Kyle Kuzma was named to the MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars Challenge for a second time in as many seasons, though 2019 saw the young Los Angeles Lakers forward among the starters for Team USA. Kuzma scored 20 points off the bench at Staples Center last year in a loss to the World.
He nearly matched that effort through the first four minutes of the 2019 Rising Stars Challenge, scoring 14 of Team’s USA 20 points to open the game. “Just to play hard, give back to the game,” he said of the performance.
“I played in this game last year, and I was really lackadaisical, and I didn’t want to do that again. That was one of the main reasons.”
Kuzma certainly atoned for that effort as he went on to finish with 35 points, six rebounds and two assists in just 22 minutes. He was rewarded by being voted 2019 MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars MVP.
“Like I said earlier, last year I didn’t really play that hard. This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning,” Kuzma said. “And two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”
Kuzma broke Kobe Bryant’s record for most points scored by a Lakers player in the annual showcase. Bryant scored a game-high 31 points in 1997 when the exhibition was still considered the Rookie Challenge and teams were decided by conference allegiance.
Kuzma and Eddie Jones are the only Lakers player to earn MVP honors. He, Lonzo Ball (2018, 2019), Brandon Ingram (2017, 2018), Jordan Farmer (2007, 2008) and D’Angelo Russell (2017, 2016) are the only Lakers who were twice named to the event.
A revelation as a rookie, Kuzma’s selection to the Rising Stars Challenge this year was much more expected. Nevertheless, he’s appreciative of the recognition more so than earning MVP.
“I wouldn’t say winning the MVP, but playing in this game back-to-back years and getting the notice and recognition from my peers and media and fans,” he said. “So I think that’s an indicator of being on the right path.”
No longer eligible to participate in the game, Kuzma has already shifted his focus to a grander stage. “Trying to make the All-Star Game next year,” he said. “That’s the next level.
“Just working hard, dedicating what I do on a daily basis to my craft, and take care of my body. I got confidence that I can one day be an All-Star in this league. That’s definitely a goal for me. You know, ever since I was a kid.”
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