It was never in doubt, but on Wednesday it became official… Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor will represent the Sixers at NBA All-Star Weekend next month in Toronto, competing in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. The two will join Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Jabari Parker, and Jordan Clarkson, among others, on a stacked Team USA squad that will go head-to-head with a World Team that features Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay, Andrew Wiggins, and the the Nikolas, Jokic and Mirotic.
This marks the third time in franchise history that Philadelphia has had multiple representatives in the annual rookie-sophomore event, with Noel joined by Michael Carter-Williams and Robert Covington in 2015 and Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver repping the Sixers in 2005.
"On behalf of the entire Sixers organization, we are proud that Nerlens and Jahlil were recognized for their talent, hard work and commitment to their craft," said Sixers President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Sam Hinkie in a statement released by the team. "This is a recognition both for them and their families, who have sacrificed and supported Nerlens and Jahlil during every step of their basketball journeys.
"This is another significant accomplishment in their young careers, and we truly hope that Nerlens and Jahlil will enjoy the opportunities and experiences that All-Star Weekend has to offer as representatives of the Sixers."
A case could have been made to include Toronto-native Nik Stauskas to the list of 20 invites, if only because of the dearth of talent on the international squad (rookie Mario Hezonja made the cut while averaging 4.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game on 42.1% shooting), but despite solid play this season from rookie T.J. McConnell and sophomore Jerami Grant, those two faced long odds to crack a USA roster that high-impact players from the top of the 10-man roster to its bottom.
It remains a long shot that any Sixers will be selected for other events in Toronto, although Jerami Grant in the Dunk Contest would be pretty sick and Ish Smith in the Skills Challenge would warm my heart. Alas, next year has the potentially to be supremely lit if the Sixers can send Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and let’s say Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray to Charlotte to represent the World team. And in this fever dream JoJo would also compete in the Dunk Contest, Skills Challenge, Three-point Shootout, the All-Star Game, AND the Celebrity Game, obviously.
Anyway, the Rising Stars Challenge will take place on Friday, February 12, at 9pm (EST) on TNT.