John Wall, the Washington Wizards and the 2010 NBA Draft

Jun 21, 2010

Post sports writer Eric Prisbell will be online to discuss his story about John Wall, the Kentucky point guard the Washington Wizards are likely to select this week as the no. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

When should college basketball fans expect your widely anticipated expose on the underbelly of college athletics? Fans have been waiting for over a year.

Thanks for coming, everyone. Feel free to ask about John Wall as a player and a person. Or ask about how I reported the story and why I made the decisions I made. Whatever you want. Fire away.

College basketball expose? I've written those before. What would you like me to write about? I'm working on lots of stories.

If anyone wants to contact me with feedback, questions or criticism, my email is

And thank you for all the emails so far. I'll get back to each one.

Great story. I was surprised Wall opened up to you. How did you make that happen?

Thanks very much. I spent about a week in Raleigh. I worked from the outside in, first talking at length with people on the outside of his inner circle. Then I talked to people inside his inner circle. Then came John, I talked to him for about 45 minutes the first day, and for a much shorter time the next day. A day later, I talked to his aunt a few times throughout the day. Then the next day I spent about 35 minutes or so with his mom, Frances Pulley, in her apartment. I want to thank her again for taking the time.

The conversations with John were good, a good back and forth. He was blunt, candid. I was not there to judge, I was there to understand his feelings and hopefully have him talk about his feelings, his motivations throughout his life. I shared some of the details from my particularly rocky childhood. Every situation is different, no doubt. But I do have a good sense of what it is like to see your mom half awake because of exhaustion, having little or no food, etc., and an absent father who did some very bad things. Now, what struck me about John, and I told him this, was his maturity at 19. No grudges, nothing. Just so thankful that he got to spend as much time with his dad as he did. And he judges his dad on how he treated him. A very mature perspective from a 19 year old.

finally something in the paper worth reading, great writing. We see in the NFL a contract is made before the pick is named (for the first pick) in the draft. Do you think the NBA will start to head that way as well, I mean why not start with negotiations now?

Thanks a lot. The rookie contracts are slotted in the NBA, which makes sense to me. In the NFL, you can sometimes get a ton of money all based on potential, and that can backfire.

John will be a real exciting player to watch, But I was more impressed with him as a person, and I hope that side of him came through in the story.

Did you have any reservations about revealing the details of Wall's father's criminal record to Wall? It served the purposes of the story to have that revelation as the climax, but you inserted yourself into the story and into Wall's personal life.

I did. i was uncomfortable being in the position knowing such information that John may not have known (I didn't know what he knew before I talked with him). But when I got the records, it was then that I realized how long of a record the dad had. Before that, I just wanted to get the gist of what he had done if we had to include the background information.

Once I got the records, then I found myself in a situation that I found to be unsettling. I've been in a lot of odd situations in my career, but this made me uncomfortable. First, I wrestled with the idea of IF I should tell John, etc. But, hey, the driving force in his life is his dad, and he cherishes the memories from those prison visits. If I incldue that, how do I not include what the dad did and how long he was in there?

Then the question became how to do it. I talked all this through with editors, of course. We wanted to handle this with extreme care. We wanted to be sensitive, delicate, respectful. Both in how we wrote it and how I talked about it with john. I did not want to mention specifics with John, and I did not. John and I got into the heavy stuff about 12 minutes into a 45-minute talk. We talkd for a long while after that. The fact is: Even after I told John, it did not change his feelings toward his father. That says something pretty strong about John and his relationship with his father. The three words that jump out to me when thinking about John: humble, polite and mature.

I udnerstand reasonable people can and will disagree on the disclosure issue. But i am comfortable with the decisions we made because of how I handled it.

Does John have any type of relationship with his father's family here in DC?

That's a good question. John's dad had another son from a previous relationship. He is 32 now; the family does not keep in contact with him. But I was told he went on the White Lake trip in 1999.

Any possibility you think that that the Wiz will trade the later picks and cash to move up maybe into the Late lottery?

Would be great if they could, but i'm just not sure the can. Lots of good front court talent will be around mid-first round.

Any word on Wizards getting more draft picks? Maybe Houston's 14th pick?

I have not heard. Michael Lee would know more. I'd love to see Wizards take Larry Sanders or somebody like that in the late teens.

If Tonya Pulley and John Wall have the same mother, why do you refer to Tonya as his stepsister?

Good point. Half-sister, right?

Do you think if John Wall had a father that never did jail time and never got cancer, would John be as successful of an athlete as he is now?

