- Insider asked five NBA draft prospects who they were most excited to face in the pros.
- Many said LeBron James, noting they have watched the 19-year vet nearly their entire lives.
- Other popular answers included Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo … and one lesser-known role player on the Thunder.
Once players reach the NBA, many of them say it is surreal to face players they grew up watching.
Ahead of the 2022 draft, Insider asked five prospects who they’re most excited to play once they reach the pros.
The LeBron Generation
Just as Kobe Bryant was the idol for many current NBA stars, for incoming NBA players, it’s hard not to be star-struck by LeBron James.
“I’m most excited to play probably against LeBron,” said Blake Wesley of Notre Dame. “Everybody knows who LeBron is. He’s the greatest of all time. He’s a billionaire. Just to be able to guard him – it’ll be a blessing.”
Jabari Smith, who went third overall to the Houston Rockets, also said James, saying he watched James for his whole life. Indeed, Smith was born in May 2003, one month before James was drafted No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Smith agreed with the premise that today’s stars are part of the “LeBron Generation.”
“Yes, definitely,” Smith said. “I feel like it was between LeBron and the time Kobe was, you know, descending a little bit when I really got into basketball …. Those two guys were real, real crucial in me falling in love with the game of basketball. “
Smith said he is 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 against Giannis Antetokounmpo, applauding how hard the two-time MVP plays. Koloko told Insider that he thinks his journey somewhat resembles Antetokounmpo’s as an international player who picked up basketball later in life.
“His journey, just even his development, how he got to league when he was 18 and you can see how his body transformed, and who he is now as a player,” Koloko said.
Wesley was also looking forward to the challenge of guarding an up-and-comer – Ja Morant.
“Yes Morant’s a good player,” Wesley said. “He’s fast, he’s quick. He’s gonna make me better to go up against him.”
Jaden Hardy, who skipped college to play in the G League, could not name just one specific player.
“There’s a lot of players that I’m looking forward to playing against, like LeBron, [Stephen] Curry, Kyrie [Irving], KD, “Hardy said.” I mean, that’s just to name a few. But I’m looking forward to playing against everybody, for real. I feel like just being able to play at this stage and playing against people that I looked up to when I was growing up, and now I’m getting a chance to be able to go against them – I’m looking forward to playing everybody . “
Some Canadian competition
The most surprising answer came from Bennedict Mathurin, who played college ball at Arizona and was selected sixth overall by the Indiana Pacers.
Hailing from Canada, Mathurin said he is most excited to play fellow countryman Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“He’s from Montreal, where I’m from,” Mathurin said. “We never really played against each other because he was older.”
Unlike other stars incoming rookies named, Dort is more of a role player, albeit a solid one who averaged 17 points per game last season.
Still, Mathurin sounded like he was out to prove a point, saying he wanted to show that he is Dort’s “big bro.”