Wolves’ LaVine calls competing in dunk contest a ‘dream’
MINNEAPOLIS — Since the first time he rattled a rim, Zach LaVine has never shied away from wowing spectators — be them friends, family, teammates or fans — with his wild repertoire of dunks.
That hasn’t changed during his rookie season with the Timberwolves.
"Any time he got a chance, he showed that he can jump," center Gorgui Dieng said with a laugh. "He showed that he’s 19 years old."
Said LaVine’s fellow rookie Andrew Wiggins: "He does creative stuff all the time. He just jumps high."
LaVine once threw down a windmill jam during a high school game at Bothell (Washington). He shut down the 2013 BallIsLife/Muscle Milk All-American Dunk Contest and had a similar eye-popping performance at this past summer’s Seattle Pro-Am.
And on Valentine’s Day, he’ll get to show off his 40-plus-inch vertical and personality flare to a worldwide audience.
"It’s a dream," LaVine said of being named to the 2015 NBA Sprite Slam Dunk Contest field Tuesday. "(As) a young kid, I always watched Michael Jordan and Kobe and Vince Carter always be in the dunk contest. Especially doing it my first year is going to be crazy."
The confident, outgoing kid from UCLA who likes to read online clips about himself, is rarely a bad quote and says he despises doubters will join Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Orlando’s Victor Oladipo and Brooklyn’s Mason Plumlee in All-Star Saturday Night’s fourth and marquee event Feb. 14 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Since the Wolves drafted him 13th overall, LaVine’s spent time perfecting his signature windmill and through-the-legs aerial moves in addition to coming up with "something no one has seen before."
LaVine’s strategy: don’t miss, and wow the five judges early.
"I’m coming out and showing I’m here," LaVine said. "That’s me."
He’s also been sizing up the competition as the dunk contest returns to a traditional two-round, four-dunk format — something LaVine says he prefers.
"All those dudes are good," said LaVine, the sixth Wolves player to participate in the dunk contest. "Oladipo jumps off two feet. Plumlee’s the fan favorite there, and Giannis is damn Stretch Armstrong."
But LaVine, with a vertical that he says still tops 40 inches even during the season, might be the favorite.
Wiggins predicted victory.
"He never told us exactly what he wants to do, but he’s excited for it," Wiggins said. "I can tell he’s been looking forward to it for a long time. I’m excited for him."
A notable flush artist himself, Wiggins said he considered joining LaVine in this year’s dunk contest. HoopsHype Canada reported earlier this month Wiggins’ father Mitchell Wiggins said his son would be competing, but Andrew said Wednesday he told his dad "maybe."
"It could’ve happened, but I just decided not to," said Andrew Wiggins, who still plans to be on hand for All-Star Weekend as part of the Rising Stars Challenge. "I just didn’t really want to do it this year."
So that leaves LaVine to carry the young, athletic Wolves mantle in the annual dunk competition. It’ll be an enjoyable respite from the grind of his rookie season. Playing more point guard than expected with Ricky Rubio out, and even starting 21 games, the raw, 6-foot-5, 183-pound youngster is averaging 8.0 points on 40.5 percent shooting, 3.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.
He’s in line for another start Wednesday against the Celtics. Mo Williams is out for personal reasons, presumably to attend the funeral of a close friend and mentor.
"I think he wants to win, but he doesn’t know the way yet," said Dieng, now in his second NBA season. "Everybody’s been through that. I was there last year, wanted to play so bad and never got a chance. I think it’s just going to take time."
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