The McDonald's All-American Game is an optimal venue for the premier basketball recruits coming out of high school to battle each other and see how they stack up with the nation's best. Chicago's United Center served as the host for this year's contest on Wednesday evening, and the talent on display was stunning.
A high-scoring, fast-paced game over the course of two 20-minute halves featured the West squad defeat the East by a score of 105-102.
Jahlil Okafor, who is headed to Duke, was named one of the MVPs in leading his side to victory with 17 points and seven rebounds. Michael O'Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out some interesting history when Okafor captured the accolade:
Okafor is the first local player to win the McDonald's MVP award since Eddy Curry in 2001. #McDAAG— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) April 3, 2014
One of the several buckets Okafor had came on this nasty back-to-the-basket move where he exploded to the hoop and showed his quickness for being a 7-footer:
The Blue Devils' official men's basketball Twitter account congratulated Okafor on his achievement, along with the stellar showings from its impressive class of incoming freshmen:
Point guard Tyus Jones will be joining Okafor in Durham, and he spoke of the chemistry the two already have in an interview with DimeMag.com's Ian Flickinger:
We’ve already got somewhat of a great chemistry. Off the court we’re great friends so we have great chemistry, but on the court because we played USA together, playing on two USA teams together has really helped our chemistry and that’s what really made us want to further in into college ball.
Future Duke archrival in North Carolina Tar Heel Justin Jackson was the other MVP of the night, lighting it up for a game-high 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Jackson did work at the rim as well as from the perimeter, sustaining his high level of play throughout the game.
Evan Daniels of Scout.com captured an image of Okafor and Jackson sharing the special moment—something that shouldn't be commonplace in the near future when they're adversaries in the Atlantic Coast Conference:
McDonald's AA game MVPs Justin Jackson & Jahlil Okafor pic.twitter.com/f8FfvX5Pa8— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) April 3, 2014
Here is a look at the complete rosters of marquee performers from this star-studded exhibition in which many top recruits lived up to their gaudy billing:
|Grayson Allen||G||Providence School (Jacksonville, FL)||Duke|
|Joel Berry II||G||Lake Highland Preparatory School (Apopka, FL)||North Carolina|
|Devin Booker||G||Moss Point High School (Moss Point, MS)||Kentucky|
|Stanley Johnson||G||Mater Dei High School (Fullerton, CA)||Arizona|
|Trey Lyles||G/F||Arsenal Technical (Camby, IN)||Kentucky|
|Emmanuel Mudiay||G||Prime Prep Academy (Dallas, TX)||Southern Methodist|
|Jahlil Okafor||C||Whitney Young Magnet High School (Chicago, IL)||Duke|
|Kelly Oubre Jr.||G/F||Findlay College Prep (Richmond, TX)||Kansas|
|Reid Travis||F||DeLaSalle High School (Minneapolis, MN)||Stanford|
|Tyler Ulis||G||Marian Catholic High School (Matteson, IL)||Kentucky|
|Rashad Vaughn||G||Findlay College Prep (Golden Valley, MN)||UNLV|
|Thomas Welsh||C||Loyola High School (Redondo Beach, CA)||UCLA|
|Joel Berry II||G||7||2||4||0||1||0||16|
|Kelly Oubre Jr.||G/F||11||7||1||2||2||0||18|
|Cliff Alexander||F/C||Curie Metro High School (Chicago, IL)||Kansas|
|James Blackmon Jr.||G||Marion High School (Marion, IN)||Indiana|
|Justin Jackson||G/F||Homeschool Christian (Tomball, TX)||North Carolina|
|Tyus Jones||G||Apple Valley High School (Apple Valley, MN)||Duke|
|Kevon Looney||F||Milwaukee Hamilton High School (Milwaukee, WI)||UCLA|
|Theo Pinson||G/F||Wesleyan Christian Academy (Greensboro, NC)||North Carolina|
|D’Angelo Russell||G||Montverde Academy (Louisville, KY)||Ohio State|
|Karl-Anthony Towns||F/C||St. Joseph High School (Piscataway, NJ)||Kentucky|
|Melo Trimble||G||Bishop O’Connell High School (Upper Marlboro, MD)||Maryland|
|Myles Turner||F/C||Trinity High School (Bedford, TX)||Undecided|
|Isaiah Whitehead||G||Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, NY)||Seton Hall|
|Justise Winslow||G||Saint John’s High School (Houston, TX)||Duke|
|James Blackmon Jr.||G||13||2||1||0||0||1||17|
ESPN's Reggie Rankin noted how quiet but effective Jackson was, and the business-like approach seems to be a theme for him:
Justin Jackson is such a quite killer scores in a variety ways smooth and easy scoring machine. @ESPNRNHoops— Reggie Rankin (@ReggieRankin) April 3, 2014
Defense tends to be rather lax in this game, and ball movement and shot selection aren't the greatest, with all the blue-chip prospects eager to strut their stuff. But there was some great guard play at the point and crisp passing throughout, with SMU commit Emmanuel Mudiay standing out in particular.
