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‘I hope I make y’all proud’: Walker Kessler soaking up time in hometown All-Star spotlight

The Jazz rookie is trying to make the most of the All-Star experience, playing in the Rising Stars Game and Skills Challenge

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Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler (wearing white) jumps to block a shot attempt by Dallas Mavericks guard McKinley Wright IV

Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler jumps to block a shot attempt by Dallas guard McKinley Wright IV during game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Kessler will be a participant in NBA All-Star Weekend activities.

Ryan Sun, Deseret News

In a rare experience for All-Star Weekend, Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler got to wake up in his own home, make his coffee in his own coffee machine, and drive his own car to the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center for Rising Stars practice Friday morning. Kessler is participating in Friday night’s Rising Stars Game at Vivint Arena, where he will be on a team coached by former Jazz star Deron Williams.

“All-Star games are weird. People get a little upset if you try and block their shots. We’ll see what happens. At the end of the day I’m going to just try to have fun and compete.” — Jazz rookie Walker Kessler

“The Jazz history there is pretty cool. I was hoping I’d end up on his team just because of that part of it. So I’m excited,” Kessler said.

The Jazz rookie is trying to make the most of the experience as Utah hosts NBA All-Star Weekend for the first time in 30 years.

Besides playing in the Rising Stars Game, he’s also part of Team Jazz in Saturday night’s Skills Challenge alongside teammates Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton.

He’s also making appearances at Walmart and NBA Crossover on Saturday.

“(With All-Star Weeknd) being in the same city as your team, trying to like represent the state and the city as much as you can,” Kessler said.

Kessler will be supported by friends and family at Friday’s and Saturday’s events. His mom, dad, brother and a few friends flew into Salt Lake City Thursday night.

He has a list of Salt Lake City restaurant recommendations ready for his family, friends and any NBA players that want it.

In his first season with the Jazz, Kessler has emerged as a defensive force, ranking fifth in the NBA in blocks.

Will he be trying to reject some of the NBA’s best rookies and sophomores in the Rising Stars Game?

“All-Star games are weird. People get a little upset if you try and block their shots. We’ll see what happens. At the end of the day I’m going to just try to have fun and compete. So instincts will probably take over and I’ll probably block one and I really wasn’t supposed to or something, but we’ll see what happens,” Kessler said.

Franz Wagner (Magic), Alperen Sengun (Rockets), Trey Murphy III (Pelicans), AJ Griffin (Hawks), Bones Hyland (Nuggets) and Ayo Dosunmu are on Team Deron with Kessler.

Four teams — Team Deron (coached by Deron Williams), Team Jason (coached by Jazz assistant Jason Terry), Team Pau (coached by Pau Gasol) and Team Joakim (coached by Joakim Noah) will compete in the three-game Rising Stars tournament.

Some key participants in the Rising Stars event are 2022 No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons), Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers), Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans), Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors), Jalen Green (Houston Rockets) and Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite).

“I’m gonna do my best to represent Utah. I’m excited for the opportunity and I hope I make y’all proud,” Kessler said.

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Former Jazz star Deron Williams will be coaching Walker Kessler’s team tonight in the Rising Stars Game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News