Let’s be honest for a second here. No matter what your parents told you when you were growing up, everybody knows that there’s always a winner and a loser, right? If winning isn’t everything, then why do we keep score? I think Vince Lombardi said something along those lines. No matter the circumstances, whether it’s a rec-league game, the state championship, or an exhibition game meant to highlight the best young talent the game has to offer, someone’s performance makes them stand out – either for good or bad reasons. While none of the players actually “lost” by playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game, some did suffer bad performances throughout the week. I’m not saying they’re not good, they are. But for arguments sake, someone has to lose.
After spending the week in Chicago covering some of the All-American Games festivities, it’s time to announce the winners and losers of the week:
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1. My Stomach – WINNER
Having been in New York City the week before, my expectations for Chicago were probably a little lower than most peoples would be in my situation. How could this compete with the so-called greatest city in America? But man oh man was I wrong! I’ll save you the tourist recap because I don’t even know where to begin. So let’s talk about the food â€” it’s everywhere. Pizza (hands town the best, and no I am not an expert. I rarely even indulge in it, which should say something about me loving it) that makes you salivate as you walk into the restaurant, and then makes you feel like a terrible person afterwards. You know, the way all good meals should make you feel. Louis C.K. said it best (NSFW).
Seriously though, it was food galore, like the Willy Wonka Factory of food options. My stomach has never been as thankful.
2. President Obama – LOSER
Hold on for a second. I’m not going all Fox News on you here. Let me explain: I traveled relatively far from my hotel midday for lunch, and when I left said restaurant, it would have been nearly time to take the shuttle to the game, so I hitched a cab. Time had suddenly turned against me, and it was way to long to walk back! At which point all hell broke lose as I sat in traffic for an extra hour… paying to hear an Earth, Wind, and Fire concert on the radio (ok, maybe not all was lost in this experience then). Once we got over the bridge, what does my new companion Mr. Taxi man say? “Oh, the President must be here!” Mr. POTUS, you couldn’t helicopter to your destination? Or at least forewarn me? If I’m going to have an oldies R&B listening session, let it be on my own time! I’m all for the basketball-loving President of the USA returning to his city, but not at the expense of my already thin wallet.
3, 4, 5, 6. The Top Four Big Men – WINNER
I was expecting at least one of these four players, Jahlil Okafor, Cliff Alexander, Myles Turner, and Karl-Anthony Towns, to put together a stinker in Chicago. How could they all have a good week playing against each other? Somehow, I came out thinking they had all succeeded. Okafor, who’s got all the hype right now as the number one prospect, managed to at least manage the expectations – a win in its own right. He’s incredibly talented, his game is more mature than the average 18 year old, and he struck me as a down to earth kid when we spoke. Do you know how hard it must be to stay grounded when everyone is constantly telling you how good you are? Okafor is as steady as they come, and left Chicago Co-MVP.
Alexander was no slouch, competing hard during the course of the week and playing through an injury to his wrist while showing considerable toughness in the process. He’s a bundle of energy out there, and is borderline too powerful on his dunks. He missed three or four in the game simply because he was trying to break the backboard. I actually wrote in my notes “Alexander is trying to break the backboard.” In the battle for Chicago (both Okafor and Alexander were playing in front of their hometown fans one last time), Alexander still had plenty of supporters in his favor. He’s as strong as they come physically, and if he ever adds a mid-range jumper, look out.
Turner, who had to navigate an endless course of questions about where he’ll take his talents next season, was as professional as they come in the interviews. I felt bad asking him about where he’s headed; I knew everyone else there was starting their interviews the same way: “Hey Myles, have you decided on what school you’re going to attend? No? Do you have a deadline then?” It was annoying for me, so I can only imagine what he’s been going through recently since he’s been dealing with this all year. He put on a show in the game, answering questions about his performance, or lack thereof, during practice all week. He’s got arguably the highest potential in the class, and may very well be a hit-or-miss kind of prospect (a la Anthony Randolph and other multi-talented big men). But he continued to show he can do pretty much anything: grabbing rebounds, hitting jump shots, pestering Okafor for part of the game, and even taking the ball up the court once or twice. Whoever gets Turner is getting one heck of a player.
Having read or skimmed the last few paragraphs, how could there have been a more impressive player? Towns’ statistics weren’t blowing you away after the game (6 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks), but I was enamored with his ability. I dedicated many words to it in a previous article. Towns looks like Andrew Bynum, when he was in shape with the Lakers. He’s 7-0, and 250 pounds. Yet he’s light on his feet, can really shoot the ball from deep, and even handle the rock. Who do you defend him with? Towns’ potential led to a 10-minute conversation between some of the media and scouts on the ride back to the hotel. I kid you not, people were just shaking their heads and smiling while saying, “I don’t know what to say.” One guy asked me where he was ranked (No. 9 on ESPN’s list), and proceeded to say “eight spots to low.” Towns impressed everyone with his play and his maturity in the interviews, and he’s a definite winner.
