- Insider asked five potential NBA draft picks who they’re most looking forward to in the pros.
- Many said LeBron James, noting they’ve watched the 19-year-old vet most of their lives.
- Other popular answers included Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo… and a lesser-known roleplayer on the Thunder.
Once players reach the NBA, many of them say it’s surreal to face players they grew up with.
Ahead of the 2022 draft, Insider asked five prospects who they’re most excited about reaching the pros against.
The LeBron generation
Just as Kobe Bryant has been the idol for many current NBA stars, it’s hard for aspiring NBA players not to be impressed by LeBron James.
“What I’m looking forward to most is probably playing LeBron,” said Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley. “Everyone knows who LeBron is. He’s the greatest of all time. He’s a billionaire. Just to be able to protect him – it will be a blessing.”
Jabari Smith, who finished third overall with the Houston Rockets, also said James and said he’s watched James his entire life. In fact, Smith was born in May 2003, a month before James was drafted No. 1 overall with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Smith agreed with the premise that today’s stars are part of the “LeBron generation.”
“Yeah, definitely,” Smith said. “I feel like it was between LeBron and when Kobe went down a little bit that I really got into basketball…Those two guys were really, really crucial in making me fall in love with the game of basketball. “
Smith said he’s also looking forward to playing Carmelo Anthony, who was drafted third overall in 2003.
Love for other top stars
While LeBron James was a popular answer, several other incoming rookies named other top stars.
Christian Koloko, who lived in Cameroon until he was a teenager, told Insider he was excited to play Kevin Durant.
“He’s been my favorite player since I started watching basketball,” Koloko said.
The 22-year-old center also said he was excited to play Giannis Antetokounmpo and applauded how hard the two-time MVP is playing. Koloko told Insider that he believes his journey is similar to Antetokounmpo’s as an international player who took up basketball later in life.
“His journey, even his development, how he got into the league when he was 18 and you can see how his body has changed and who he is as a player now,” Koloko said.
Wesley also looked forward to the challenge of protecting an up-and-coming youngster – Ja Morant.
“Yes Morant is a good player,” Wesley said. “He’s fast, he’s fast. He will make me better to compete against him.”
Jaden Hardy, who skipped college to play in the G League, couldn’t name just one specific player.
“There are a lot of players that I look forward to playing against like LeBron, [Stephen] Curry, Kiri [Irving]”KD,” Hardy said. “I mean, that’s just a few. But I’m looking forward to really playing against everyone. I feel like at this stage I can just play and play against people that I looked up to growing up and now I’m getting a chance to play against them – I look forward to playing against everyone. “
Some Canadian competition
The most surprising response came from Arizona college ball player Bennedict Mathurin, who was picked sixth overall by the Indiana Pacers.
Mathurin, who is from Canada, said he is very excited to play fellow Oklahoma City Thunder compatriot Luguentz Dort.
“He’s from Montreal, where I’m from,” Mathurin said. “We never really played against each other because he was older.”
Unlike other stars dubbed rookies, Dort is more of a role player, albeit a solid one, averaging 17 points per game last season.
Still, Mathurin sounded like he wanted to prove something, saying he wanted to show he was Dort’s “big brother.”