The Kentucky effect is invading Charlotte, North Carolina and the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend.
Several former Wildcats are expected to participate in each of the events planned for this weekend’s midseason NBA festivities. If you aren’t familiar with NBA All-Star weekend, let me briefly update you.
Basically, it’s a week vacation for players, coaches, and also the media, but mainly, it’s a bunch of different basketball-themed games played over the course of three days. Starting the with All-Star Celebrity Game and the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, followed by the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, and Dunk Contest on Friday, and finished off on Sunday with the main event, the 68th ever NBA All-Star game.
Friday is the weekend teaser, with two events setting the scene early before things really get rolling on Saturday.
NBA All-Star Celebrity Game presented by Ruffles (7 p.m. on ESPN)
The Celebrity Game is up first – and rightfully so since it’s hardly watchable in the first place – featuring celebs ranging from musical artists such as Quavo and Chris Daughtry (for some reason), NBA greats such as Ray Allen, and even Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry, with several other names I have never heard before and will have to look up to confirm they are real people. Like, seriously, what in the hell is a Dr. Oz? Am I this out of touch already?
The celebrity game is mostly a gimmick and was really only entertaining when Kevin Hart was running around like a child who ate wayyyyy too much sugar right before his bedtime. But even then, it’s basically always been a giant social media gathering and a “who’s who” of being involved with NBA Twitter. I will be avoiding this game at all costs.
MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars Challenge (9 p.m. on TNT)
The main event on Friday, the Rising Stars Challange, takes place immediately after the Celebrity Game. And we’ll see plenty of our more recent Wildcats.
The Rising Stars Challenge features two teams, one compiled of players from the United States and the other of players from across the world. The U.S. team will showcase De’Aaron Fox (SAC) and Kevin Knox (NYK) – who is replacing the injured Lonzo Ball. For the World team, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (LAC) will represent Canada. Here’s a look at the full roster for both sides.
The U.S. vs. The WORLD
— NBA (@NBA) January 30, 2019
At first glance, I’d pick the World team to win because having Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons on the same team seems wildly unfair to any opponent. But the U.S. team might have more depth and overall talent despite the World team having the experience factor on their side. All I know is that if Fox and SGA don’t go one-on-one against each other at least once I will boycott the entire event. We also need a Fox to Knox alley-oop connection so I can liquify the video into a fluid that can then be injected it in my veins.
Saturday (8 p.m. on TNT)
Saturday is when things get fun. While the All-Star game itself is more of a spectacle and watching the best basketball players in the galaxy play a poor man’s version of streetball is legitimately compelling, the mini-games on Saturday is where the real excitement brews.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge kicks things off as the selected players navigate a course predesigned to make the ball handler pass, dribble, and shoot all while doing so in a shorter amount of time than the field. Representing Kentucky in this year’s event will be De’Aaron Fox, who will play in his second event in as many days.
Fox is among a group that includes two All-Stars from this season along with rookies Trae Young and Luka Doncic. I’d say Fox is poised to do well in this event, considering he is easily the fastest player of the eight participants and one of the two or three best passers. There’s a portion early in the course where a player is required to pass the ball through a hoop-sized hole that always seems to give at least a few players a problem. If Fox can ace that part and land the pass on the first try, his speed will lead him to victory in the event. He’s also the favorite to win it.
This is the fourth year for the event and normally the bigs have been pitted against the guards in the final, which is expected to be the same layout this season. Here are the highlights from last year’s event, which was won by Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. With a guard winning it last year, this means the record is two wins for the bigs and two wins for the guards. A lot is on the line here, folks.
The MTN DEW 3-Point Contest is a pretty straight forward event. Normally set at eight participants, this year’s event will feature 10 players, including a Kentucky fan favorite, Devin Booker (PHX). Players will shoot 25 total balls out of five different racks spread across the perimeter under the allotted time, with regular basketballs worth one point and the “money ball” worth two points, which is found at the end of every rack.
Booker won the event last year and is one of the favorites to win it again, behind Stephen Curry (GSW) and Buddy Hield (SAC). Curry’s younger brother, Seth (POR), will also play in the shootout. Booker could join a list of six players who have won the event twice. There have been only two – Larry Bird and Craig Hodges in the late ’80s, early ’90s – who have won it three times. Here are the highlights from last year’s shootout.
The AT&T Slam Dunk will cap off an entertaining Saturday, with Hamidou Diallo (OKC) hoping to showcase his otherworldly athleticism that Kentucky fans saw in his season and a half wearing the blue and white. The rest of the field is rather uninteresting, to be honest, especially if you aren’t an NBA addict. But there is real potential for an outstanding battle of the dunkers, here.
Diallo and fellow participant Miles Bridges Jr. are both rookies and John Collins sounds like the name of a Lieutenant in 1782. But don’t let their lack of general popularity fool you. Bridges is one of the most forceful dunkers in the league, linking up Malik Monk multiple times throughout the season for ground shattering alley-oops. Collins is a mutant of an athlete. Diallo has a record-setting vertical that no one has really gotten the chance to see in all it’s glory just yet. I’m expecting some impressive and creative dunks from Diallo. The fourth participant is Dennis Smith Jr. A one-time Kentucky recruit, he has athleticism for a guard that is only comparable to the Russell Westbrook’s and Donovan Mitchell’s of the world.
Smith Jr. is the overwhelming favorite while Diallo is the underwhelming underdog, so bet at your own risk, but I think Diallo is going to make a small name for himself early in his career by unleashing some hellacious dunks and an insane vertical. Check out last year’s contest, won by Donovan Mitchell (UTA).
68th NBA All-Star Game (8:20 p.m. on TNT/TBS | coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
The stage is set for the All-Star Game and it’s Team LeBron vs. Team Giannis.
This year’s event will feature two former Kentucky players, Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN) and Anthony Davis (NOP), who will both suit up for Team LeBron. Well, we know Towns will be suiting up, at least. Davis is expected to play and by all accounts, it appears he will. But man, I still can’t get over how weird everything is with Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. I don’t know how Davis feels about all of this, but I can guarantee there is some awkwardness stuck in there somewhere. This weekend might be a good opportunity to clear his head, a bit.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked that LeBron picked Davis after the entire debacle at the trade deadline. If you think that was a coincidence then I got some news for you… LeBron also drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson, who are all going to be dealing with free agency in some fashion this summer. LeBron is also the tampering King, too.
But I digress…
Watching KAT and AD play should be captivating for both NBA and BBNBA fans alike. It’ll be even more thrilling if we get some Cat-to-KAT alley-oops. As much as I would have loved to see Towns try to dunk on AD, or vice versa, watching them link up as teammates should be just as exciting.
D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, was also selected to the game as a reserve for Victor Oladipo. He will play for Team Giannis.
Go Cats. It should be a fun weekend. Tweet at me anything out of the ordinary you might catch on TV/social media.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan