PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Do you remember playing "Around the
World" as a youngster? The NBA is staging its own version on
Just about everywhere you look, there will be an international
influence as the game's global growth takes center stage.
Saturday afternoon's Rookie Challenge features Pau Gasol of
Rebraca of Croatia and Hedo Turkoglu of Turkey.
The Hoop-It-Up 3-on-3 tournament -- a new competition replacing
the drab 2ball -- features an entire team of internationals as
Turkoglu, former NBA player Sarunas Marciulionis of Lithuania
and WNBA star Ticha Penicheiro of Portugal join forces.
Canada will try to dethrone Ray Allen and stake claim to the
unofficial title of best shooter in the NBA.
If that's not enough, one of the assistant coaches for the
Rookie Challenge will be Philadelphia favorite Darryl Dawkins,
who once claimed to be from the planet Lovetron.
Seriously, international players have become more prominent and
five foreigners, including Stojakovic and Nash, will play in the
51st All-Star Game on Sunday.
All-Star Saturday starts with the eighth Rookie Challenge and
the third under the current format, in which second-year players
take on a team of rookies.
The Rookies are led by Gasol, who is averaging 17.2 points per
game, and Memphis Grizzlies teammate Shane Battier, who averages
14.8 points. Among others, they are joined by forwards Rebraca
of the Detroit Pistons and Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz and guard
Parker of the San Antonio Spurs.
Turkoglu is part of a strong Sophomores squad that also includes
2001 Slam Dunk champion Desmond Mason and Shootout participants
After just three years, 2ball has been replaced by Hoop-It-Up,
which has teams from Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles
playing 3-on-3 half-court contests.
Each team has a current player, former player, WNBA player and
celebrity. Justin Timberlake of pop group N'SYNC and actor and
and Moses Malone are among the former players.
Between the semifinals and final of Hoop-It-Up is the Shootout,
which is consistently the most exciting event of All-Star
Last year, Allen, the All-Star guard of the Milwaukee Bucks,
shot down Stojakovic and Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas in the final
round. He is trying to become the fifth repeat winner of this
event, joining Larry Bird, Craig Hodges, Mark Price and Jeff
This year, Stojakovic and Nash are back. Miller, Richardson,
All-Star Paul Pierce of Boston, Wesley Person of Cleveland and
Steve Smith of San Antonio, who leads the league with a 3-point
percentage of .525.
Saturday's only event without an international is the Slam Dunk
Contest, which could use a jolt of excitement after last year's
lackluster competition won by Mason, who is trying to join
Michael Jordan as the only back-to-back dunk champions.
The field has been reduced by two to just four high flyers. One
of them is All-Star Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets, who
had a sensational series of dunks two years ago in Oakland that
was obscured by Vince Carter's takeoff into orbit.
Sacramento complete the quartet.
The Rookie Challenge tips off at 4 p.m. EST and the remaining
events begin at 8 p.m. All-Star Saturday will be televised by