PHILADELPHIA --Being an assist man never was quite Randy Wittman's thing as a player. But he may have delivered the most crucial one as a coach for the Wizards, getting his old teammate Isiah Thomas to sit down with John Wall before they left Chicago earlier in the week following a disappointing loss. His message to Wall as simple: You're no longer feared. Make them fear you again.
"He was just like, stop this trying to be the best point guard in the league. Be the best player in the league because you've got the physical tools to do it. He says my doggish (attitude) hasn't been there defensively," Wall told CSNmidatlantic.com. "Once somebody used to score on me in the past, he said I'd get really upset. Now somebody scores it's like, I'm cool. It's over with. He wants me to be myself, be aggressive, go out there and be one of the top five players in the league."
Thomas, a Chicago native, played with Wittman at the University of Indiana with Wittman, where they won a national championship together. Wittman had breakfast with Thomas and smiled when asked about his role in the getting them together.
"I might've had something to do with that," Wittman said to CSN.
It was the first time Wall actually had a conversation with the Hall of Fame point guard, who led the Detroit Pistons to two NBA titles. In Wall's sixth season, he is averaging season highs in points (19.8), rebounds (4.7) and steals (2.0) and he's just under 10 assists per game (9.8). Still, this doesn't feel like a special season for the three-time All-Star who is blessed with greater physical gifts than Thomas ever possessed.
Friday, with the Wizards (27-30) trailing late in the third quarter to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, Wall turned it on. He had 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. A 10-run flipped a six-point deficit into a 76-72 lead entering the fourth quarter as the Wizards never looked back.
The desperation was there but it took a few quarters for it to kick in to put away the 76ers (8-50). The 109-104 loss to the Bulls on Wednesday should've been enough.
Wall was upstairs in his hotel, packing for his trip to Philadelphia, when he got a call to chat with Thomas. It only was a five-minute conversation but Thomas told Wall all the things he needed to hear.
"To be honest, that's somebody I've always wanted to talk to," said Wall, who was injured by the fourth game of the season and has had multiple nicks and bruises to both legs. "I admired his game and how much heart and work he put into it."
At 6-1, Thomas was three-to-four inches shorter than Wall and 15-20 pounds lighter. He didn't back down for anyone and played with an edge that turned off some people. But he reached goals that Wall has yet to even sniff.
"He felt like people feared me when I played defense," Wall said. "I think people see I wasn't aggressive as I was last year defensively. That's frustrating, dealing with the injuries and stuff like that. When I put my mind to it I can be a hell of a defender."