by Russ Bengtson

I’m gonna be honest. I’m no fan of the annual rookie-sophomore game. Sure, it’s fun to see the guys you wouldn’t ordinarily get to see (not many Memphis and Milwaukee games on national TV), and it’s normally a high-scoring affair with lots of dunks and fast breaks.

But it also encapsulates everything that’s wrong with American basketball. Still. Understanding that it’s more or less an exhibition game, there’s still no defense, bad passes by the pound, and virtually no shots that aren’t either a three or a dunk. There’s little chance that a rookie-sophomore game will ever be used as a coaching tool, unless it’s to say “don’t play like this.”

That said, when 9 p.m. rolled around, I was tuned into TNT like everyone else. Some observations:

PREGAME

Ernie, Chuck and the Jet are at mid-court, addressing both the TV audience and the people in the arena. Ernie doesn’t seem to understand that the microphone is amplifying his voice—stop shouting, please.

Al Horford handles the rookie intros like a pro, right down to Spanish inflections for Juan Carlos Navarro (he rolls the hell out of the R’s) and nicknames when necessary. Good that he has something to fall back on just in case the whole basketball thing doesn’t work out. He’s one of the guys I really want to see play, because I’m not interested in watching a Hawks game on purpose. Sorry, Lang.

Rudy Gay introduces the sophomores acceptably, but with far less flair—although he pretends to not know Jordan Farmar’s name, which is kind of funny. Farmar winks at him. Rudy better be more creative in the dunk contest.

I told someone yesterday that I wanted to play a drinking game during this game—doing a shot when someone either makes a smart defensive play or a conservative pass. Could start that one with an empty bottle.

FIRST HALF

Two 20-minute halves for this game. Not sure why they don’t make it a regular 48-minute game with quarters like any other NBA game. It’s not like it’s an event-filled night (other than parties and such).

Whoa, Ernie, Chuck and Jet are actually calling the game. Good deal. Charles is lauding sophomores Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay, and Kenny likes Juan Carlos Navarro, who’s one of three rookies over the age of 27. The others are Jamario Moon and Luis Scola. I wonder how many All-Stars are UNDER the age of 27, but not enough to actually look it up. Off the top of my head, Dwight, Bron, Melo, CP3, Dwyane.

Either Craig Sager is dressed really subdued (which is weird for him, especially in New Orleans) or they invented some kind of new filter to shoot him with.

Kevin Durant is apparently wearing his new signature shoe, but I can’t see it behind this awful yellow glare. Oh, those ARE his shoes. Nevermind. (A check of Yahoo! Photos later reveals that LaMarcus Aldridge is wearing the same shoes in red. Odd.)

The first two baskets are dunks from the sophomores. Of course.

The stands are filled with pink-clad kids, who haven’t stopped shrieking three minutes in. Enthusiasm is great, but man. Then again, it’s better than having the seats filled with random corporate sponsors and whatnot. (The pink jerseys they’re all wearing are courtesy of T-Mobile.)

Durant is in control for the rookies, at least on the scoring side of things. Although Al Horford is making his presence known on the boards and is Chuck’s pick for ROY. Mine too, actually. He’s nearly averaging a double-double for a team that’s still in the playoff chase (even if it’s in the East). Durant, meanwhile, is putting up great scoring numbers on lousy shooting for a team that’s headed right back to the lottery. KD might be great someday, but Horford is a difference maker already.

Durant with a great lookaway to Horford for the open dunk—rookies up 1 with 12:50 to go.

Well, that doesn’t last long. Rudy Gay for three.

Sager sits down between KG and LeBron. KG is in his usual sweater over shirt and tie and huge diamond earrings, Bron is wearing an ugly leather jacket that looks like something from Chess King and has lines shaved into his head. He looks like he should be in a Naughty By Nature video.

Horford, NASTY follow dunk of a Durant miss. Charles is talking about him incessantly, and I can’t blame him.

Lots of jumpers are going off the back rim. To me, that’s a sign that guys might be a little overexcited.

Apparently Paul Millsap hasn’t missed a game since junior high.