Well, that is a great question that I wish I had asked. We can all speculate, and I would bet that the adversity helped give him a fire that has really helped him. He did tell me that the adversity gave him a maturity at a young age, and that that has really helped him.

I can't possibly imagine why you as a reporter would take it upon yourself to tell John Wall what his father did to warrant jail time. His mother never told him, and he said he never wanted to know. So other than you desperately wanting to be a part of the story, please explain your general lack of  journalistic ethics.

As I mentioned above, I had no desire to be part of the story and felt uncomfortable with the situation I was in. I handled it with care and feel I made the right decision. But I totally understand and respect your view.

How do you think I should have handled it?

Would it have been reasonable to perhaps insert a brief forward to the piece explaining how the decision was made to reveal the information to John? It would have saved a lot of the scathing comments to the article. I'm impressed with your response to the first question about it, but I was pretty unhappy about it when I first read the story.

Great point. That did dawn on me last night when I was talking some things over with my wife. Perhaps that could have been helpful. Thanks.

Did you get the feeling that he is aware of the financial disasters that have ruined other young guys like himself who were not prepared to deal with greedy relatives and the urge to buy multiple expensive toys?

Yes, he is aware of a lot. The dangers of money, women. Did I mention women? He kept in close touch with LeBron and Rose throughout his year at Kentucky and relies on them a lot now, as well. They have given him a lot of advice on all issues such as those. Frank Summerfield, the founder of Word of God, also told me he spent a lot of time talking to John about those issues.

Comment, not question .... Reading John Wall's story was thought provoking. I applaud his father's ability to have had such a close relationship to a son within the time constraints of two hours a week and the physical constraints of prison. It make me think of all the other boys out there who weren't, or aren't sports protegies. John Wall probably would have never had much of a chance to get his act together without the fact of his being a teenage basketball superstar. Actually this story made me feel really sad.

That's an interesting perspective, thanks for sharing. What jumped out to me, among many things was this:

Wall's recruitment was under a lot of scrutiny. People painted Dwon and Brian Clifton in a bad light. Baylor hired Dwon to try to get John. Yeah, so. Who cares? That's been going on a hundred years. It's petty. So Roy Williams, I'm told, didn't offer John a scholarship because he didn't like dealing with AAU coaches such as Brian. So what?

The bigger point is that John needed good male figures in his life, and Brian and Dwon did a great job in that role. People were way too hard on those guys and did not know the background.

It seemed Wall was perfectly happy to not know the exact criminal history of his father. Why did you feel it was your duty to notify him? Was it simply to get his reaction, a quote or two, and an article?

A quote or two? Please. Give me a little credit. I worked around the clock on this story and thinking about this story and trying to figure out the right way to do this, the right way to approach John. A quote or two? I'm not able to spend 45 minutes with him if he thinks I'm just after a quote or two. He's the top pick in the draft, and I wanted to know what made him tick. I found out.

He casually told Michael Lee about the fact his dad was in prison out in LA. We wanted to do a comprehensive profile of him. We did.

Enjoyed the article about Wall...its unfortunate that so many of these athletes grow up under such tough circumstances. London Fletcher's and even Vasquez'schildhoods comes to mind as well. So it is pretty much guaranteed the Wizards select Wall with the number one pick but what about their later picks. Is there any idea with how they are leaning with those picks 30 and 35 i think? They have worked out what seems like about 40 players so far...

I don't know who is on their radar. But I would love for them to get Greivis. Big fan of the way he plays. He should go second round.

John Wall's family chose not to tell him why his father had spent so much time in jail. Why did the Post feel it was its place to tell him what his own family did not?

Fair point. Again, this is one I wrestled with for some time, and I had many conversations with editors, and others, about this subject. I explained above some of my thinking that went into it. I wanted to paint the complete picture. And I feel we did that.

You did a piece on Terps star running back Da'Rel Scott in 2008 that was pretty much the exact opposite story of John Wall. Da'Rel used his father abandoning him as motivation while Wall uses his fond memories of his father's as inspiration.

Always enjoy these kinds of background stories Eric ... but how difficult is it to get the subject to agree not only giving that kind of interview, but to also go into such detail?

Thanks for bringing that up. My background was kind of like Da'Rel's, in that all of the motivation is geared toward proving your father wrong, being everything he was NOT. I told John that was really jumped out to me was that he didn't have that inside, he simply cherished the time he had with his dad, people make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and that life is short and that if you can call your dad and tell him you love him, that you should. Wise words from a 19-year-old. It took me until maybe 30 to put things quite in that perspective, and no way could I do it at 19, when I was a bit out of control myself.

