Find out No. 22’s prediction for the Rising Stars Challenge and thoughts on All-Star Weekend. Plus, players from Team Chuck and Team Shaq share their praise for the Kings guard.
On Friday morning, the League’s top freshman and sophomore players – divided on teams selected by NBA legends Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal – exhilarated fans in a spirited and fun-filled practice session in preparation for the evening’s Rising Stars Challenge at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Team Chuck member Isaiah Thomas – sporting special All-Star edition Kings-themed sneakers – was all smiles as he took the court with his teammates, running through the offense, swishing jumpers during shooting drills and partaking in a game of knockout with fans.
The 5-foot-9 guard reiterated in addition to coming out victorious, his goal is to throw down several dunks in the night’s contest.
“They’ll come out tonight,” said Thomas smiling. “I promise you.
“(It’s) an up-and-down game, a high-scoring game – there are going to be a lot of highlights,” he added. “I’m going to try to put on a show for the fans and show them what I can’t show them in the real games.”
No. 22’s former high school teammate, Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters, is certain the Tacoma native will live up to his word.
“I saw him jump over a 6-foot-11 guy in high school, so I know he can do it,” said Waiters, adding he’s learned a lot about the game from the Kings guard. “He’s a flat-out baller – he may be small, but his heart is as big as day and he’s really athletic.”
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard echoed a similar sentiment regarding Thomas’ hops.
“I’ve seen him dunk before – he threw a lob to himself in a previous game we played,” he said. “I think he can do it.”
The Washington product’s first- and second-year peers further praised the guard’s quickness and craftiness, while marveling at his unwavering confidence and drive to succeed.
“He has a really good change-of-pace, he handles the ball really well and he can rise up and shoot the ball,” said Blazers guard Damian Lillard. “Anytime you have a small guy who’s fast, who can get around you but can shoot the ball, it’s harder to guard him.”
The Weber Sate product revealed he closely followed Thomas’ journey to the NBA and has been impressed with the guard’s perseverance.
“I remember I followed him on Twitter the whole summer he was going into the Draft and he was motivated,” said Lillard. “He was Tweeting about his workouts, he was excited about it and even though he was picked last, he kept believing. That says a lot about how much he believes in himself and how much character he has.”
Despite being undersized at his position, players from both teams stated Thomas hasn’t let his stature affect his confidence or on-court mentality.
“(Isaiah’s) so short, but he makes it like he’s so tall because he never backs down from anyone or any challenge,” said Hornets big man Anthony Davis. “He can shoot the ball well and handle it, he’s a hard worker and he’s going to be great in this league.”
“He’s not too tall, but he (plays) tall on the court,” affirmed Timberwovles guard Ricky Rubio. “He can jump and he’s not afraid of anything. He’s a great point guard.”
Bobcats guard Kemba Walker, who’s long admired the Washington product’s game, commends Thomas’ strength and nightly approach.
“I’ve been watching Isaiah for a long time, playing against him and seeing him play on the AAU circuit and college,” said Walker. “He’s tough, he can score the basketball and he gets everybody involved. He just loves to play basketball.”
Wizards guard Bradley Beal – praising Thomas’ ability to come through in the clutch while recalling the Kings guard’s game-winner in Washington on Jan. 28 – says No. 22 has also served as an excellent role model off the court.
“I’ll probably talk to him a little bit today, just to pick his brain a little bit,” said Beal. “He finished college and he’s doing a lot of things that I’m trying to do, so I think we have a lot in common. He’s a really good guy.”
Reflecting on his career to date, Thomas cites his determination and dedication to the game for putting him in position to succeed.
“I have dreams and goals for myself, and I work tremendously hard to obtain them,” he said. “I just go out every day, put my hardhat on and try to outwork the next guy. And when you … do the right things, blessings come down.”
The Kings guard added being invited to compete at NBA All-Star Weekend has meant even more to him because his parents are able to enjoy the experience alongside him.
“It’s even better for my parents when they come down here and they can’t stop smiling because they’re seeing all the old-time players they used to watch on TV,” he said. “(Later), they’ll probably see Kobe (Bryant) and LeBron (James) walking around here, so it’s fun, it’s a blessing and you have to take it all in because you don’t always get these opportunities.”
James Thomas couldn’t be prouder while watching his son practice with many of the League’s up-and-coming stars at the midseason classic.
“I can’t even explain (it) because it’s like a dream come true,” he said.
“For him to be on this floor, it’s everything.”
– Catch the Rising Stars Challenge tonight at 6 p.m. PST on TNT and ESPN Radio, and join the Kings.com Live Chat to discuss the action in real-time.