Goaltend aside, Utah Jazz’s Walker Kessler thrilled with Rising Stars experience

Rookie center registers a couple blocked shots, and is handed a controversial goaltend, but nevertheless reveled in getting to take part in All-Star Weekend.

Walker Kessler was the penultimate player picked in the Rising Stars tournament draft.

But when it came time for the action between the teams of rookies, sophomores and G Leaguers to get underway Friday night at Vivint Arena, he got a huge ovation from the Salt Lake City crowd, he got to be in Team Deron’s starting lineup, and — as is the case in the regular-season games he plays — he quickly racked up a few blocked shots.

He got two. Arguably should have had three, but the final one was deemed a goaltend, much to his apoplectic chagrin.

“I got a goaltend! Who calls a goaltend in an All-Star Game?!” he asked rhetorically, postgame. “And we should have challenged it! Or something. I didn’t think it was a goaltend.”

The 21-year-old rookie who’s already exceeded all expectations had modest production in the fast-paced opening mismatch — two points, two blocks, one rebound, one assist, and one foul as Team Deron was routed 40-25 by Team Pau.

Kessler would have liked to win, but settled for being thrilled at getting to play a small part in All-Star Weekend.

“It’s cool to hear your name called and the Salt Lake City crowd cheer. I couldn’t ask for a better fanbase — super, super thankful it’s here. Funny how something works like that. I’m getting a little choked up,” Kessler said. “… Hearing your name called and a whole crowd of people cheering for you … It’s important for us to keep perspective; that’s really cool, and [it’s important] to be really thankful for that and to understand that we have a big stage and a platform and with a lot of responsibility.”

Meanwhile, he kept his usual goofy sense of humor about it all.

He jokingly lamented coach Deron Williams not running any plays for him: “Listen, I was a little upset about that. There were definitely some water bottles thrown.” He chastised himself for missing a 3-point attempt, noting that Jazz head coach Will Hardy would surely bring that up in a coming film session. He facetiously critiqued his team’s inability to get into any semblance of a set defense, faux-worried that “Coach is gonna cuss us out!”

He expressed gratitude that his mom, dad, brother, and a couple buddies all got to come watch him play, before pointing out that they’d be “ruthless” in their critique of his performance.

“My family’s extremely competitive. They’ll be like, ‘Hey congratulations — now come get this work in ping-pong!’” he said, laughing.

Asked how he expected Saturday’s Skills Challenge to go alongside Jazz teammates Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton, he quickly replied, deadpan, “Hopefully better than this! I think we’ve got a real shot of winning it … then again, I said that about this game.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Team Deron's Walker Kessler (24) reacts to losingin the Jordan Rising Stars event as part of NBA All-Star Weekend, in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.

Mostly, though, he just couldn’t stop thinking about that goaltending call and the lack of a challenge.

“Man! I wanted to. I kept saying we should challenge that,” Kessler said. “If they reversed the call, the stadium would have went craaaaazy!”

In the second opening-round game, Joakim Noah’s team held on against a sparky challenge from the G Leaguers coached by Jazz assistant Jason Terry, prevailing 40-32.

In the championship matchup, the Pelicans’ Jose Alvarado buried the game-winning 3-pointer to give Team Pau a 25-20 win over Team Joakim. Avrado, who also scored 13 points in the opening game, won tournament MVP honors.

After being awarded the trophy, Alvrado shouted out former Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, saying there had been a promise made if he prevailed: “D-Mitch owes me dinner!”