SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Three NBA All-Stars with local ties are hoping to make a big impact at the NBA All-Star Game.
Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen, former Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell and former Weber State star Damian Lillard are having a blast this weekend.
Markkanen is especially enjoying the festivities, being a first time all-star in the city where he plays.
“It’s been a lot of fun just soaking it all in,” Markkanen said Saturday after the All-Star Game practice. “The experience is definitely a little bit different when you’re actually a part of the All-Star Game. Being in your hometown and having my family here, and having them experience it with me has been pretty cool.”
After five pretty good seasons, Markkanen has just exploded this year, averaging 25 points, whiel shooting 52 percent from the field. But he was confident he would eventually become and All-Star.
“Eventually, yeah,” said Markkanen, who came to Utah this summer in the Donovan Mitchell trade. “I never stopped believing. I’ve just been putting the work in. You’ve just got to have the high belief in yourself and that anything can happen. Hopefully it’s just the beginning.”
Other NBA All-Stars haven known how good Markkanen was for a long time.
“I’m honestly not shocked,” said Donovan Mitchell. “I’ve known Lauri since high school. Lauri has been this type of player. I just think he’s gotten an opportunity.”
“He was really good before, but I think this year he really took a big step and he showed what kind of player he is,” said Dallas Mavericks All-Star Luka Doncic. “He’s been an amazing player, so it’s fun to watch.”
“He’s a good dude and he’s a hooper,” said Memphis All-Star Jaren Jackson Jr. “He’s a baller, he’s tall as hell, he can dribble. He’s tough to guard. He went crazy this year.”
Mitchell, who spent the first five years of his NBA career with the Jazz, played his first professional game at the Huntsman Center in the Summer League six years ago. Even he didn’t see this coming, six years later being back here for his fourth All-Star Game.
“No, I can’t say I did,” Mitchell said. “I think it was against the Spurs my first game. I remember being in the locker room here. It feels like a lifetime ago. I’ve had a lot of full circle moments for me this year, and this is just one of them. This is where I started my NBA journey, and to be back in this building for practice is something that is truly special.”
It is also special former former Weber State star Damian Lillard, playing in his 7th All-Star Game. So much so that Lillard is going to wear his Weber State jersey for the 3-point contest.
“I think anytime when All-Star Weekend is in place where someone connects with that place, I think it’s important to pay homage,” said Lillard. “To acknowledge that and to have this experience be here where a lot of the people that saw me blossom from the beginning. For them to see me at this point and at this level of my career, as a player and as a man, it’s pretty special.”