As I stood in the lobby of the Chicago Marriott near the hotel bar after the conclusion of the Boys’ All-American game at the United Center, I was reminded of how young the players I had just watched were.
While plenty of media types and adult family members flocked to the bar for drinks and exchanged pleasantries, most of the members of the 2013 McDonald’s All-American class who lingered around looked like teenagers (very tall teenagers that is) who had reluctantly come on a family vacation with their parents and younger siblings.
Aside from their height, you would have never known that these were the same people in the ESPN highlights on the televisions mounted around the bar/lounge area.
As for the action on the court, I was amongst an announced crowd of over 15,000 at the “Madhouse on Madison” who got a glimpse of basketball’s future. You can find your generic game summaries on your favorite mainstream site, so instead of that I’ll share a little bit of what I took away from the evening based on the access I was granted by our friendly hosts in the Windy City:
1. Tennessee’s women’s basketball team appears to be in good shape for another tournament run next year. The Lady Vols had two commits playing on the Girls West team, game MVP Mercedes Russell and Jordan Reynolds. The 6’5″ Russell finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks while displaying her ability to play on the post and run the floor in transition. Reynolds was also impressive, as the 5’10″ guard pulled down 11 rebounds to go with her 10 points. Looks like Rocky Top will indeed be home-sweet home for Lady Vols fans next year.
2. One of the main stories coming into the Girls game involved the number of legacy players on the roster, as three players had fathers who were pro athletes (Diamond DeShields, Lexie Brown and Kaela Davis). Kaela Davis probably came in with the most fanfare, and she had a decent game with 10 points in 18 minutes, but Diamond DeShields made the biggest impression on me. Her speed should enable her to be a difference maker on the next level. Makayla Epps, whose father Antoine was a member of Kentucky’s 1996 title team, also showed a lot of potential. Epps is headed to Kentucky and DeShields will take her talents to Chapel Hill.
3. Chicago native Linnae Harper is also worth being recognized for her play. She’s only 5’8″, but she’s a fearsome competitor on the court who isn’t afraid to go to the rim. She’ll be joining Makayla Epps at Kentucky. Also, shouts out to North Carolina commit Stephanie Mavunga for pulling down 13 boards, and to Duke-bound Rebecca Greenwell for holding it down from three-point range.
4. I accurately predicted the biggest crowd eruption of the night. During the introductions for the Boys game the traditional Chicago Bulls intro music came over the PA system, and the crowd exploded as soon as the announcer said “….and from Simeon Career Academy…” much like they used to when they heard “…and from North Carolina…”
5. It didn’t take me long to realize that we were about to see some of the best athletes in the country on display during this game. The pre-game layup line before the Boys game was probably better than the NBA’s slam dunk contest.
6. I hadn’t seen Andrew Wiggins play in person before last night, but now that I have I understand the hype. He’s got the “it”. You can see that he’s the type of player who wants the ball in hands during crunch time, and that a team can just give the ball to him and say “get me a basket”. To me, the best thing about his game is that he gets to the foul line because he doesn’t settle for jump shots. You don’t see that too often in young players. As I tweeted last night, I asked a member of the Canadian press where they think he’ll end up and Florida State was the answer I got. Wiggins’ parents are Florida State alums and the thinking is that his father is involved in the decision more than we may realize.
7. Jabari Parker struggled to get into a rhythm early on, but he found his spots later in the game. I think he may have had some jitters after the big reception he got during the starting lineups. Still, I see why people are high on him and I believe he will be a good player at the next level. I just think Wiggins is better at create scoring opportunities for himself.
8. Boys game MVP Aaron Gordon is going to be fun to watch at Arizona. Almost all of his 24 points came on dunks, and while I made some tongue-in-cheek references to Blake Griffin when describing his game last night, he was able to get to the rim so much because he moves will without the ball and he gets down the court in transition. Sean Miller is getting a nice player.
9. Kentucky doesn’t need Andrew Wiggins to go undefeated next year, the Harrison twins and Julius Randle may be enough. Andrew and Aaron Harrison play and act like they’re 5-6 years older than they are and they will both be instant stars in Lexington. I expected Julius Randle to be a bit thicker than he was since he’s listed at 245 pounds, but he carries that weight very well on his 6’9″ frame and he can really get off up of the floor to attack the rim.
10. Wayne Selden, Jr. looks like the next elite two to head to Bill Self at Kansas. He can shoot from the outside and he’s a pretty good defender too. Learn the name now if you don’t know him.
11. Bobby Portis, Jr. and Anthony Barber weren’t talked about as much as some of their peers coming into last night, but I really like both of their games. Portis, Jr., 6’10″, 220 pounds, looks like he will do his best work as a 3 or a 4 at the next level, while Barber is a true point guard. Portis, Jr. can shoot from the perimeter and attack the basket off the dribble. I think Arkansas is a great fit for him because Mike Anderson will be able to mold his raw talent into something special. As for Barber, he’s got a great athletic pedigree as a native of Hampton, Virginia. He’s a tremendous ball handler and he has a great feel for the game as a one. Andrew Wiggins said that Anthony Barber was a guy who he came away liking after playing with him this week during his postgame press conference. Barber is headed to N.C. State.
12. Jabari Parker said that playing in the McDonald’s All-American Game was like a homecoming dance, but winning four straight Illinois state titles was like prom.
13. Andrew Wiggins talked about how happy he was that guys like him and Cavs forward Tristan Thompson have given scouts a reason to come to Canada for basketball talent. He doesn’t want to be the last top prospect from north of the border. It’s nice thought, but if I own the Toronto Raptors and I want to get a Canadian to headline my team, I’d be looking into rigging the 2014 draft lottery.
14. Anthony Barber told me that he knew almost everyone on both teams from the AAU circuit before practicing and playing with them here in Chicago. That’s an interesting point because it didn’t used to be that way in the 80′s and 90′s. As one astute twitter follower pointed out last night, nowadays these guys form relationships at the AAU level that may very well end up influencing not only their college choices, but their decisions as free agents in the NBA as well.
15. Had a little kid moment when I walked past a mural of Bulls’ greats near the locker rooms at the arena. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Toni Kukoc all side by side. Crazy to think that some of the guys I was covering last night didn’t get to see either one of Chicago’s three-peats at an age when they could appreciate what they were watching.
Here’s to hoping that these players give us some new memories in the coming years. Follow me on twitter @AlBruce7.