Tobacco Road Rising: Duke, UNC Recruits Own 2014 McDonald's All-American Game

Joe MenzerFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

Jahlil Okafor (left) was named co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game.
Jahlil Okafor (left) was named co-MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When it comes to college basketball, it seems more often than not that the rich get richer and the rivalries only get better.

That appears to be the case with Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Duke and North Carolina after Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game that featured four Duke recruits and three from UNC.

The group included co-MVPs Jahlil Okafor, who is headed to play for the Blue Devils, and Justin Jackson, who is Chapel Hill-bound. The only other school with as many recruits participating in Wednesday's game was Kentucky, also with four.

After a 2014 NCAA tournament that didn't go according to plan for either of the perennial ACC powers, the latest McDonald's contest had to have fans from both schools salivating at the thought of what lies ahead in 2014-15.

The annual McDonald's contest pits the 24 finest high school players in America against one another— and it's often filled with recruits who end up at Duke and UNC. Played at the United Center in Chicago, this year's 37th installment of the contest was no different.

Okafor scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the West to a 105-102 victory over the West. At 7'0", 270 pounds, he could be the best big man to commit to Duke since Elton Brand.

Jackson, meanwhile, is a 6'8" small forward who repeatedly cleaned up garbage around the basket and also showed a nice touch on his mid-range jump shot, hitting 11 of his first 12 shots en route to a game-high 23 points.

One of his three misses, fittingly enough, came when Okafor forced Jackson to alter his shot and miss on a late drive to the basket that could have given the East a one-point lead with about 30 seconds left.

Regardless, there was more for Tar Heel fans to get excited about.

Theo Pinson, who also has committed to UNC, arguably threw down the best dunk of the game, displaying the kind of explosive athleticism that could help the Tar Heels tremendously following their loss to Iowa State in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

In fact, in Pinson and Jackson, the Tar Heels appear to have a pair of small forwards who should be able to help with rebounding and finishing in traffic around the basket. Jackson also has displayed an ability to shoot the basketball from almost anywhere, although, like many young players, he can be inconsistent with his outside shot, and that's an area where North Carolina is looking for more consistency.

Also playing in Wednesday's game was 6'0" point guard Joel Berry, yet another UNC recruit.

Could Okafor persuade Jabari Parker to return to Duke?
Could Okafor persuade Jabari Parker to return to Duke?Gerry Broome

Considering the Tar Heels are expecting the return of five of their top seven scorers overall, including top scorer Marcus Paige (17.5 points per game), coach Roy Williams has plenty to be excited about—and the expectations of UNC fans will be sky-high along with that.

Then there is Duke. Okafor was just one of four players in the McDonald's game who will be arriving at the Durham, N.C., campus very soon. In winning the Morgan Wooten National Player of the Year award, Okafor followed in the footsteps of Jabari Parker, who won the award last year before going on to star for the Blue Devils in 2013-14 as a freshman.

Parker remains noncommittal about whether he will return to Duke for his sophomore year next season or join current Duke sophomore Rodney Hood in committing to the NBA draft (Hood has not yet made it official, either, but this tweet from Adam Zagoria of suggests he's headed to the NBA). 

Parker is from Chicago, same as Okafor, and they're friends—so that could impact Parker's decision on whether to stay at Duke for another season or go pro.

Justin Jackson (left) and Jahlil Okafor shared MVP honors in the 37th annual McDonald's All-American Game.
Justin Jackson (left) and Jahlil Okafor shared MVP honors in the 37th annual McDonald's All-American Game.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Okafor told The Associated Press prior to Wednesday's game that he talks often with Parker but has no idea what he'll do. "I've been in contact with him, but I haven't asked him to stay or leave. It's whatever he wants to do," Okafor told the AP (via the Asheville Citizen-Times).

Other Duke recruits who made appearances in the McDonald's classic included point guard Tyus Jones, shooting guard Justise Winslow and 6'4" shooting guard Grayson Allen, who surprised everyone when he jumped over Okafor to win the McDonald's slam-dunk contest on Tuesday night.

"That was our objective, to showcase the four recruits going to Duke," Okafor told the AP. "Our Twitters were going crazy."

Truth is, these guys won't really grasp what crazy is until the first time they participate in a Duke-North Carolina rivalry game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham or at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

Collectively, they should help make those games even more epic next season.


This article was updated from its original version after UNC announced James Michael McAdoo is entering the NBA draft, as reported by's Andy Katz.