Denton: Vucevic Earns Spot In All-Star Weekend's Rising Stars Challenge

By John Denton
January 30, 2013

NEW YORK – Seconds after entering Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic received congratulations from several of his teammates and a joyful handshake from GM Rob Hennigan.

Vucevic was named to the 2013 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge to be played Friday, Feb. 15, in Houston during NBA All-Star 2013. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge consists of current rookies and sophomores selected to the roster by the NBA’s assistant coaches.

Vucevic leads all second-year players in rebounding at 11.2 rpg. and he’s fourth overall in the NBA. He also ranks in the top 10 among all second-year players in field goal percentage (.522), and scoring (11.9 ppg). Vucevic is the only second-year player in the NBA averaging a double-double.

Vucevic said he found out about the all-star appointment from a friend who had texted him. Later, family and friends from Montenegro and Southern California (where he attended high school and USC) offered up congratulatory calls and text messages.

``It’s a huge honor for me and my career going forward,’’ Vucevic said. ``This is my second year and to be a part of that weekend it will be fun. And it will be a lot of fun to be there with the best players in the NBA. I want to be a part of it.’’

Several NBA coaches have recently pointed out Vucevic’s growth from his rookie season in Philadelphia when he averaged just 5.5 ppg. and 4.8 rpg. in 51 games. Hennigan led the way in acquiring Vucevic, who was a part of the massive four-team, 12-player deal in August that centered around Dwight Howard. Nets coach P.J.

Carlesimo recently called Vucevic ``the most improved big man in the league.’’
``It means a lot and it means that my work is paying off,’’ Vucevic said of the compliments from coaches. ``It means that I’m getting better and they are recognizing me at this level. That was my goal to set a name for myself. I’ve started to do that and I just have to keep getting better.’’

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS: Magic rookie Maurice Harkless took advantage of Tuesday’s day off in New York to go back to St. John’s and visit with his former college teammates.

While he expected plenty of questions about the success he had earlier in the season against Carmelo Anthony or his career-best 16 points Monday night in Brooklyn, Harkless said his buddies queried him with other off-the-way questions.

``I went back to St. John’s and watched practice and hung out with the guys after practice. I missed those guys and I got to see some of my friends,’’ Harkless said. ``They were always asking me, `What was the first thing I bought’ and stuff like that. They really don’t care about the basketball stuff; it’s the money.’’

Harkless attended several games at Madison Square Garden as a kid growing up in Queens and St. John’s played their homes games there, but Wednesday was the first time he played there as a pro. He started at small forward in place of Arron Afflalo and checked Anthony, the player who gave him some NBA advice on the night he was picked in the first round of the NBA Draft last June.

``It’s different for me playing here now because it’s another whole level,’’ Harkless said before the game. ``Words can explain this. Once I step on that court, it’s still basketball. But the excitement will be at another level for me. It’s a dream come true.’’

ETC: Afflalo was held out for a second straight game because of his strained left calf. Afflalo said his leg felt better, but he hadn’t gotten in any basketball work over the past few days as he was instructed to rest the leg. He could practice on Thursday when the Magic drill at Harvard. But in the minutes before Wednesday’s game in New York he was none too pleased about having to miss the showdown against the Knicks. Said Afflalo: ``You know I want to play because I love this stage. But they won’t let me do much right now.’’ … Magic shooting guard J.J. Redick said that Madison Square Garden is his favorite road arena to play in because of the energy in the building. Redick is partial to Los Angeles’ Staples Center because of the theater-like lighting for games. But he’s partial to MSG because of the fan excitement. Said Redick: ``This is the best place to play. There’s something about being in New York, in the Garden and playing the Knicks. It’s special and different and the crowd is great and they know basketball. It’s different than L.A. and the Staples Center where you have the same theater lighting, but the crowd here is just different and that makes it a great place to play.’’ … The Magic’s five-game, nine-day road trip continues Friday night in Boston where they will play the Celtics. Orlando plays Milwaukee (Saturday) and Philadelphia (Monday) before returning home.

ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Redick Talks Career Future | Vucevic Deserves Trip to AS Weekend | Big Accomplishment for Nelson

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