Five former 'Cats competed in NBA All-Star Weekend
Four former Kentucky basketball players had the honor of being named one of the NBA’s best and battled it out on Sunday in the All-Star Game. The only other college to have multiple representatives was Duke with two.
In an effort to make the game more watchable, the NBA continued tinkering with the format. The latest twist in the mid-season spectacle was for the captains, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, to pick teams just before the start of the game. Since moving away from the strictly East versus West teams, captains drafted their squads Fantasy Football style, a week or so ahead of time from a board with players’ faces and names.
But this year, LeBron and Giannis picked teams playground style. Each player had to sit on stage under a spotlight like they were contestants on The Bachelor hoping they received a rose. It allowed the audience to truly appreciate the anguish on players’ faces when they realized they were the last kid picked for probably the first time in their lives.
Team Giannis made Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the first former Kentucky player taken when he came off the board as the 5th overall pick amongst the reserves. The final three ‘Cats went back-to-back-back when Julius Randle joined his former Laker teammate, LeBron James, with the 10th overall pick. Bam Adebayo joined Team Giannis with the 11th pick before LeBron snagged De’Aaron Fox, who he called the fastest man in the league baseline to baseline, with the 12th pick.
Saturday All-Star Festivities
Before the actual game, two former ‘Cats participated in Saturday’s skills showcase, the NBA’s equivalent of the Home Run Derby. Though he didn’t make the actually All-Star roster, Tyler Herro participated in the 3-Point Contest along with late addition, Julius Randle.
Herro fell victim to a slow start and the clock, as his methodical approach to measuring up each shot had him scrambling in the final rack full of money balls. He didn’t get them all off and finished the first round with a respectable score of 18, but it was short of the 23 he needed to advance. Next year, look for Herro to learn from this 3-point contest rookie mistake.
Reggie Miller, along with most of the Internet, claimed Julius Randle had no business in the 3-point competition. However, Randle actually ranks 10th in the NBA in made 3-pointers this season and 7th in attempts, so he is not exactly an inept stranger when it comes to launching balls from behind the arc. Sometimes, though, the Miller and Internet get one right.
Randle scored just 13 points in the first round which included air-balling his first money ball. For a moment, he looked to get hot but caught another bad streak and, similar to Herro, had to rush his final rack due to lack of time.
Thanks to Kevin Huerter though, who put up a paltry score of eight, Randle did not finish last.
There were no former Kentucky players in the Skills Competition, and though Shaedon Sharpe originally committed to competing in the Slam Dunk, he ultimately decided to sit out, surprising Kentucky fans everywhere who know this is not to be in his character. However, after seeing Mac McClung’s performance, it was probably for the best.
The All-Star Game Itself
The primary goal of any All-Star game is to walk the fine line between letting these athletes showcase how much better they are than everyone else while making sure none of these golden geese get hurt.
The NBA tried to artificially inject some competition by awarding the winner of each quarter a donation to the captain’s charity of choice. Similarly, they removed the clock from the fourth quarter in favor of a goal-point total (otherwise known as the Elam Ending) to make crunch time matter more. It was a valiant effort, but players still took the route of the matador on defense on nearly every possession.
Team LeBron’s Julius Randle led all former ‘Cats in scoring with 11, mostly on dunks, though he did sneak in a 3-pointer just to prove he belonged in Saturday’s contest. Contrarily, De’Aaron Fox, was the only player on the court not to score, even missing a dunk along the way. We have to give Fox some slack, though. He is a new father and his two-week-old baby undoubtedly limited his sleep lately.
For Team Giannis, Shai Gilgous-Alexander had seven assists and nine points. There were several plays where SGA looked like Ben Simmons in the playoffs, passing up wide-open layups under the rim in favor of dishing the rock. The first-year All-Star knew his role.
Bam Adebayo played the most minutes of any former ‘Cat but scored just four points, as Team Giannis was actually Team Jayson. Adebayo and the rest of his teammates cleared the way for Jayson Tatum on almost every possession, resulting in an All-Star Game record of 55 points, topping Anthony Davis‘ previous high mark of 52 from 2017.
The NBA will take a few days off and then these players will lock in on what should be an intense second half of the season.