7. The Old-School Powerhouse Teams (Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina) – WINNER
Those four schools made up a whopping 15 of the 24 McDonald’s All-Americans future school choice, with a possible 16th coming if Turner selects one of them. I’m no math wiz, but come on, that’s more than half the roster going to four schools in the NCAA! Is that even fair? Duke and Kentucky in particular have to be excited, they each have four a piece, and each one of their guys performed well. Recent news says scouts believe Jabari Parker will return to Duke. How is a lineup of Tyus Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon, Parker, Amile Jefferson, and Jahlil Okafor, with Grayson Allen, Justise Winslow off the bench even fair? That team is as talented as can be; there isn’t a weakness in that starting five.
Kentucky had its normal haul of All-American’s, only four this year (I’m sure Coach Cal is in tears). There’s no way to predict who’ll come back for them; Calipari always tells his players to go. Regardless, the returnees and the four freshmen (Towns, Booker, Lyles, and Ulis) will come in and do what they always do: win. North Carolina is on the up-and-up, grabbing three players (Co-MVP Justin Jackson, Theo Pinson, and Joel Berry II) and Kansas grabbed Alexander and Oubre Jr. This was pretty much a scrimmage for those four teams, with a few other players thrown here and there.
8. The rest of the ACC â€“ LOSER
Do you know the only ACC team to grab an All-American outside of Duke and NC? The correct answer is none of them (Maryland is joining the Big 10, remember). Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Virginia, and Co. were all left without a star recruit. All four of the aforementioned teams are losing key players, and while there are talented players outside of the All-American roster, it’s surprising to see Duke and NC completely clean house like that. My beloved Syracuse in particular, who will lose Tyler Ennis, could have really used one of these guards next year. A begrudging loss for Orange nation and the other ACC schools.
9. The Nea-Nea Dance People – WINNER
The We Are Toonz crew performed their hit dance/song at halftime, doing the #NEANEA dance that’s now spread like an infection across the United States. Continuing their apparent quest to knock Gangnam Style and the Soulja Boy dance out of the loop, Toonz crew has now appeared in essentially every arena in the United States. They did their routine and received a steady round of applause from the children/teenager’s in attendance, as the adults looked on with horror, which only a new dance craze can elicit.
10. People #NEANEA-ing in the stands – LOSER
I know it’s fun and all, but I saw some dancing that, to put lightly, I wish I hadn’t seen. Ever. It’s actually still in my mind when I close my eyes. The McDonald’s Game was a great event, but let’s say some of the older fans upped the PG rating when the dance came on. I wish they hadn’t, and I’m probably not alone.
11. Tyler Ulis â€” WINNER
Ulis is the 5-9, 150-pound Kentucky recruit who was the smallest guy on the floor the entire week. When I saw him in practice, I initially blew him off (how many Isaiah Thomas clones can there be?). But Ulis plays the game with such passion, energy and enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to root for him. He’s a heck of player, too. He’s a knockdown three-point shooter, and a fantastic passer. He’s small, but he plays in-your-face defense, harassing his opponent into turnovers. More so, the other players love him. Ask any of them who their favorite point guard is, and you’ll hear Ulis’s name a lot more than you’d expect. I mean that. I think I heard Ulis’s name this week more than any prospect not named Jahlil.
12. Thomas Welsh â€” LOSER
I’m not hating on Welsh. The 7-0, 245-pound UCLA recruit is big and he was here for a reason. But, he was the only player in the game to not score a point, (playing only eight minutes) and looked overmatched going against the likes of Alexander and Okafor all week. There’s no reason to think he won’t develop under Steve Alford at UCLA, but he struggled this week. There was just too much talent roaming the paint and Welsh looked lost in the process.
13. Players missing dunks – LOSER
There were a surprising number of botched dunks and alley-oop attempts in the game, making the point that no matter how easy LeBron and friends make it look in the NBA, it’s not quite as easy as it looks. These players have the requisite hops to make said plays, but the timing was off. There were a lot more “OOOH’s,” followed by the disappointed “Awww’s,” then one might expect from an All-Star game, which just goes to remind you how much work those NBA players put in.
14. The Shoes – WINNER
I’m ashamed to say I’m not a sneakerhead, so I can’t tell you the exact shoes adidas gave the players [Ed. Note: they were D Rose 4.5‘s), but they were fresh (people say fresh, right?). All I know is one pair was black and white with a zebra pattern of some kind and the other was bright red. Both looked great with the adidas socks, and I didn’t hear of any complaints from the player with their gear. Good work, adidas.
