By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Feb 14 2009 6:00PM
PHOENIX -- It's a good thing that Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant has a 7-foot-5-inch wingspan, because he had eight other second-year players and a six-game winning streak to take under his wing in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge.
|Watch highlights from the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge.
Durant scored a Rookie Challenge record 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting and was named MVP as he almost single-handedly sent the Sophomores to a 122-116 win at the U.S. Airways Center on Friday.
"I play with the guy, I see him do it every night," said Jeff Green. "He's a tremendous player."
He scored easily on everything from drives, to dunks, to catch-and-shoots off of curl screens to an array of three-pointers from every angle beyond the arc.
Even though Durant wore flashy neon orange sneakers during the game, he was nothing but humble afterward saying how much it meant to him to set the record with his parents and grandmother in the stands.
"I had a blast," Durant said. "I'm just happy I'm here and I'm glad I won MVP ... to have Jeff [Green] and Russell [Westbrook] there to watch me hoist the trophy felt great. It shines a lot of light on the organization."
Durant bested by 10 points the previous mark set by Sophomore Amar'e Stoudemire in 2004. That game featured LeBron James scoring 33 points for the Rookies. James lead the Sophs at halftime before folding just like Michael Beasley (29 points) and the Rooks did on Friday against Durant.
Durant spent the summer playing against the likes of James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade as a member of the USA Basketball Select Team that scrimmaged the Senior Men's National Team to prep them for their trip to Beijing.
Excuse him if he isn't phased by a bunch of Rookies who he has been beating for months (like his teammate Russell Westbrook) and even years (like fellow Prince Georges County, Md. native Beasley).
"Kevin is a great player and I'm just glad to be on the court with him," Beasley said. "I'm happy to be mentioned in the same breath as him."
The game turned with 13:23 remaining in the second half and the Sophomores trailing by 10 to the much heralded and hyped Rookies. Durant went on a tear, nailing three 3-pointers and turning a defensive rebound into an assist on a Rodney Stuckey layup all in the span of a 1:04 to cut the gap to two.
After the flurry was over with the momentum on their side, about the only way the Rookies had a chance of winning the game was if their coach Kurt Rambis sent Marc Gasol out to clothesline Durant and take him out of the game the way Kevin McHale did to Rambis back in his playing days.
Earlier in the afternoon Memphis' O.J. Mayo, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, said that he hopes that himself and the rest of the excellent guards in his Draft class (Westbrook, the Clippers' Eric Gordon, and the Bulls' No. 1 pick, Derrick Rose) get a chance to play in the real All-Star Game on Sunday some day.
With Durant, hope isn't part of the equation. You only need hope when there is doubt.
Durant didn't make the West roster this season, but he will certainly be an All-Star. He will be a multi-time All-Star. Durant might even be MVP some day. His 25.5 points per game average ranks fifth in the league, but he's just 20-years old and in his second season as opposed to the four players ranked ahead of him who have much more experience. (James is 24 and in his sixth season, Wade is 26 and in his sixth season, Bryant is 30 and in his 13th season and Dirk Nowitzki is 30 and in his 11th season.)
|Check out some of the best pics from the Sophomore's seventh straight win over the Rookies. View Gallery|
Remember when it was a debate on whether Durant or Greg Oden should be selected No. 1 in 2007? Durant dominated on Friday, while Oden watched from the sidelines with an injury (this time a bruised knee) staking claim to yet another milestone in his career. Maladies already took him out for all of the 2007-08 season and for the first couple weeks of this season after he finally made his debut for a half against the Lakers on opening night before a foot injury shut him down.
Since Jan. 9, Durant is averaging 29.7 points on 50 percent shooting, lifting the moribund Thunder to a respectable 8-9 record during that span. In recent weeks, he treated real, full-fledged NBA teams the same way he did the Rookies on Friday, scoring 46 points against the Clippers and 39 against the Kings, while going 16-for-25 from the field.
Aside from scoring, Durant's rebounding has improved as well as he averages 6.7 boards per game compared to 4.4 a year ago. He was right on his average with seven rebounds on Friday.
The only thing that didn't go Durant's way in the second half was a botched alley-oop off the backboard that he lobbed for his 6-foot teammate Aaron Brooks of the Rockets.
"I'm just not used to him actually passing the ball," Brooks joked, even though the stats show four assists for Durant who started at shooting guard against just three dimes for Brooks who manned the point.
Durant said it was the hottest he's been since scoring 60 points in a Goodman League game at Barry Farms this summer in Washington, D.C., another testament to the damage Durant can do when faced with a less than worthy adversary.
"It's unbelievable, for all the players who have played in this game, for me to be the No. 1 scorer feels good," Durant said. "I'm glad we came out with the win too. It was a lot of fun."
Gibson's triple lifts Sophs in 2008
Sophomore sharpshooter Daniel Gibson gave the Rookies 11 good reasons why experience pays off.
The Cavs' combo guard nailed a record 11 3-pointers in his 20 attempts and scored 33 points as the Sophomores beat the Rookies 136-109 in the 2008 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam at New Orleans Arena. The Sophmores' victory was their sixth straight over the Rookies.
Jazz guard Kyle Korver held the previous record for 3-pointers in the annual contest when he made seven in 2005.
|2008 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge|
|The Cavs' Daniel Gibson made a record 11 3-pointers as the Sophomores ran away with the win.
The Rookies can take solace in the fact that at least two records weren't set by Gibson. While Gibson missed breaking Amar'e Stoudemire's single-game scoring record by three points, he took home MVP honors, joining Zydrunas Ilgauskas (1998) as the only other Cavalier to win the award.
Kevin Durant of Seattle and Atlanta's Al Horford paced the Rookies' effort with 23 points and 19 points, respectively. Memphis forward Rudy Gay scored 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting as the Sophomores had five players with at least 17 points.
"I think [experience] makes a big difference," said reigning Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy of Portland, who tuned up for Sunday's All-Star Game with 17 points and seven assists.
The T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam was televised live nationally on TNT and broadcast live on ESPN Radio.
2007: Lee perfect in Sophomore win
David Lee hit all 14 of his field-goal attempts for a game-high 30 points as the Sophomore beat the Rookies for the fifth consecutive year, 155-114. Lee, who added 11 rebounds and four assists, took home MVP of the 2007 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam. Chris Paul notched rookie-game records of 17 assists and nine steals to go with 16 points. Rudy Gay and Paul Millsap paced the Rookie squad with 22 points apiece.
2006: Iguodala emerges as Sophs roll
Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala notched 24 of his game-high 30 points in the second half as the Sophomores topped the Rookies 106-96 in the 2006 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge in Houston. Iguodala, the game's Most Valuable Player, made 13-of-17 from the field and added six rebounds, four steals and three assists.
2005: Carmelo carries Sophomores
On his way to MVP honors, hometown favorite Carmelo Anthony scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the second half to power the Sophomores to a 133-106 win over the Rookies.