No, there aren't any Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parkers or Julius Randles in this year's McDonald's All-American Game, but that doesn't mean there aren't a handful of exciting prospects to scout at the annual event.
This year's game doesn't have the exciting wings of years past, perhaps, but the boys banging down on the block are as talented as you generally see entering the college game. Let's break down some of this year's most intriguing prospects.
The power forward from Chicago and the top star on the West team, Jahlil Okafor combines ideal size for the position (6'10" and 245 pounds) with incredibly nimble footwork, which makes him a tantalizing product. You can practically hear the Duke fans giggling in anticipation of this guy joining the Blue Devils next season.
And, heck, had he been a Blue Devil this year, they might still be dancing.
Okafor is the top prospect in the country, so watching him work against other top players down on the block will be truly intriguing. He'll likely spend much of the game locking horns against Cliff Alexander (more on him below), a fellow Chicagoan who played on the same AAU team as Okafor.
Alexander's Curie beat Okafor's Whitney High in the Chicago Public League championship in late February, remember. Okafor might be on the prowl for a bit of revenge in this one.
Alexander is arguably the top prospect on the East team. In practice sessions, though, he was struggling a bit against players with superior length, as Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi told CSN Chicago:
Cliff is a power player and in practice he's going against some guys with tremendous length in Myles Turner and Karl Towns, so he's had to adjust a little bit and struggled a little bit. He has to work on his 6-to-12 foot game so that people don't crowd him on defense. But he rebounded very well and made a couple power plays at the rim and played with energy.
Where Okafor impresses with his special footwork, Alexander is an explosive, energetic player who relies more on his athleticism. Alexander is more likely to use his strength and leaping ability to snare a rebound and put home a bucket than he is to pull off a polished post move.
But Alexander won't be outworked, and he'll likely throw down a few big finishes in this contest. Even if he isn't a guy you are watching for, he's a guy who will force you to watch given the way he plays.
Tyus Jones and Emmanuel Mudiay
The battle between these two point guards (Tyus Jones for the East, Emmanuel Mudiay for the West) should be one of the most intriguing battles in this game. Both are excellent players, but the contrasting styles that they play will make this an exciting competition.
Eldon Khorshidi of Slam Online breaks it down:
Two players who can dominate a game, but do so with contrasting skill sets. Jones, a 6'1" point guard committed to Duke, is best in the country at running his team. Poised handling the ball under pressure, dictates tempo, and can thread the needle from anywhere on the court. He’ll get the offense into its sets and then execute with perfection. On the other hand, Mudiay is 6'5" with NBA-level handle and shot making ability. He’s more of a freestyle player who uses his natural scoring instincts to create. Mudiay got the better of Jones at the Elite 24 game this past summer; it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out this time around.
This feels like a positional battle that could see Jones score a decent number of points but impress with a slew of assists and clever passes, while Mudiay could easily finish as the game's leading scorer. Mudiay's height advantage will also mean he should be able to get his shot off over Jones, though Jones may look to counteract that by making Mudiay really work on the defensive end.
Karl Towns is intriguing because, well, guys who stand 7'0" or taller are always intriguing. But while the Kentucky signee is sure to be a handful for the West team on the glass and in the post, he's also a surprisingly adept passer of the rock, always a quality you love to see in a big man.
One thing is for certain—Alexander will likely enjoy playing with, and not against, Towns in the actual game. It will be Okafor that will have a new challenge on his hands.