How difficult? This is what I most enjoy about the profession. Talking to real people about real issues. No coach speak. No cliches. Not small talk. Being blunt about feelings and motivations and about how people work through issues that are difficult to be stronger people. These are the interviews I most enjoy and look forward to.

Eric, just heard you on Mike Wise's show. Great stuff. I have read some of Mike's stories about Gilbert Arenas and Donald Brashear and it reminded me of those stories.

What was the conversation like with John Wall's mother after you told her what you told her son? Thanks for your work and your courage to share your story with John.

Thank you. The visit with Frances Pulley was interesting. We had a good talk. But when I started to reach into that territory, her tone changed and offered a quick and terse "I don't discuss that." John was open about his feelings, and that's what mattered most to me. I chose not to press his mom; a decision I feel was right.

I got a lot of emails from dads who said the story reminded them of the unconditional love their kids have for them. That's why this story was meaningful for me. I have a six-month-old son, and the bond I have with him is everything. My childhood is history and I am over it.

But the sense I get from some emailers, that I wanted to make a name for myself and insert myself into the story. I don't care about making a name for myself. Don't care. I care about having a good family. And I learned a lot from talking to John, who has some wisdom beyond his years.

Doesn't mean he'll be a Hall of Famer, but I came away impressed with him as a person.


In your opinion, does John Wall have the support system and self-worth to immediately handle the fame and fortune and pitfalls of an NBA star lifestyle?

I believe so. Nothing is for sure, and you never completely know anyone, but I have a good feeling about John the person.

Eric...Great piece...I was surprised to read about two aspects in the article both likely being related. One being the drastic change in John's behavior which your subtitle called Everything just started to Click...and the dramatic change in his basketball ability in High School going from a player that was cut to one of the top players in America. What role did going to a small christian school as well as his faith play in this two significant changes in his life or would you attribute other things as the foundation of this?

In short, I would say the role models in his life, his mom, and the coaching style of Levi Beckwith, the Word of God coach. All helped him tremendously. Once he improved the attitude, his game kind of took off.

I'm writing early, so I have no idea what has already been discussed regarding your or Michael Lee's disclosing to John Wall about his father's arrest record. While I very strongly disagree with the disclosure, I can understand an argument could be made that says since the information is out there, the reporter should find out what Mr. Wall thinks about it. However, in a moment like this, shouldn't the active voice have been used (I know, it's tradition not to do this in newspaper writing), so you or Mr. Lee could bare the responsibility of having told him? Mr. Wall had no agency in this, but someone did - it wasn't some divine awareness. If you couldn't say "I" told him, at lease you could have written, "When Eric Prisbell told him" or "When this reporter told him." But to hide behind a passive construction so it appears like it was an accident is irresponsible.

Very good point about how to re-construct the dialogue. Editors and I talked about this a great deal. There were several opinions and options. I like what we did, but you raise a good point.

Mr. Prisbell, While I enjoyed the overall article, I did have one problem toward the end. Though I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Wall had no idea why his father had been in prison, do you really think it was your role to reveal that information to him? First of all, it just seems morally questionable for you to be the one to do so. Secondly, shouldn't a journalist avoid placing himself in the story? Your actions made you a player in the article. Can you shed some light on what your beliefs are on the role of the journalist in a piece like this? thanks.

Thanks. I talked a lot about this issue above.  I don't want to be part of a story. I hate it. Sometimes you cannot avoid it, but I really try hard not to be part of it.

If there is another way I could have handled this, please email me. I tried to be as sensitive as possible with this, and I am comfortable with the outcome.

With Wall and Arenas, we've got at the very least a fun, potentially a very productive backcourt locked up. What can we add up from to compliment them? Do we try to get a young big from the draft, or go for some wise, cheap vet like Brad Miller to work with McGee and I guess Blatche? Or third option - go after a marquee big like Brand or Amare?

Oh, it will be fun, no doubt. I would not worry about John. As for Arenas? Who knows. He's a real wild card. There are options when it comes to front court help. I'm not aware of specifics, though. I can only offer insight about Wall at this point.

Do you think John Wall will be an immediate NBA star (i.e. Derrick Rose) or will he need time to mature and develop?

Everybody needs time to develop. But would not be surprised if he is next in line to get Rookie of Year.


Gotta run, everyone. Thanks for coming. Please email me with any other feedback, questions. Take care.

Hey, what's done is done. I think you should stop apologizing for telling Wall about his father. The only person who might need an apology is John Wall himself, and I don't see any indication that he has demanded one. Anyway, good story.

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Eric Prisbell
Washington Post College Sports Writer and Blogger
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