Three former Georgia high school basketball stars will partcipate in 2024 NBA Panini Rising Stars Challenge

Georgia-natives, Jabari Smith Jr., Walker Kessler and Scoot Henderson will all be featured in the 2024 Panini Rising Stars Game on Friday as they will kick off this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend.

Smith attended Sandy Creek High School where he was ranked as a top-10 recruit in his class and a 5-star by major recruiting outlets. He was named Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year for averaging around 25 points, 10 rebounds and close to three blocks a game and led Sandy Creek to a runner-up state championship season in 2020-2021. After committing to play basketball at Auburn, Smith became just the fourth McDonald’s All-American to suit up for the Tigers.

In his lone season at Auburn, Smith was the first Tiger to be named SEC Freshman of the Year and the first Auburn basketball player since 1999 to be named an All-American. At Auburn, Smith and former Woodward Eagle, Walker Kessler teamed up in the plains to create a scary frontcourt for the rest of the SEC. He helped lead Auburn to a no. 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament where they lost in the second round to Miami (FL). Smith declared for the 2022 NBA Draft after his freshman season and was drafted third overall by the Houston Rockets and is a big piece of the youth movement in Houston.

Kessler, an Atlanta-native, attended Woodward Academy for high school and made a name for himself on the basketball court. Listed at 7 ’1, 245 pounds, Kessler was a force to be reckoned with as he was the No. 1 player in the state of Georgia in his recruiting cycle. Kessler helped lead Woodward to their first state championship in their schools history, averaging close to 18 points, 10 rebounds and over five blocks per game. In total, Kessler scored over 2,000 points, 1,100 rebounds and 500 blocks in his career as an Eagle. He was named Gatorade Player of the Year and “Georgia’s Mr. Basketball” by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club.

After accumulating offers from all over the country, Kessler committed to the University of North Carolina where he played for one season before transferring to Auburn. In his lone season as a Tiger, Kessler won SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the first time an Auburn Tiger took home the award. Not only for the SEC, but he won Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year— also a first in the Auburn basketball program. Named as the best defensive player in the country, Kessler totaled 155 blocks and 37 steals in his only season at Auburn.

Kessler left the college ranks after two seasons, declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft where he was selected with the 22nd pick the first round to the Minnesota Timberwolves but was traded shortly after to the Utah Jazz where he has been for the past two seasons. This season he is averaging over nine points, eight rebounds and close to three blocks a game when in the starting role for Utah.

As a former Kell High School-product, Henderson took a different route to professional basketball than most of the top-talent in the country. Henderson played in only three seasons of high school basketball at Kell and was ranked as a 5-star as a junior in the 2021 recruiting cycle, averaging over 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game. He led Kell to the state championship where they ultimately lost in his last season. Henderson decided to forgo his senior year of high school and college and turned to professional basketball early where he signed with the G-League Ignite. At the time of his signing, Henderson became the youngest professional basketball player in history.

Henderson spent two seasons in the G-League before declaring for the draft where he was picked third overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Now entering his first season as an NBA player, Henderson has played in multiple Rising Stars Challenges due to his time in the G-League. He now is the face of the Trail Blazers after Portland dealt longtime Trail-Blazer, Damian Lillard, to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Smith, Kessler and Henderson will all be participating in the 2024 Panini Rising Stars game this Friday at 9 p.m. on TNT.


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