The West nipped the East in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game by a score of 105-102, and it showcased the brightest talents from the high school level who will very likely be making an impact at the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Here are the stars of tomorrow who stood out on Wednesday, plus one player at the center of a controversial ending.
Jahlil Okafor, West (Chicago, Ill.), College: Duke
Chicago product Jahlil Okafor is set to join the Duke Blue Devils next year, and they clearly have a top-level talent waiting in the wings. Okafor has the potential to be a No. 1 pick in the NBA draft one day, and his footwork down low has made him the Fred Astaire of high school basketball.
"I give a lot of credit to my footwork" Jahlil Okafor on what makes him a good player. Huge key for big guys!— Austin Shaver (@ShaverHoops) April 3, 2014
The big-bodied center put down 17 points to go with seven rebounds as he powered the West to victory. Okafor was set to battle against Kansas commit Cliff Alexander, but Alexander was limited with a wrist injury. Instead, Okafor squared off with Texan Myles Turner, who has yet to commit to a college, for stretches of the game.
As observed by Chris Johnson of SI.com, "Okafor showcased his polished post skills and strength—when the 7-foot, 270-pound center posts up, he’s tough to move off his spot...Okafor also had a big, go-ahead dunk with less than 40 seconds to play that put the West up 103-102."
If Duke freshman Jabari Parker decides to stay in school and skip this year's draft, the Blue Devils would have a terrifying lineup once Okafor is added to the mix.
Justin Jackson, East (Tomball, Texas), College: North Carolina
Justin Jackson, a 6'7" small forward, shared co-MVP honors with the ballyhooed Okafor. Not only did Jackson lead all scorers with 23 points, he missed only one of his 12 field-goal attempts in the process.
As good as Okafor was, Jackson played even better and made people take notice with his nearly flawless play in the losing effort. As Johnson put it:
(Jackson) is an instinctual player who repeatedly put himself in prime position to convert from close range and finish putbacks. While not as athletic as some of the other prospects on display, the savvy Jackson distinguished himself by flashing strong fundamentals and a good overall understanding of the game. At one point in the second half, he scored nine consecutive baskets.
Jackson profiles as a versatile player on the wing with the shot to worry defenses, the size to impact the glass and the quickness to run the fast break. As a future Tar Heel, he will see plenty of Okafor when UNC plays Duke.
James Blackmon Jr., East (Marion, Ind.), College: Indiana
Though this was merely a game to display the talents of young men on the cusp of college, the West's win came with a slight bit of controversy, and James Blackmon Jr. was at the center of it.
Blackmon had a chance to tie the game in the waning moments, but he misfired on a three-pointer. However, he may have been fouled on the play and not gotten the call, much to the chagrin of his East teammates and the entire state of Indiana.
As Blackmon told reporters after game, per Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star: "I'm definitely saying I got fouled. That's what everyone in the locker room was talking about. So, I think I did."
This will serve as excellent preparation for him in pleading with NBA refs that he was fouled when no call is made.
Emmanuel Mudiay, West (Dallas, Texas), College: SMU
Emmanuel Mudiay is a 6'5" point guard with relentless aggression on court. He's comparable to Russell Westbrook in that he's an atypical point. Though capable of running the offense, Mudiay is much more comfortable attacking the rim and creating his own opportunities off the dribble and off of screens.
According to ESPN's scouting report (subscription required), Mudiay excels off ball screens with his savvy cuts, aided by "natural poise, floor vision, burst to the rim, and ability to thread the needle with the pocket pass." He can " finish with either hand" and has a "sweet mid range game," plus strong ball-handling and "excellent court vision."
Mudiay ended the game with 15 points and six assists, but he will be a player to watch next year as possibly the best freshman point guard. That should help get SMU back into the NCAA tournament.
This combo guard came up short of the co-MVP, but he is poised to excel at the next level. Similar to Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, Mudiay has the ability to position himself within the first 10 picks of the 2015 NBA draft.