Bulls Rookie Lauri Markkanen participated in both the NBA Rising Star’s Challenge (scored 15 on 7/11 shooting) on Friday night and the Skills Competition (finishing 2nd to Spencer Dinwiddie) on All-Star Saturday night. Panini America, which has been featuring Markkanen on cards all season as one of the league’s more prominent rookies, is selling special edition cards from All-Star weekend and will have one for Lauri. JohnWallStreet had the chance to speak to Lauri on Saturday afternoon and hit several topics including the All-Star he was most excited to meet in Los Angeles.
JWS: You’re from Finland. It would have been an easy decision to play professionally in Europe last year, make a bunch of money and then declare yourself eligible for the NBA draft; but, you chose to play at Arizona for free. Why?
Lauri: I played my whole life in Europe. I had a lot to learn. The game is a little bit different here. At the same time, I was looking at my long-term goal; I wanted to be in the NBA, so I thought college basketball was the right direction to do.
JWS: Arizona was implicated in the FBI recruiting scandal. North Carolina and Utah also heavily recruited you. Did anyone offer you money?
Lauri: I don’t know what schools are involved, but I was fortunate enough to have coaches (see: Sean Miller) that didn’t do it (pay players).
Howie Long-Short: Recent reports indicate that as many as 50 schools could be wrapped in the FBI investigation, including half of the Top 16 teams in the country. I tend to believe Lauri when he says no NCAA program offered him money. He passed up a European pro contract to play college ball and his father was a professional basketball player; he wouldn’t seem like the type of prospect that could be “bought”.
Fan Marino: As a rookie, this weekend may have been your first opportunity to spend time with some of the league’s biggest stars. Which All-Star were you most excited to meet?
Lauri: Growing up, LeBron was my favorite player; so, I was excited to meet him.
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