Rising Stars Glad to be Teammates in NOLA

NEW ORLEANS – Call it a coincidence, but on the morning of Valentine’s Day, the NBA’s Rising Stars were all about relationships.

The league’s Rising Stars, including Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, tipped off All-Star weekend Friday morning when they opened up Jam Session with practice at Center Court. Friday was a day that marked the first in which many of these usual enemies were able to be teammates for the first time.

Jared Sullinger, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke

Jared Sullinger played against Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Trey Burke in the Big Ten, but they'll all be teammates tonight in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images

“There’s a lot of guys that I went head to head against in AAU. There’s a lot of guys I went head to head against in college basketball,” said Sullinger. “Now, finally to be able to be on the same team and not actually battle with those guys, it’s a lot of fun.”

Sullinger just so happened to make those comments in the middle of Big Ten country at Jam Session. Team Webber met the media at 9:50 a.m. and the first four players in line were all from the same collegiate conference. Sullinger is a proud Ohio State Buckeye who was surrounded many of his former opponents. To his right stood former Michigan Wolverines Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. To his left stood former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo.

These guys already know each other well, and they’re excited to be able to hang out with each other in a relaxed environment all weekend long.

“Big J! I've been knowing Big J for a while,” Oladipo said of Sullinger. “I've known Big J since we were little freshman in high school. Me, Jared, Trey, Tim, we all played in the same league in college so we all kind of knew each other beforehand. I'm just looking forward to being here with these guys and experiencing it with guys I know.”

From the AAU circuit to college ball to the pros, the NBA’s Rising Stars have all run into each other at one point or another. Nearly half of Team Webber hails from the Big Ten, and more than half of the team went through the league’s Rookie Training Program (RTP) together this summer.

“It’s not our first time together,” Hardaway, Jr. said with a smile. “Myself, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, Kelly Olynyk and Michael Carter-Williams, we were all on the same RTP group and we were just talking about that yesterday and this morning and talking about the season.”

That program allowed many players to get to know the real Kelly Olynyk. Boston fans know him for his basketball skills and his looks, but as Hardaway Jr. and others have learned, Olynyk is a great person to hang out with as well.

“Kelly’s awesome,” the Knicks rookie said. “I think he’s one of the coolest guys on this team. I know the Boston fans love him with the shaggy hair and the headband that’s holding his hair back. It’s awesome just to have him here and just to set the mood for everybody.”

It certainly looked as if Olynyk was setting the mood – a humorous one – as the team waited to be announced for its 10:15 a.m. practice session. He was first in line and could be seen cracking jokes to his teammates for a good 10-15 minutes.

Olynyk can joke with the best of them, but he took some time to be serious with the media before practice opened up. He discussed how excited he was to be alongside the league’s top young talent, particularly his teammate in Boston, Sullinger.

“If you’re chosen,” Olynyk said, “you get to come here and experience this and hang out with your peers and the greatest young guys in the NBA and kind of experience the whole weekend.

He added, “Being here with Sully is big. I've got to congratulate him as well because he's having an unbelievable year. It's good to just go through it with him together and celebrate that accomplishment together.”

Olynyk and Sullinger have a unique relationship compared to those of the remaining Rising Stars. They stand as the only NBA teammates who will be playing in tonight’s game. The rest of Team Webber’s players may not be teammates during the regular season, but they can be this weekend.

Maybe that's why Valentine's Day at Jam Session really felt like Valentine's Day. That’s the beauty of the Rising Stars game and All-Star weekend. These guys can finally share smiles, laughs and lots of love instead of the burning fire of fierce NBA competition.