How Bogdan Bogdanovic shot his way to the top of Rising Stars Challenge

LOS ANGELES -- The MVP of the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge walked out of a side door in the bowels of the Staples Center on Friday night and strolled to the dais, light shimmering off his glass trophy.

"Can I ask the first question?" Bogdan Bogdanovic said.

When you're the MVP, you can do whatever you want.

"Is there anyone from Serbia here?"

Among the 100 or so assembled All-Star Game media, none were from Serbia. The 25-year-old rookie known as "Bogi" shrugged and moved on. But you can't blame him for wondering if someone from his home country was here to witness his big moment. He was the MVP for a World team that thrashed the USA team, 155-124, in a game that turned into an impromptu 3-point and dunk contest.

Coming into this game, Bogdanovic might have been the least known of these youngsters, at least to the American audience. He was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the 27th pick of the 2014 draft but elected to stay in EuroLeague for a few more years, where he was twice a EuroLeague Rising Star and once a EuroLeague champion. The Suns traded him to the Kings in 2016, and he made his NBA debut this season -- as the highest-paid rookie in the league.

The 6-6 shooting guard has been a nice addition to a young Kings team. He's averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists and 2.7 rebounds and shooting an excellent 40 percent from three.

But you can't imagine many fans were coming to the Rising Stars game to watch Bogi. They came for the Philadelphia 76ers duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They came for the rim-rattling dunks of the Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. or the Utah Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell or Boston Celtics second-year wing Jaylen Brown. They came for local favorites Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Fans got all of that in a game that symbolized how the NBA has become faster, more athletic and more versatile. But they got a surprise, too, symbolic of the league's evolution toward the three-pointer: An off-the-radar Serbian who got hot early and stayed hot, making seven of 13 three-point shots -- including one that came from Stephen Curry range -- for 26 points.

"I approach every single game the same way, try to compete, to be the best version of myself that day," a smiling Bogdanovic said after the game. "It just happened tonight. I just kept shooting, and it felt good."

One of the highlights from Bogdanovic was jacking up shots alongside his Kings teammate, Buddy Hield, who put up 29 points (on a game-high 14 three-point attempts).

"We represented Sacramento well," Hield said. "Bogi likes the big stage. We both embrace it.

And another highlight was Bogdanovic doing battle against an American player who frequently guards him in practice, Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox.

"I told him I would score on him," Bogdanovic said. "I should have bet as well. But we didn't bet, so I didn't get some extra money."

What he did get was better than some extra money. It was a moment where a young and unheralded player from a young and unheralded franchise got to step into the center of the league's spotlight for the first time. And you can't put a price on that.

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