Mudiay, who finished with 15 points and six assists (h/t the Chicago Tribune's Mike Helfgot), hooked up with teammates frequently on some impressive plays and proved that he could also score with effectiveness from the inside and outside.
The most notable play Mudiay made was throwing down a thunderous dunk toward the end of the first half:
Jeff Rabjohns of Rivals.com outlined the enviable attributes Mudiay possesses, which he will accentuate next season under legendary coach Larry Brown:
Emmanuel Mudiay and SMU will be playing at Indiana next season in a non-conference tournament. He's 6-5, fast, skilled & powerful. #iubb— Jeff Rabjohns (@JeffRabjohns) April 3, 2014
Mudiay also shared his thoughts about potentially playing with Myles Turner, another 7-footer who has stunning versatility and finesse for a young man of his stature, per Omar Majzoub of The Dallas Morning News:
E. Mudiay on Myles Turner: "We'd be a special duo and do big things under Larry Brown. I don't bother him. He knows what we could be." #SMU— Omar Majzoub (@OmarMaz34) April 2, 2014
Turner is the only player from this game who has yet to commit to a school, so he was sure to get plenty of pitches from his prodigious peers in the lead-up to this game. It's respectable that Turner is taking his time with such a monumental decision, but it's not negatively impacting his play on the court, that's for sure.
The big man established himself early by making several eye-popping plays that put Daniels on notice:
Myles Turner playing well early. Hit a three, blocked one of Okafor's shots & had a nice pass that lead to a bucket. Answering bell early.— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) April 3, 2014
Another pending Tar Heel made waves down the stretch in Theo Pinson, who threw down what is widely considered the dunk of the evening with this one-handed, hammering slam:
This laid-back affair didn't offer the most authentic indication of what to expect from all these prospects given the lackluster effort on the defensive end, the lack of chemistry between the players involved and their desire to prove themselves as individuals. As graduating Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith alluded to, it was also not truly indicative of who the top stars will be in college:
If you are unranked, it's ok because now I'm All American and a National Champ. All high schoolers keep your heads up and stay competitive.— Russ Smith (@Russdiculous_2) April 3, 2014
However, the players who did rise to the occasion in Chicago such as local product Okafor and Jackson did show an ability to live up to the hype on national television, which certainly has to give their fanbases hope of what's to come.
As talented as the 2013 class was perceived to be, this incoming crop of recruits should be comparably touted given their depth and level of skill. Duke has an excellent chance of redeeming its disappointing NCAA tourney exit this past year with the number of commits it has from this All-American contest alone.
No matter who decides to stay in college among the game's biggest stars for next season, a good portion of these true freshmen should shine sooner rather than later. It's going to be a while before any of them hit the hardwood in the NCAA, though, so now it's a waiting game.
Declaring an early 2015 national title favorite such as Duke—especially with Jabari Parker possibly returning—is dangerous. The same happened to preseason No. 1 Kentucky this season, yet the Wildcats figured it out and made the Final Four. With the parity in college basketball at the moment and the unpredictability of March Madness, just about anything can happen.
The regular season may not offer nearly as much excitement as the Big Dance, but with the level of play these 2014 recruits flashed on Wednesday, it may be worth watching even for casual fans in 2014-15.