ORLANDO - Even before he became the last player invited to the field, Heat rookie point guard Norris Cole believed he belonged among the NBA's top young players.
Once he entered Friday's game, it certainly didn't take Cole long to prove his point - or to score them in bunches. Cole knocked down the first shot he took - a 3-pointer - and finished with 18 points off the bench in Friday's Rising Stars showcase game at Amway Arena to kick off All-Star weekend.
Cole's path to the game wasn't easy. He was initially overlooked when the NBA released a list of rookies and second-year players who were to be placed on teams specially selected by TNT analysts Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. Cole actually owed his invitation to Jeremy Lin's emergence in recent weeks. Once the NBA decided Lin's breakout play for the New York Knicks earned him a spot in the game, Cole was added to ensure the teams would have an equal number of players.
But how Cole got to Orlando didn't matter nearly as much as what he accomplished when he arrived. Playing with the same aggressive, attacking style that garnered him a spot in the Heat's primary rotation, Cole attempted a team-high 15 shots. He was 7 of 15 from the field, including 4 of 11 from 3-point range. He also had four steals and six assists.
Cole was the leading scorer among guards on his team, which included Lin, Minnesota's Ricky Rubio, Detroit's Brandon Knight, Charlotte's Kemba Walker and New York's Landry Fields. Among all guards, Cole's production only trailed game MVP Kyrie Irving, who made 12 of 13 shots and finished with 34 points and nine assists.
"Once you enter the NBA, there's no boys allowed," Cole said. "You have to have that mindset that you belong out there. That's how I am. I feel like I belong. I looked like I belong."
Cole entered All-Star weekend averaging 8.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 34 games for the Heat, who hit the break with the league's best record at 27-7. He said Friday's performance gave him even more momentum heading into the season's stretch run.
"What I like about Norris is he's got a tremendous spirit," said Chicago Bulls assistant Ron Adams, who coached Cole's team Friday. "That's what impressed me about him. I think he's got a big heart. He just has a nice balanced game. I like that about him."