Not only is the 2014 McDonald's All-American Game going to be loaded with ultra-talented players, it will feature intriguing guys with the potential to shape the college and pro games with their skill sets.
You want 18-year-old monsters in the post? They'll be showcased in Chicago. How about a trained point guard grown into a 6'11" body? The game has one of those, too. Throw in some rangy guards with terrifying athleticism, a ridiculous amount of depth and one truly gripping storyline, and this becomes appointment viewing for basketball junkies.
We expect every year that the All-American Game will feature the stars of tomorrow, but it will be a rare treat for them to be so compelling as high schoolers.
Where: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
When: Wednesday, April 2 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
|Karl Towns Jr.||PF||96||Kentucky|
|Justin Jackson||SF||96||North Carolina|
|Isaiah Whitehead||SG||95||Seton Hall|
|D'Angelo Russell||SG||95||Ohio State|
|Theo Pinson||SF||96||North Carolina|
|James Blackmon Jr.||SG||92||Indiana|
|Joel Berry||PG||94||North Carolina|
Stars to Watch
The crown jewel of this recruiting class—he's headed to Duke in the fall along with friend and fellow All-American Tyus Jones—Jahlil Okafor has a game well beyond his years.
Not only does the 6'10", 265-pound center have the physical makeup to compete with NBA bigs right now, he also has an unusually polished game for a high school senior.
Okafor can do more than just bully defenders on the block; he can harness his athleticism to unleash some crafty post moves. Add the ability to create off the bounce when facing up and some explosive two-way play, and you get one of the most complete 18-year-old big men you'll ever see.
A wrist injury may keep him out of the All-American Game, per Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star, but if Cliff Alexander suits up, his presence will be felt:
KU signee Cliff Alexander hurt his wrist last night. Not serious, but getting X-ray's today. Still hopeful he plays in McDonalds Game on Wed— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) April 1, 2014
At 6'9", 240 pounds, the future Kansas Jayhawk has the strength to compete with the other bigs in this class, but he's an inch or more shorter than the rest. What he lacks in height he'll make up for in leaping ability, though, as Alexander is still a shot-blocking force.
He also has loads of energy, which, combined with his physical gifts, makes him a nightmare to compete against. Alexander will go after opponents with unrelenting runs at the rim, and he fills the lane with his active feet and eagerness to compete on defense.
To call Myles Turner a difficult matchup would be an understatement.
He could still add some more muscle, but at 7'0", 240 pounds, it's hardly a problem now. Nevertheless, Turner doesn't have to resort to using brute force on the inside. He's a terror on the fast break, routinely outrunning opposing bigs, and he has accuracy out beyond the three-point line.
Turner will test his opponents' endurance playing outside their comfort zone, since no one else shares his varied skills. And since he hasn't committed to a school yet, he'll continue to make college scouts drool.
Point guards who bring extra height and length without sacrificing speed or quickness are worth their weight in gold.
Emmanuel Mudiay is exactly that type of player. His 6'5" frame allows him to tower over nearly any foe at his position and see passing angles others couldn't, and he can switch to cover shooting guards easily if need be.
The SMU Mustang to-be is an absolute pest as a perimeter defender, using his long arms and impressive footwork to stick with guys smaller than him. Some great high schooler is going to get really frustrated facing Mudiay on Wednesday.
Karl Towns Jr.
On top of all those talents, there's a 6'11", 235-pound center who still retains a point guard's skills. Our cup runneth over at the 2014 All-American Game with Karl Towns Jr.
It's too bad he and Turner are on the same team; Turner is probably best equipped to handle Towns' agility and ball-handling. But watching any big try to contain this Kentucky commit and his unconventional game will be exhilarating.
The progress of #Kentucky signee Karl Towns since last summer is striking. He's really improved physically; back to basket game also better.— Josh Gershon (@JoshGershon) April 1, 2014
Towns recently spoke on the honor of participating in the event, courtesy of CSNChicago.com:
"It means I've been able to accomplish a childhood dream. Not many people in their lifetime can say they were a McDonald's All-American. I'm glad that in my life I can say that I was."
A person his size shouldn't be able to do what he does on the court. Now that he's bulking up and getting used to playing in the post, Towns looks like he'll be confounding opponents for years.
The roster division did give fans one gift: Okafor and Alexander wound up on opposing teams.
They're both Chicago kids, both attending public high schools that met in the 2014 Chicago Public League title game. Alexander's top-ranked Curie High School took down Okafor's Whitney Young, ranked second, but it took four overtimes for Alexander and company to gut out the 69-66 win.
If Alexander is able to play, watching them go at it again will be a true pleasure. Either way, Okafor will still have to contend with Turner and Towns, and adding Alexander on top of that will give the top prospect a chance for a take-on-all-comers kind of performance.
Okafor will also have an advantage of his own. He's got lockdown perimeter defenders in Mudiay and Stanley Johnson. If they can frustrate Tyus Jones and the East wings, it will reduce the pressure on the West defense and allow others to help Okafor inside.
Ultimately, the East's deeper corps of bigs will likely be more than Okafor and future Kentucky forward Trey Lyles can handle, but this isn't about which team wins or loses. This is about the nation's best high schoolers putting on a show, and there's no doubt that will happen.