15. The Jerseys – LOSER
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a fan of the sleeved jerseys. Call me old school, but I like the traditional tank top jersey the best. Secondly, I could not for the life of me see the numbers on the back of jerseys. They were shiny and if you were glancing at them from the side, I don’t think you could make out the number because of the glare factor. Can jerseys have a glare? On the bright side, I was a fan of the colors (red and black with camouflage print), so it wasn’t all bad. But those sleeved jerseys and oddly metallic numbers have got to go. Sometimes old doesn’t mean bad.
16. The Point Guards – WINNER
This was an All-Star game where flashy passes are a must. Every point guard on the roster, except for Melo Trimble, recorded at least three assists, many of which were incredible no-lookers or other crazy passes. The point guards were conductors and this was their orchestra. Jones in particular put on a show offensively, finishing with 10 assists (three short of the record), and then calling his own number for a few buckets at the end, in true Chris Paul style. Mudiay showed off his athleticism and playmaking ability, and Ulis stole the show with a few hustle plays that led to wide-open looks. Berry II played well for the West team, finishing with seven points and four assists, including a nice step-back three-pointer. Like I said, this game was dictated by the play of the point guards, and they didn’t disappoint.
17. The Kansas Guards – LOSER
Kelly Oubre Jr. and James Blackmon Jr. have boatloads of potential. Oubre Jr. is a 6-7, 215-pound guard/forward with handle and a three-point shot. But he shot 3-for-13 from the field, including 0-of-5 from beyond the arc (he finished with 11 points). It was a run-and-gun game with a lot of open looks, and you have to knock down at least one! Blackmon Jr., who won the three-point contest earlier in the week, was 5-for-11 (1-of-4 from deep) and finished with 13 points. That’s a combined 8-25 from the field in an exhibition game Jayhawk fans! Bill Self will need at least one of them to shoot well for Kansas to be successful this season. Both have a ton of potential, but shot the ball poorly during the game.
18. Grayson Allen – WINNER
Grayson probably had the most surprising performance in Chicago this week. The 6-4 shooting guard on his way to Duke was the highlight of the Powerade JamFest (Also: either I grew over the course of the week, or Grayson Allen isn’t 6-4, which makes his performance even more remarkable). While there were numerous worthy dunks (Karl Towns’ blindfolded dunk was pretty nice if he actually couldn’t see), but nobody was expecting Allen to come out and dunk over Jahlil Okafor. I didn’t even think he could dunk the ball. Allen is not Jon Scheyer, or J.J. Redick, or Greg Paulus. He is a much better athlete than the average white boy, and earned some serious credit with his performance. I’m still in shock that he could do it, to tell you the truth. I stood next to him, and we could be brothers. As soon as I get home, it’s off to the YMCA to figure out why I can’t do that (or touch the rim for that matter…I’m ground bound). Allen was one of the more outgoing guys during interviews and seemed to really enjoy the process. Kudos to Allen on a fantastic week.
19. The In-Game Soundtrack – WINNER
They played the traditional music to pump fans up, here and there (“Forever” by Drake, “Stronger” by Kanye and a bunch of the standards), but mixed in were some serious gems. YG‘s hit song that had to be bleeped out every other word (I’ll refrain from any Riley Cooper jokes for the good of humanity), J. Cole‘s “Blow Up,” Schoolboy Q made an appearance, an especially bleeped version of “Shabba” by A$AP Ferg, and a ton others that I can’t recall. This was not the regular arena playlist, this was special. They weren’t just songs from the Top 100, there were songs that the players had to have picked. Whoever was in charge had the crowd going, as fans seemed to really enjoy the selections, and the game had a party atmosphere going on. I want more J. Cole and less whomever sings “Turn Down for What” with Lil John. I wonder why can’t it be like this every time?
20. The Experience for the Players – WINNER
It may have been just another All-Star game for fans, but every player I talked to expressed how blessed they felt for being chosen to play in the game. Most said something along the lines of, “this was a goal for me growing up,” and nobody took the week lightly. It’s hard to remember that these are 18-year-old kids out there and not fully grown, simply because some of them look like grown men. This is a moment they’ll always have no matter how their individual careers turn out. Remember, not every All-American has gone onto NBA success later on in their careers. For some, this could very well be the highlight of their basketball lives. This week afforded them an opportunity to play with the best of your peers, to see where they need to improve, and to simply make memories that will last a lifetime. Look at some of their twitter accounts: they all remarked about how fast the week went by and how blessed they were to partake. A great experience for them, and for me to cover. Now that the week is over, it’s going to be hard for me to scream obscenities at my television when Grayson Allen drains a three-pointer over my Syracuse Orange next year, knowing how good of kid he is. But, sometimes a man has to make sacrifices.
Who was the biggest winner of the McDonald’s All-American Game
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