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Wob: The Time Zion Williamson Bet on Himself in Middle School & More From the NBA’s Rising Stars

Wob: The Time Zion Williamson Bet on Himself in Middle School & More From the NBA’s Rising Stars article feature image

Chicago, IL — On Friday morning, the league’s brightest up-and-coming stars gathered to get ready for the evening’s Rising Stars game. During media availability, I wanted to ask them one important question:

“When was a time you bet on yourself?”

Here were the answers…

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

“Growing up, in middle school, when I dropped football and soccer and I said I’m only focusing on basketball and see where it takes me.”

Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

“I always have confidence in myself. I’ve always felt like I was good enough. It was just whether colleges or whoever else thought I was, so I just focused on what I had to do and going out and playing.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

“There were doubts about me going to Kentucky as a four-star recruit, being overlooked. But I knew with the opportunity and my work ethic, I would make it happen.”

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks

“I always have [bet on myself]. I feel like I expect greatness from myself. That’s what I do: I work hard to be great every day, and I expect great things. When something like this happens, I get to take a step back and really enjoy it.”

Moritz Wagner, Washington Wizards

“Everything. I mean, I’m from Berlin, Germany — you don’t just go to the NBA. You have to dare a little bit; you have to risk a little bit. Going to college wasn’t a safe bet at all; it probably would’ve been safer to stay at home. So I had to kind of risk and get out of my shell there.

“I don’t think anyone knew me when I went to college. I barely played my freshman year. So that’s probably the biggest risk I took, but it paid off big time.”

Josh Okogie, Minnesota Timberwolves

“My decision to even come out of college. I had an injury in college, so I didn’t play the first eight games of the season, so my name just literally fell off the draft boards. And then after the season was over, my stock didn’t really rise, so I had to decide — it was my second year of college — if I was going to stay in college or go to the NBA.

“I decided to test the waters, and then I had to decide whether to stay in [the draft] or go back to college, and I was like ‘I’m just going to bet on myself and stay in.’ But it looks like it worked out.”

Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies

“A couple times: I would say going to college — going to San Jose State and then going to GU (Gonzaga). I had to redshirt; my name wasn’t on any draft boards.

“I wasn’t sure if I was a player who could be here; I wasn’t sure if I was a player who could play at the level in college I did, but I had to gamble on myself and say I’m going to work super hard, and if it all works out, it does. And it’s really great it all worked out.”

Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

“I couldn’t even imagine playing in the All-Star [Weekend]. I’m so thankful to be here right now. A lot of people in Japan are going to watch these games, and I’m so excited to represent my country.”

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans

“9th grade. There was an AAU tournament in Toronto. I had friends and family there — practically the whole city was there — and it was a big AAU rivalry in the city. We had won by 20 and I didn’t play; I had teammates laugh at me and make fun of me. That game sits in my mind a lot, and it drives me to continue to push and continue to work.”

Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors

“I would say on every level I did that. I’ve always just bet on myself. I’ve always felt like I can do something, so at the end of the day I’ve felt like I’ve bet on myself.”

PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

I think the biggest one was [deciding to] go back for my sophomore year of college. I think I was projected late second round or not even getting drafted after my freshman year, so I went back and worked on my game, tried to work on every aspect of it, and I came out and was a lottery pick and I’m having a great season so far.”

Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

“Absolutely, I can name multiple things where I had decisions to make, which way to go, and I always bet on myself. That’s one thing I pride myself on.

“[One example] is going undrafted right out of college. I could’ve taken a different route or played overseas, but I chose to play in the G-League and take that route. It was definitely a long journey and I had a lot of patience with that, and it worked out.”

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

“I’d probably say picking the right AAU team … the right team to play with. You have to find the highest stage to showcase your talents. And I felt like EYBO was that for me.”

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