MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie heads back to all-star weekend for the second consecutive season, this time armed with a better knowledge of what’s in front of him.
The second-year guard will make his second appearance in as many years in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge in Chicago, which features the best first- and second-year players in the NBA.
“I just know what I’m doing,” Okogie said of making his return trip to the all-star spectacle. “I can kind of plan and see what’s going on. I know what’s going on.”
Okogie doesn’t know if he’ll stay for the entire weekend after playing in Friday’s game. The weekend is long, and the all-star break is short. But the Nigerian-American is looking forward to representing the World squad on the big stage.
“It’s just an honor to just be playing,” the 21-year-old former Georgia Tech star said. “It’s still exciting for me.”
Okogie had 13 points, four rebounds and four assists in Team World’s loss last year.
“It was cool, man, just to gauge and see where your talent level is,” he said. “Just to play against the other talent in a setting where it’s just you and the people around your age group … it’s kind of fun.”
Okogie is Minnesota’s lone representative at all-star weekend — which means something, because he still is a Timberwolves representative. Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only current members of the team who were on the roster at the end of last season.
That wasn’t by mistake. At Minnesota’s post-trade deadline press conference, Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas noted Okogie’s toughness and defensive capabilities for reasons why he was still on the roster.
Coach Ryan Saunders inserted the guard into the starting lineup this week. Minnesota added plenty of offensive components at the deadline, but Okogie is now essentially its defensive anchor.
“It’s no secret, defense is kind of my thing,” Okogie said. “I’m kind of glad I’m able to be that defensive anchor — get guys in their spots, make sure guys are always 100 percent at all times. It’s definitely a role I’m comfortable stepping into. Rob (Covington) was kind of that guy for us. Kind of learning from him, taking some of the stuff he implemented on the court and kind of trying to teach these guys. It kind of makes you want to implement it on the court as well.”
There won’t be much defense played this weekend in Chicago, but the event offers more than on-the-court value for Okogie. Saunders has talked about how valuable it is for young players to spend time around the league’s very best and take things away from them.
“That’s the biggest thing, outside of the festivities, it’s just networking,” Okogie said. “Meeting new people, whether it’s the business of basketball or basketball itself. You’re just trying to just make yourself a better player on and off the court.”