Sean Williams coast-to-coast!

Deron Williams and Chris Paul are sitting next to each other in All-Star row. Gotta wonder whether Paul is needling Williams for not making the ASG—probably not. Paul’s too nice a guy for that.

I’d prefer to not discuss Rajon Rondo’s shoes.

Sean Williams goes coast-to-coast again, and finishes with the oop to himself off the backboard. First time that’s happened in the rookie game, I think. Somewhere Jamal Crawford and Tracy McGrady are smiling.

Boobie Gibson drops a long trey and follows it with another one. Bron is on his feet.

Williams with a follow, and Boobie with ANOTHER three. Bron is still up, pacing the baseline like an expectant father. By the way, Boobie’s my choice to win the three-point shootout.

Boobie for three, AGAIN. He’s got a star shaved into his head, which seems entirely appropriate. More appropriate than Lamar Odom’s anyway. And finally a miss.

Farmar to Roy, who tries to bang it on Sean Williams. Mercy. Sean is down for a little bit, gets up with a “thank God that didn’t happen” smile on his face. Roy to the line after a time out.

Live performance by ‘Jordin Sparks’ at the half? Not only do I not know who that is, but I don’t even know whether it’s a guy or a girl. I have no plans to find out.

Farmar buries a ridiculous fallaway that’s more like a 10-foot jumpback.

Boobie misses another three, Millsap cleans up the mess.

“Yi, that man can get it done. It would be a great name to have to sign autographs.”—CB (The first part of that is more of a paraphrase, my short-term memory is failing me.)

Another Boobie three, another Durant bucket

Boobie’s now tied Kyle Korver’s rookie game three-point record—with a minute to go in the half. He’s got seven.

“You’ve got a mouse in the house, take him, don’t shoot that jumper!”—CB, seeing Durant guarded on the perimeter by Boobie. Durant shoots the jumper. And misses.

The sophs are up 14 at the half.

Sages interviewing Boobie, and before he can say anything, LeBron breaks in and starts going off about how it’s DG’s time and this is only the beginning and whatnot—and then he lets Boobie actually HAVE his time.

SECOND HALF

Missed the start of the second half. But apparently Charles wants guys to have to stay in college at least TWO years? Because it would help the League AND college? Come on, Charles! Tell LeBron that. Or Dwight Howard. Look, I think there are plenty of straight-outta-high-school guys that could have benefited from a year or two of college—cough, Eddy Curry. But is it fair to make them go if they don’t want to? I say no.

Chris Paul caught on camera with the FAT stack to pay for food service. Looks like he could afford to buy po’ boys for the whole damn arena. And it seems that pretty much all the All-Stars are in the building, which is cool.

Bosh and his girl (who earlier in the season heckled Bron into killing the Raptors) are sitting next to Bron and Melo, who’s wearing what appears to be a lipstick red hooded leather jacket. No accounting for taste.

Boobie hits his eighth three (breaking the record), and welll, it looks like the MVP race is over. Also, maybe he can stop shooting threes now and let some other people get on the board.

Time passes. Make that eleven threes. Sheesh.

Karl Malone in the house. And Boobie misses a 30-footer. Gunning! By the end of the night he’s 11-20 from three (he didn’t take a single two) for 33 points in just over 21 minutes. And yes, he gets MVP. For taking a three a minute. High school coaches everywhere just buried their heads in their hands. Farmar had 17 points and 12 assists, Horford had 19 points (on 8-10 shooting) and 7 boards.

There’s some talk amongst the TNT crew about Bill Russell being from Louisiana, and how it was his 74th birthday earlier this week. This leads into how he was Kenny’s coach on the Kings. “He drafted me into the League, taught me a lot about life,” Jet says. Barkley needles him about getting Russell fired. “No,” Kenny finally says, “Reggie Theus did that.” Ouch! Hope TNT does a Sacramento game soon!

Final score, sophs 136, rookies 109. For complete stats, check here.

UPDATE: Posted a little something on the rookie/soph kicks over on the KING site.