CHICAGO -- Moe Wagner enjoys having a certain level of anonymity despite being an NBA player, which has made playing for the Wizards a refreshing change from his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In L.A., he says, everyone knows who the Lakers players are. They are the biggest team in town and fans treat them like celebrities in public. In Washington, people leave him alone. Well, for the most part.
"What I always hear is 'how tall are you?' I should wear a t-shirt with '6-11' on it," he said.
In a way, Wagner is used to being overlooked. He remembers committing to play at the University of Michigan with no guarantees for minutes from coach John Beilein. Wagner had to fight for a role in the rotation before becoming a star and later a first-round pick.
"I'm from Berlin, Germany. You don't just go to the NBA. You have to dare a little bit. You have to risk a little bit. Going to college wasn't a safe bet at all. It probably would have been safer to stay at home," he said
"I don't think anyone knew me when I went to college. I barely played my freshman year. That's probably the biggest risk I took, but it paid off big time."
Wagner found himself in a similar situation in the NBA after being drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers. He only averaged 10.4 minutes per game as a rookie.
But after getting traded to Washington last summer, he has found a better opportunity to grow. This year he's averaging 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 59.1 percent from the field.
It's enough to get him in the Rising Stars game, set for Friday night in Chicago, where he hopes to help the World Team show they can hang with the U.S.
"I remember when I first got to college, people would always act like European players or foreign players wouldn't be as good as Americans and that would really bother me. It doesn't bother me anymore because I just know it's false," he said.
Wagner says that has been proven because of the success of stars like Giannis Antetokoumnpo, last year's MVP. Wagner also believes the Canada-based Toronto Raptors was a breakthrough for international basketball.
Friday night is another chance to show how much the sport has been globalized. Wagner will take the court at the United Center with a World Team led by Luka Doncic of the Mavericks and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Thunder. They will face a loaded U.S. Team with Zion Williamson of the Pelicans, Ja Morant of the Grizzlies and Trae Young of the Hawks.
Since the game format was changed from rookies vs. sophomores to the U.S.A. vs. the world, Team World has won three of the five meetings. Wagner can help make it four out of six.
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