REGION — John Wall stood at center court at Alliant International University on Wednesday morning, shifting a basketball from hand to hand as he spoke to the more than 130 middle school and high school basketball players sitting at his feet.
“The most important thing make sure you get your education first and listen to your parents,” said Wall, a three-time all-star point guard for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association. “Without education, you can’t do anything in college or in high school.
“Make sure you strive to be the best you can. Every time you step between this court, the problems that you have off the court, let that go. This should be your comfort zone,” Wall said.
Wall was the keynote speaker at the Jared Dudley Elite Skills Academy, an annual basketball camp hosted by former Leucadia resident and longtime NBA player Jared Dudley.
In its fourth year, the camp — which was formerly called the Jared Dudley Camp of Opportunity — provides many of the region’s top prep basketball players an opportunity to receive training and advice from Dudley and a host of coaches, as well as a chance to receive exposure by playing against other top players.
The players were broken up into two divisions: The “NBA Division,” was composed of top upperclassmen, and the “NCAA Division,” composed of incoming sophomores, freshmen and eighth graders.
Players were grouped onto camp teams and played five pool games, with the teams with the two best records facing off in a camp championship Wednesday afternoon.
Wall spoke before the championship games, regaling the campers with stories of how he became the No. 1 high school player in the country, his time at the University of Kentucky and his experience playing in the NBA.
He said the toughest guard in the league to defend was Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who he said “is always going 100 miles per hour and is going to take 30 shots and put a lot of pressure on you.”
Wall also named Kevin Durant as the player whose work ethic stood out to him.
When asked who the best point guard in the NBA was, however, Wall’s answer was succinct.
“Me,” he said.
Camp attendees were able to ask Wall questions and he also signed autographs and took pictures after the Wednesday session, the final day of the camp.
Dudley, 30, also imparted his experience and words of wisdom each day of the three-day camp. The 6-foot-7 forward, who just completed his eighth NBA season, stressed the importance of players surrounding themselves with positive influences, taking care of their bodies and being scholars in the classroom.
“I always feel it is my duty to give back to the kids in San Diego, because I was in their position not so long ago,” Dudley said. “I’ve learned so much over my career, and now I am in a position to impart some of these lessons to the next generation of players coming up in our region, and I’m excited about their potential.”
One of the players sitting at Wall’s feet was Brad Yasukochi, a soon-to-be sophomore at El Camino High School in Oceanside. Yasukochi, 15, was recognized in the camp for having the “best attitude” in the camp’s NCAA Division.
He said that the biggest takeaways from the camp were self belief and being a good citizen.
“From John, I think the biggest thing I can take away is to keep on believing in myself,” he said. “Everyone has different struggles and I don’t have the same struggles as John, but that makes me not want to have any excuses and push through.
“The other big thing I learned from John was that he wasn’t always the No. 1 player as a kid, but he always wanted to strive and be the No. 1 player, and that is how he got better and who he is today,” Yasukochi said.
He added that Dudley’s remarks about being a better person resonated with him as well.
“You never know who is watching you on and off the court, so I think being a good person is the No. 1 thing you can do,” Yasukochi said. “You can do that by being a good teammate, a good citizen, on social media or wherever you are.”