Khris Middleton isn’t one for signature moments. He just goes out and competes.
But when the Charleston native dropped 32 points on the Boston Celtics last year in an NBA playoff game, Middleton's former high school coach knew he had arrived as one of the top shooting guards in the league.
“The way he played that entire series was really a coming out party for Khris,” said John Pearson, who coached Middleton at Porter-Gaud.
The two have a bond that spans more than a decade.
That’s why when Middleton, who is in his sixth season with the Milwaukee Bucks, was named an NBA All-Star for the first time this season, Pearson was one of the first people he called.
And when Middleton steps on the basketball court Sunday at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, Pearson will be in the stands cheering for his former star.
“He deserves all of the praise and recognition he’s received,” Pearson said. “I really think he should have been an All-Star last season.”
Middleton is continuing his dominance after last year’s breakout season when he averaged 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game.
This season, teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo is the one getting MVP consideration, but Middleton has also played at an elite level, scoring 17 points per game while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range for the Bucks, who currently own the best record in the NBA.
“We’ve started from the bottom and worked our way up,” Middleton told ESPN on Thursday. “We’re building something special.”
Middleton will also be competing in the 3-point contest on Saturday, alongside big names like Steph Curry, Dirk Nowitzki and Damian Lillard.
He competed in the contest three years ago, but didn’t get past the first round. That should change this time around, said Travis Smith, Middleton’s childhood friend and former teammate at Porter-Gaud.
Smith will be sitting beside Pearson for the All-Star festivities and can’t wait to see his good friend in action.
“He’s a fierce competitor so I know he wants to show everyone what he’s capable of on this stage,” Smith said.
Middleton’s steady rise in the NBA is a reflection of his high school and AAU days, Smith added.
He remembers the summer ahead of their junior year in high school. Pearson switched up the system by having Smith bring the ball up court and running the offense through Middleton.
Long story short, it worked.
“He just exploded,” Smith remembers about his friend. “He’s always been a great shooter. But after the change it was a whole new Khris.”
Those final two years at Porter-Gaud earned him a scholarship to Texas A&M, where he played three seasons before the Detroit Pistons drafted him in the second round of the 2012 draft.
He was traded to Milwaukee in 2013 and has been building his stock ever since.
It’s been impressive, but also frustrating, said Smith.
“It’s like everywhere he goes, people are reluctant to give him a chance. And when they finally do, they realize what they had the whole time.”
But those feelings will be water under the bridge on Sunday when Middleton steps on the court for his first NBA All-Star Game.
Smith is certain it won’t be his last.
NBA All-Star Weekend
Skills challenge, 3-Point contest, Slam Dunk competition, 8 p.m. (TNT)
68th NBA All-Star Game, 8 p.m. (TNT)