by Troy Sparks
CHICAGO – Organizers of the McDonald’s All-American Games liked having their annual boys and girls high school all-star contests at the United Center because they drew the most fans last year in the history of the event. This year, the stars of tomorrow showcased their talents at the UC, Mar. 28. And for the third straight year, next year’s all-stars will play in the building that Michael Jordan helped build.
This was my second time attending the game featuring 24 boys and girls from all over the country who were selected to participate. My first one was in Milwaukee in 2008. I thought it was a great place to stage the week-long activities in the Windy City to celebrate the 35th year of the event.
Although it was only the 11th annual girls game, there were future Hall of Famers and current NBA and WNBA stars who played in game, which began in 1977. Some of them had good pro careers and some didn’t stay in the pros for very long or faded away in college.
The selected group went through the fanfare and red carpet treatment that the players before them received. That’s fine and dandy for the time that the McDonald’s committee pampered the young men and women. Alonzo Mourning, an MDAA (McDonald’s All-American) alum, 1988, told them about life after basketball and being a positive role model. He leads the MDAA Games Advisory Council, which was founded in 2007.
I wish that I was there to sit in on what Mourning told the players and everyone else in attendance who listened. I believe he told them to think about the next step to take in life when the ball stops bouncing, when the crowd stops cheering, when the college coaches have some new players to focus on and why the old players don’t matter after their athletic eligibility runs out and they’re no longer on scholarships.
Those kids will worry about that stuff some other time. For one night, they were in the spotlight with almost 20,000 looking on and EPSN following their every move.
The girls game was more entertaining to me than the boys game. The East team had a 9 point lead at halftime at 40-31. The West kept pace with the East and tied the game three times at 50-50, 52-52 and the final time at 78-78. That set up the stage for the dramatic finish in the game.
Tennessee-bound Bashaara Graves got the rebound from a miss by teammate Alexis Prince, team MVP (Baylor), who had 15 points. Graves was fouled with 1 second left by Katie Collier (Washington). I thought the referees should have let that one go and let the girls settle the contest in overtime, but they didn’t. Graves made 1 or 2 free-throws to give the East the 79-78 win.
“I was ready for it to be over,” she said. “I still wanted to play.” Without that call, the game would have gone into overtime for the first time since they added the girls game in 2002. “I was real surprised that (the refs) called (a foul),” Prince said.
The West fought hard but came up short. Coach Tanya Johnson was pleased with the way her team played and the pace of the game. Nirra Fields (UCLA) was the first Canadian-born girl to play in the MDAA Games. She led her team with 20 points in a losing cause.
“I thought that once we got our nerves settled a little bit, we came back and played hard,” Johnson said. Added winning East coach Anne Long, “I’ve seen a lot of McDonald’s All-American games, and I thought that this was one of the most unselfish games. I thought both teams played well. You didn’t see a lot of running and gunning out there.”
There was plenty of running and gunning in the boys game along with some awesome dunks. Shabazz Muhammad had four jaw-dropping slams. He also won the dunk contest in the Powerade Jam Fest, which took place a couple of days before the all-star games. His 21 points helped the West beat the East, 106-102. Muhammad was the MVP of the game.
Inquiring minds wanted to know where the national player of the year would play his college ball. He was one of three on both rosters that was undecided (Anthony Bennett, Devonta Pollard). Muhammad is considering Duke, UCLA, UNLV and the two schools in the national championship game, Kentucky and Kansas.
The odds are that Muhammad will play for Kentucky because they are an unofficial NBA feeder team to the players there who leave for the draft after one year. “That’s a great possibility,” Muhammad said. “Alex (Poythress, Kentucky, 19 points) was giving us a hard time on the boards with his big body. Archie (Goodwin, Kentucky) can go down the floor and jump and dunk on somebody. That would be a really sick trio if I did come to Kentucky.”
Given the possibility that three of last year’s MDAA players and up to five on this year’s Kentucky team could enter the draft, Muhammad might follow Poythress and Goodwin there and be NBA ready in a year or two. Or, he could take the Brandon Jennings route and play overseas for a year then throw his name into the draft in 2013. If NBA Commissioner David Stern didn’t require that players can apply for the draft a year after their high school class graduated, Muhammad would’ve skipped college.
I think the MDAA Games should make Chicago a permanent home for the event each year. It’s the Midwest transportation hub. And in a city of more than 3 million, they will get the best crowds. Throw in the fact that their world headquarters is in Oak Brook, IL, a short drive to the United Center, and you have a marriage made in basketball heaven.