The 2014 McDonalds All-American Game allowed fans an in-depth look at some of the best high school basketball players and top recruits in the nation.
While the West squad defeated the East, 105-102, a handful of players on both sides were able to raise their profiles with incredible performances in this marquee event.
Let's take a look at some of the brightest stars from the McDonald’s All-American Game that appear to have great, if brief, collegiate careers ahead of them.
Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Jahlil Okafor stole the show by pacing the West to victory with 17 points and seven rebounds. The Chicago native earned co-MVP honors for this scintillating performance.
Michael O’Brien of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out that the Duke recruit became the first hometown player to earn that honor since Eddy Curry brought home the MVP hardware back in 2001:
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
The 18-year-old big man utilized his array of low-post moves and fantastic footwork to score most of his points, showing that he possesses a repertoire of skills that are extremely advanced for his age.
Okafor is widely regarded as a 5-star talent and is the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2014, as per 247 Sports, for a reason. If players could still jump straight from high school to the professional level, this kid would be a shoo-in for a top pick.
Eric Bossi of Rivals heard from a number of scouts and NBA personnel that Okafor is the closest to NBA-ready out of all the prospects in attendance at the McDonald’s All-American Game:
Did some polling of a handful of NBA types here and Stanley Johnson and Jahlil Okafor consistently come up as two they see closest to ready— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) April 1, 2014
There isn’t much to knock on Okafor’s game, as he has immense size (6’10”, 265 pounds), huge, soft hands, plus quickness and an incredible motor to complement his scoring ability.
Will Okafor stay at Duke for more than one season?
While there are some places where the Whitney Young High School star could improve, such as on defense and developing a signature move that can get him buckets at will, those are aspects of his game that he will hone under head coach Mike Krzyzewski in just a few months.
It is doubtful that Okafor sticks around for longer than his freshman campaign, but the young star should leave a lasting impact in Durham. He may even guide the Blue Devils back to NCAA tournament success after the team flamed out early in 2014.
Justin Jackson, F, North Carolina
Justin Jackson dominated in a losing effort for the East team, scoring a game-high 23 points, grabbing five rebounds, dishing two assists and blocking a shot. His versatile performance at the United Center earned him a share of the MVP award.
Evan Daniels of Scout.com posted a photo of the pair of future ACC stars sharing the hardware:
McDonald's AA game MVPs Justin Jackson & Jahlil Okafor pic.twitter.com/f8FfvX5Pa8— Evan Daniels (@EvanDaniels) April 3, 2014
While these two stars are friendly, they went at one another hard during the All-Star game and fully plan on embracing the rivalry on Tobacco Road once they arrive on their respective campuses.
Jackson spoke about his relationship with Okafor to The Associated Press (via ESPN) after the game:
"We're all good friends off the court so we all built good relationships off the court. We're looking forward to getting to North Carolina, but once we got on the court, that friendship kind of went out the window."
Efficiency was a big part of why Jackson earned accolades despite having his team fall short, as the Tar Heels recruit connected on an eye-popping 11 of his 14 shot attempts.
The 6’7” swingman played as close to perfect as one could in this type of game and continues to look like the next marquee star to put on a Carolina blue uniform.
Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated had high praise for Jackson’s skills:
[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.
With range out to the three-point line, the ability to create his own shot and get to the rim at will, Jackson will be a real asset for the Tar Heels this coming season. He should be featured in the starting lineup immediately and will likely have UNC competing for the top position in the polls during the 2014-15 campaign.