By Greg Melo
CHARLOTTE, N.C.– Ben Simmons had no issues with fitting in when it came to the scrum of reporters around him on Friday morning.
The second-year Rising Star and first-time All-Star looked like he belonged, joking with some of the reporters who threw some off-the-wall questions at him, and thoughtfully responding to the questions about basketball, his brand, and his hopes to use the Rising Stars Challenge stage to influence the league.
“It’s just another platform and opportunity for us to come out here and show what we can do.” Simmons said. “I love being a part of the World team. I love coming to an event like this and playing with guys from all over.”
Simmons has not only grabbed the eyes of the veterans and media across the NBA in his second year with his eye-popping numbers — averaging 16.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game, with a 57.1 effective field goal percentage — his young peers have noticed as well.
“Ben had the talent from the beginning.” Nets center Jarrett Allen said. “He’s 6-foot-9, amazing passer, amazing finisher. All he needs to do is improve the jump shot and he’s going to be a for sure All-Star for the rest of his life. Seeing the improvement he has made gives me a lot of confidence in myself” to make a similar jump.
Allen has had his own success on the court for an up-and-coming Nets team so far. Coming into the break averaging career highs in points and rebounds, Allen is looking forward to playing with an old teammate during the night.
“I’m looking forward to playing with De’Aaron.” Allen said. “I grew up all throughout high school playing with him. We played in Houston, Texas — I grew up in Houston — so just playing with him again.”
A rookie like Hawks G Trae Young coming into the international spotlight on this stage for the first time, also seemed to enjoy himself on the media floor. He took several reporters’ off-the-wall questions in stride. He was also thoughtful in his responses, and confident in his work ethic to use this experience as a springboard to be back in the years to come.
“I see myself not only participating on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday [too].” Young said. “That’s my goal and that’s my dream. I’m gonna do whatever it takes to help get me there.”
Not all rookies were that confident. New York Knicks F Kevin Knox has been exposed to some big moves by the front office in the first half of the year. As tanking fever heats up across the league and Knicks fans clamor more and more for consensus No. 1 prospect Zion Williamson, Knox has simply tried to find his footing among a sea of voices.
Knox was not even originally supposed to be a participant in the contest. But once he was announced to be the replacement for injured sophomore Lonzo Ball, he has considered the opportunity a blessing.
With players coming in from all different backgrounds, the NBA Rising Stars contest is the league’s international showcase of young talent. And it certainly seems like the NBA’s future is in good hands.