Having already been there and done that once, it was understandable that — following a difficult loss Wednesday night to Charlotte — second-year Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie wasn’t overhyping what lies ahead this weekend.
“It will be fun,” he said of playing in the Rising Stars Challenge, part of the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
It is a game comprised of up-and-coming rookies and second-year players on two teams — a USA team and a World team — that will play Friday night at Chicago’s United Center. The ultimate goal is to play in the All-Star Game on Sunday, but the Wolves don’t have any representatives this year.
Okogie played in the Rising Stars game last year as a rookie. And he’s back now in his second pro season.
“I just know what I’m doing,” Okogie said. “I can kind of plan and see what’s going on. I know what’s going on. It’s still exciting. You’re playing with new teammates. It’s an honor to just be playing. It’s still exciting for me.”
Last year Okogie scored 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting with four rebounds in 18 minutes, 40 seconds of playing time for the World team, which lost 161-144 to Team USA.
For Okogie, it appears the best thing about the experience is not just the game, but the people he gets to know.
“That’s the biggest thing, outside of the festivities,” he said. “It’s just networking. Meeting new people, whether it’s the business of basketball or basketball itself. You’re trying to make yourself a better player on and off the court.”
Okogie’s development continues. In his second year, he is averaging 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals in about 24½ minutes per game. He has appeared in 51 games — starting 17, including the last four.
Known for his incessant energy and on-ball defense, Okogie is clearly valued on the Wolves; he is one of only two players — the other being Karl-Anthony Towns — left from the team that President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas inherited when hired last spring.
Last year’s All Star experience was eye-opening, Okogie said.
“It was cool just to gauge and see where your talent level is,” he said. “You know, pick everybody else’s brains, just to play against the other talent in a setting where it’s just you and the people around your age group. So it’s kind of fun.”