Israel’s Casspi wins celebrity plaudits at All-Star weekend

Sacramento forward scores 13 points as rookies top sophomores.

Omri Casspi’s dream start to his NBA career hasn’t gone unnoticed even among the league’s brightest stars.
The 21-year-old Israeli, who helped the rookies to a 140-128 victory over the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge in Dallas on Friday night, received complements from the league’s biggest names during the All-Star weekend.
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki were all full of praise for Casspi’s impressive performances for the Sacramento Kings small forward.
“I think he’s playing very well for the Kings,” Los Angeles Lakers superstar Bryant said of Casspi, who scored 13 points and took five rebounds in 24 minutes.
“I think he’s surprised Sacramento. I think he’s doing phenomenally well.”
Nowitzki was especially impressed with Casspi’s tremendous improvement over such a short period of time.
“It’s amazing, the steps he has made in a couple of months,” the Dallas Mavericks forward said.
“He’s confident, he looks like he belongs out there and he wants to compete. He’s got a decent looking shot and he moves well off the ball. I really like his game. As long as he keeps on working and improving the sky is the limit.”
Reigning league MVP, LeBron James, had known of Casspi’s potential before the season even began. “I saw him when he came to work out with us in the summer,” the Cleveland Cavaliers megastar said. “He’s a very talented guy. Very athletic. He’s done some great things.”
Casspi’s teammate, Tyreke Evans, had 26 points and San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair had 22 points and 23 rebounds to give the rookie team its first win over the sophomores after seven straight losses.
Blair, who told his teammates before the game that he was going for every rebound, had one of the highlight plays after a turnover by the sophomores in the first half. Stephen Curry flipped the ball to Blair, who threw it off the backboard and grabbed it out of the air before slamming it home.
Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City scored 40 points for the sophomores, but it was not enough with Milwaukee rookie Brandon Jennings contributing 22 points and eight assists, and James Harden from Oklahoma City also scoring 22 points.
Miami’s Michael Beasley, who scored 29 points in last year’s game, had 26 points this time. Golden State’s Anthony Morrow had 15 points and Minnesota’s Kevin Love, who had predicted a lopsided victory for the sophomores, had 12 points and six rebounds. O.J. Mayo from Memphis had eight points and 10 assists.
The biggest lead for the rookies before halftime was the 67-55 score at the break after Casspi’s 13-foot turnaround fadeaway shot.
“It was fun to play on a big stage like this,” said Casspi, who hasexceeded all expectations since being selected by the Kings with the23rd pick of the draft. “We took it very seriously. We talked about itbefore the game and we decided we would go out and play. We wanted towin, it was the most important thing for us.”
Casspi hopes to be part of the All-Star weekend once again next year.“It’s bigger than what I thought, just being around all those playersand being at All-Star Weekend,” Casspi said.
“You come here, and you want to come here again. I’m very proud. Please God I’ll come back next year.
“I’ll have to work very hard to come back here. It was a good experience to go out there and play. I don’t want it to stop.
“I’m living my dream. There’s no time to get tired of it. When I gettired of it, I just keep thinking to myself, ‘This is where I wanted tobe all the time.’”
AP contributed to this report.