By John Alfes
CHARLOTTE, N.C.– Members of Team World in the 25th Rising Stars game are embracing the opportunity to team up and represent their native countries, an NBA experience that only comes once a year during the All-Star weekend festivities.
Coached by Wes Unseld Jr. and Dirk Nowitzki, Team World has 10 players representing 10 countries across four continents at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.
“It’s an honor,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is from Toronto. “Obviously, not a lot of guys from Canada make it, even though we are on the rise. But it’s an honor. It’s a goal that I set out for myself a long time ago, and I was able to achieve it.”
The 2018-19 opening-night rosters set a new bar for international basketball in America, with 108 international players hailing from a record-tying 42 countries and territories. The 2016-17 campaign still holds the record for most international players with 113, a figure that is bound to be broken in the coming years.
Friday night was a chance for this increasing level of international talent to join forces and take center stage.
“I’m excited to play with [Luka Doncic],” said Lauri Markkannen, a native of Vantaa, Finland. “I played against him in the European championships a couple of years ago. I haven’t played against him in the NBA because I was hurt, but I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
The Team U.S.A. vs. Team World format is entering its fifth year, with Team World holding a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series. Bogdan Bogdanovic, the reigning Rising Stars MVP after a 26-point performance in 2018, is primed to keep that momentum trending in Team World’s direction.
“Europe is a place with such talent,” said Bogdanovic, a Belgrade, Serbia product. “There are so many talents over there.”
Doncic, who has won all three 2018-19 Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards, has led NBA rookies in points per game (20.7). Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in this past year’s draft, believes Team World is cut from a different cloth when it comes to basketball.
“There are a lot of great overseas players out here,” said Ayton, a native of the Bahamas. “I guess our grind is different. We worked very hard to get here, and it’s time to showcase what we got.”