For Immanuel Quickley, scoring 26 points in front of someone who has played a pivotal role in his college career, Saturday night was a major check off from the bucket list. In his own words, “it doesn’t get no better than that.”
As for the rest of us, I’d say the sentiment is pretty much the same. For John Wall, who has fought injury after injury in the NBA, to continue to come back and play a crucial role and serve as a present mentor for the next generation of Kentucky’s greats is remarkable. It’s the reason why John Wall still has that much of an impact on the BBN, even a full decade after his team failed to qualify for a Final Four. His impact was bigger than basketball then, and it still is today.
And even now, it’s still growing.