McDonald’s All-American Game shows its East Coast bias

By: 02.11.11

Tony Wroten (photo. Rosie Dienhart)

Maybe I’d been spoiled over the last few years and become too familiar with seeing my hometown represented at the McDonald’s High School All-American Game.

Since 2003, when Aaron Brooks ended a drought of nearly 20 years as the Seattle area’s first McDonald’s selection since Quin Snyder (1985), we’ve been cranking out certified All-Americans pretty consistently — namely Marvin Williams, Martell Webster, Jon Brockman, Micah Downs, Spencer Hawes, Abdul Gaddy, Peyton Siva and Josh Smith.

So going into yesterday’s 2011 McDonald’s roster announcement, I guess I just assumed Tony Wroten (Garfield H.S., Seattle) would be the next name added the list. I’d penned a Dime Magazine profile on Wroten the summer of his 8th-grade year, when he was considered by many to be the best player in the nation for his class. While other stars like Austin Rivers and Michael Gilchrist emerged between then and now, Wroten remained a mostly consensus Top-10 or Top-20 talent in the Class of 2011, even when a knee injury cost him his entire junior season. (Wroten is currently ranked 16th in the nation, regardless of class, by High School Hoop.) So when Wroten was left off this year’s McDonald’s roster, it was the snub heard ’round high school ball.

Politics. That’s the scapegoat in almost every basketball award controversy, NBA All-Star Game snub, or high school All-American selection process. The McDonald’s committee has been accused before of paying more attention to what college a player is committed to than what they did on the high school level — e.g., Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky commits have an automatic advantage — and if you come from where I come from, there is also the omnipresent threat of the dreaded East Coast bias.

This isn’t only about Wroten, either. Just take a look at the McDonald’s All-American rosters and see if you notice a trend.

Only two of the 24 All-Americans picks are based on the West Coast: Kyle Wiltjer from Portland, Ore. (Jesuit H.S.) and Myck Kabongo, who goes to school in Henderson, Nev. (Findlay Prep), but is originally from New Jersey via Canada. Kabongo is signed to Texas, while Wiltjer is taking his talents to Kentucky next year. Meanwhile, there are zero Pac-10 recruits headed to Chicago next month for the McDonald’s game.

Arguably the three biggest snubs are Wroten, Jabari Brown (Oakland, Calif.) and Nick Johnson (Henderson, Nev.), all players based on the West Coast, and all three committed to Pac-10 colleges: Wroten to Washington, Brown to Oregon, and Johnson to Arizona. Other notable snubs with arguable Top-25 credentials include Arizona-bound Josiah Turner (Sacramento, Calif.) and Arizona State-bound Jahii Carson (Mesa, Ariz.).

How much are this year’s rosters lacking in West Coast talent? The “West” team includes Austin Rivers, who is from Florida; Adonis Thomas from Memphis; and Khem Birch, who plays in Massachusetts and is originally from Montreal, Quebec. The rest of the West squad is full of guys from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Texas, alongside the aforementioned Kabongo from Nevada and Wiltjer from Oregon.

(According to the McDonald’s All-American official selection process document, “There is no specific line that determines the East and West breakdown. We take the players for each position and divide them based on relative geographic location. Because there are sometimes more players at one position on one team than others, they are usually exceptions to the rule. Most likely, at least 90 percent of the players will fall in their appropriate region, but McDonald’s also wants to have the best players in the nation represented in the Games.”)

The committee itself is made up of writers, scouts and analysts from around the country. The chairman is Morgan Wootten, retired Hall of Fame coach from DeMatha H.S. in Maryland.

While I don’t doubt the McDonald’s people aim to have the entire country represented in its committee, it’s only natural that things will lean toward the East. Just watch “SportsCenter” a couple times a week and you can tell that the media revolves around New York and Boston. Meaning once again, the West Coast is at a disadvantage.

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