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Mirotic shows he belongs among stars

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By Sam Smith | 2.13.2015 | 11:01 p.m. CT

It was another tough night for American exceptionalism Friday in Brooklyn.

A team of first and second year NBA international players, including Bulls rookie Nikola Mirotic with a game high four three pointers, defeated a team of similar U.S. players 121-112 in the annual All-Star weekend rookies and sophomores game, now known as Rising Stars.

“I was trying to play simple,” said Mirotic, who started and made his first four three pointers. “I really enjoy; my mind was to have fun, to win this game. I really like because we play simple basketball, we share the ball and finally we win the game, which was good for us.”

It’s a game in the loosest sense of the word with little defense or team play and a playground format to showcase the top young players in the game and not get anyone injured, sort of a junior varsity All-Star game.

The world team was led by Andrew Wiggins with 22 points and Rudy Gobert with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Mirotic had 16 points in 20 minutes, shooting six of nine overall and four of six on threes. The U.S. team was led by Zach LaVine and Victor Oladipo with 22 points each.

The quality of the game, or really the result, was insignificant for Mirotic. More so it was his introduction to being included among the promising young stars of the game and measure where he stands. It seemed pretty tall as his shooting stood out.

It continued a whirlwind tour of the NBA and the U.S. for Mirotic, new to the NBA as well as the country, but finding his way comfortably and showing a substantial skill level for the game.

“Especially in the beginning of the game I make three, four threes,” said Mirotic in discussing the game with a large group of journalists from Spain and the U.S. “My teammates, they find me. They share the ball, play great. It was great experience for me to live this moment. A great day. Right now looking forward to improve on my game.

“Not easy to be here play in this game,” Mirotic said about his pride in competing even if it wasn’t quite playoff intensity. “Everyone want to play. Need to work hard; your team need to play well to be here. I really enjoy. For me, most important have fun here and going to have great memory of this game and for the regular season.”

Mirotic laughed as he deftly fielded questions in at least three languages when asked if he could take anything with him back to the Bulls for the rest of the season.

“Not too much, really,” he said. “I made shots, have fun, to win the game. In Chicago, I know I have to improve. I have to work a lot and right now I am not playing at the great level. But I am still positive and maybe after this game make some shots and get more confidence. Great experience to play and have fun, meet rest of the teammates and demonstrate we are better.

“I don’t think he is going to reach too much to this game,” Mirotic said when asked what coach Tom Thibodeau might have thought of the game. “I don’t think he care a lot. He’s thinking the next game, Detroit. Coach knows good for me (to play in the game), but I still have to focus on my career in Chicago.”

As for returning for the rest of season, Mirotic said, “Have to work especially on my body, my strength; last year I never lift. Here, that is really important. The players are really strong and fast. So I right now work on that and work on my shot.”

Earlier in comments to reporters before the game, Mirotic said: “I want to enjoy it, have fun, represent my team, Chicago.

“In general (in the last month), it was really tough for the team and for me, too,” Mirotic said about averaging 6.4 points in January and 3.4 points in February. “I think I didn’t play on great level. I played some games good, some games bad. It’s the whole process of this season. Always trying to be positive; thinking about next game, about rest of season. We won last four and I think we are finally playing well. We have great atmosphere on team and we want continue playing like this.

“The NBA is different, especially the lifestyle,” Mirotic said about his adjustment. “All my teammates, different language, different city. But I really enjoy it. This is big moment for me. I have a goal to grow like a player, to help team, to be better every day. I just want to enjoy it.”

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