The pool of players for the "Rising Stars Challenge" was announced today. The "Rising Stars Challenge" is the new format of the Rookie-Sophomore game from the Friday night of All Star weekend. Perhaps because the Sophomores have dominated that series since it's inception, this year they're doing it a little differently. As in years past, nine first year players and nine second year players have been chosen for the game. Instead of having them square off based on their entry year in the NBA, TNT analysts and NBA legends Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley are going to draft teams to play each other. Team SHAQ versus Team CHUCK! We Know Drama, indeed.
Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers has of course been included in the pool of second year players. He's the reigning Rookie of the Year, he's been selected to start in the actual All Star game, and of course he's in this pool. I highly doubt that he'll actually play in the game.
Last year with the All Star festivities in LA, Griffin participated in the Rookie Challenge, the Slam Dunk contest and the game itself, and was exhausted by the end of the weekend. This year, Griffin's already hinted that he won't dunk -- and he certainly has nothing to prove in this particular side show, so I assume he'll remove his name from consideration prior to the 'draft' which is scheduled for Thursday, February 16th, a little more than a week from now.
It's not unusual for players participating in the All Star game to opt out of the Rookie game, but it's at the discretion of the player. Griffin played last year, but Derrick Rose of the Bulls chose not to play two years ago as a Sophomore, focusing on the Sunday game instead.
In addition to Griffin, the other second year players chosen are DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Landry Fields (New York Knicks), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz), Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons), Tiago Splitter (San Antonio Spurs), Evan Turner (Philadelphia 76ers), and John Wall (Washington Wizards).
The first year players in the pool are MarShon Brooks (New Jersey Nets), Brandon Knight (Detroit Pistons), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Markieff Morris (Phoenix Suns), Ricky Rubio (Minnesota), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats), and Derrick Williams (Minnesota).
As a quick aside, has TNT considered the hurt feelings potential here? What happens when it comes down to the final picks, and Shaq and Chuck revert to their school yard bully personas. "Oh man, do I have to have Landry on my team?" It could get hurtful.