Perley’s Press Pass: Hornets Trio Heading to NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago

by Sam Perley

For the first time in franchise history, the Charlotte Hornets have had three players selected for the NBA Rising Stars Challenge as part of All-Star Weekend, which kicks off on Friday, Feb. 14 in Chicago.

Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington and Miles Bridges will be the 11th, 12th and 13th different Charlotte players chosen for this particular event, which started in 1994 and features the NBA’s top rookie and second-year players. The organization has sent multiple players on just two other occasions: Raymond Felton and Adam Morrison (2007), followed by Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (2013).

Since the NBA implemented the Team USA vs. Team World format in 2015, only two other franchises have had at least three American representatives in the same season. The Philadelphia 76ers had Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington selected in 2015, while Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma were chosen from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.

Graham joins Lee Nailon in 2002 as the only second-round or undrafted Charlotte player to receive this honor. Other non-first-round players to reach the Rising Stars Challenge for the American side in recent years include Malcolm Brogdon (2017-2018), Jonathon Simmons (2017), Jordan Clarkson (2016) and Robert Covington (2015). Graham and former Kansas teammate Svi Mykhailiuk (World/Ukraine) will notably be squaring off in the competition.

“I’m just blessed, thankful to be picked to play in this game,” he said in an interview with Hornets.com. “We got a lot of young guys that are competitive, hard-working, play the right way and play for each other. We’re trying to keep getting better and this is a nice little step in showing how hard we work. I hit up Svi, told him congratulations and Facetimed him.”

PJ Washington will be the first Hornet rookie to make the Rising Stars Challenge since Kidd-Gilchrist in 2013 and sixth overall alongside Walker (2012), Morrison (2007), Emeka Okafor (2005) and George Zidek (1996). Two of Washington’s University of Kentucky teammates in rookie Tyler Herro (USA) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (World/Canada) were also both chosen.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, especially experiencing it with my teammates,” Washington said. “We’ve been working really hard this year, so to get recognized is definitely going to be big for us. It’s special. Not a lot of people get to enjoy All-Star Weekend and get invited. It’s definitely going to be fun, crazy. I’ll play with Tyler again and definitely going to be trash talking Shai.”

Bridges has seen his scoring average increase from 7.5 PPG to 12.2 PPG between his first and second seasons. He got a taste of All-Star Weekend last season with the Slam Dunk Contest in Charlotte and this year, will be joining fellow 2018 lottery selection and Michigan State teammate Jaren Jackson Jr. on the Team USA side.

“It feels good. I feel blessed to be able to be in this game,” said Bridges. “A lot of great players have come through the Rising Stars Challenge. We have a young core and we’ve been playing pretty well the whole year. For us to get rewarded for it, I feel like it’s a great accomplishment for us and the team. It’ll be great playing with my teammates and playing with Jaren again is also going to be fun. I really can’t wait. I can’t wait to see what happens.”

The Memphis Grizzlies are the only other team with three players invited to this year’s Rising Stars Challenge, with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. chosen for Team USA and Brandon Clarke (Canada) suiting up for Team World. As tirelessly committed as the Charlotte Hornets organization has been this season to youth and player development, sending a record three players to All-Star Weekend certainly couldn’t have come at a better time.

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