John Wall's development over his first four NBA seasons led to his first All-Star selection and a leading role in the Wizards' run to the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff round. Having three-time NBA champion point guard turned assistant coach Sam Cassell to learn from helped the growth process.
"He was a big part of it," Wall said. "Definitely helped me with my jump shot. Just being a mentor, somebody who was a point guard who knew the game very well. It was big."
The key word used multiple time in that quote is "was." Cassell left Washington for an assistant coaching job with the Los Angeles Clippers last week.
"I was happy for him," Wall told CSNwashington.com on Saturday. "His goal is to become a head coach one day. I think he thought it would come a little quicker being a coach with the Clippers. I wish him the best of luck."
Also a mentor to Washington's other starting guard, Bradley Beal, Cassell served as the Wizards head coach during summer league for several years. He now will work with Clippers head coach Doc Rivers. Cassell played his final NBA season under Rivers with the Boston Celtics during their 2008 NBA championship campaign.
Two of Rivers' former assistants, Tyronn Lue and Alvin Gentry, left for associate head coaching jobs this offseason. Tom Thibodeau, an assistant coach on Boston's 2008 team, also served as an assistant under Rivers before taking over as head coach with the Chicago Bulls.
Cassell moves on and so does Wall. Armed with additional motivation following his recent dismissal from USA Basketball's national team, the Wizards leading scorer said he can lean on lessons learned from Cassell, noted trainer Rob McClanaghan and those still with the organization.
"Pushing me to get better. They keep instilling so much into me. If you just stay confident with yourself anything can happen," Wall said. This past season he set career-highs in scoring average (19.3), assists (8.8.) and 3-point shooting percentage (35.1).
"You saw this season. I might go a game and miss 10 shots in a row, but I didn't care. I was being confident, believing in my talents and ability. My teammates were behind me. When you have those guys, the coaching staff and the city behind you, it makes things a lot easier."
Having Cassell in his ear the past four seasons also made things a lot easier for Wall. "We'll still talk here and there," Washington's leading scorer said. Still, we all know long distance relationships are tough to maintain. At least Wall still has those lessons to lean on.