We attended Monday’s McDonald’s All-American practice session and take a look at each team’s makeup and standouts so far. Grayson Allen wins dunk contest while James Blackmon Jr. is 3-point contest winner at Monday night’s Powerade Jam Fest.
The McDonald’s All-American Game is a festive atmosphere, but the most important evaluative aspect are the practices and scrimmage. With all 24 players being in the same range when it comes to elite skill, approach to practice, competitive nature and playing within the framework of what the coaching staff is trying to implement in a short time are major differentiators.
Overall, this group doesn’t possess super elite, impact NBA one-and-done types (Jabari Parker, Anthony Davis, etc.), but overall this group competes well and is self-motivated, which is something that can’t be said about some of the recent McDonald’s classes.
East Team Scouting Report
The East team spent more time on fundamentals, such as give-and-go’s and triple threat elbow shots, rather than going straight into scrimmage situations as their West counterparts did. The East’s teams big men also did a good job of going hard and getting physical in 3-on-3 half court situations.
Don’t be surprised if the starting lineup for the East team, coached by Lou Wilson of Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.), consists of a combination of point guard Tyus Jones (Apple Valley, Minn.), shooting guard D’Angelo Russell of Montverde Academy, shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead (Lincoln, Brooklyn, N.Y.), wing Justise Winslow (St. John’s, Houston), power forward Cliff Alexander (Curie, Chicago) and center Myles Turner (Trinity, Euless, Texas).
This team only has one point guard behind Jones, whose unselfishness rubs off on his team. That guard is Melo Trimble (Bishop O’Connell, Arlington, Va.). Watch to see if Jones or Trimble are ever out of the game at the same time because the ball tends to stay in the hands of whichever talented wing-type player in handling the ball. This team has plenty of firepower inside with Alexander, Turner, Kevon Looney (Hamilton, Milwaukee, Wis..) and Karl Towns (St. Joseph, Metuchen, N.J.). Looney and Towns were really battling inside making Alexander and Turner work during drills and 3-on-3.
James Blackmon Jr. (Marion, Ind.), who won the 3-point contest on Monday night (see below), is one of the top three shooters in attendance, but he got few looks at practice. Winslow is also a gifted scorer on the wing, but was settling so we’ll see if those two pick it up on Tuesday. Justin Jackson (HCYA, Houston) has an explosive first step and can score in spurts.
This unit has hard-working posts players and on Monday Alexander controlled the paint. If the guards and wings can be patient to find them some looks in Wednesday’s game, the bigs should be able to do some damage. The wings are gifted and will create matchup problems for the West.
The West Team got right into practicing its out of bounds set and scrimmaging — and scrimmaging with intensity. The West got in more reps and generally practiced with more sense of urgency than their East counterparts. It should be noted that often times this doesn’t translate over into the game — unless the talent disparity between the two clubs is easily evident — which is not the case and hasn’t been the case in recent years. Often times, the team that seems to be in a more relaxed mode at practice comes out with guns blazing in the game.
Don’t be surprised if the starting lineup for the West team, coached by Frank Allocco of De La Salle (Concord, Calif.), consists of a combination of point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (Prime Prep, Ft. Worth, Texas), point guard Tyler Ullis (Marian Catholic, Chicago Heights, Ill.), shooting guard Grayson Allen (Providence, Jacksonville, Fla.), small forward Stanley Johnson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana, Calif.), power forward Trey Lyles (Arsenal Tech, Indianapolis, Ind.) and center Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young, Chicago).
This team has one less true post player than the West, so look for Okafor, the McDonald’s Morgan Wooten Player of the Year, to get plenty of opportunities. Okafor was a load for Tom Welsh (Loyola, Los Angeles) to handle and when he’s getting touches in the right spot, Okafor either is going to draw a crowd or get someone in foul trouble. Okafor can go stretches without being active, but he draws attention whenever he’s out on the court. He’s an early candidate to have a big game.
Welsh struggled against Okafor early, but adjusted and found his spots. The UCLA-bound 7-footer is working hard to show he can make an impact at this elite level. Lyles is much like Welsh in that he possesses good hands and is an even more powerful finisher. Mudiay has shown the makings of being an elite defender, whereas his offensive prowess is usually what is discussed and dissected most. Ullis might have been the most lock in player defensively on Monday, getting underneath his man and generally creating havoc.
Allocco pointed out the play of Reid Travis (De La Salle, Minneapolis, Minn.) Allen and Johnson. Allen, who won the slam dunk contest at Monday night’s Powerade Jam Fest, was active of offensive and displayed good shooting ability. Of course, he’s a near freakish athlete and Allocco loves his competitiveness. Johnson sets the tone with his smarts and all-around ability. Many of the media scribes and scouts have been really interested in Johnson’s performance because they hear about all the accolades with his high school team and he hasn’t disappointed.
If Blackmon Jr. is not the best shooter, then Rashad Vaughn is. He was knocking down jumpers at a high rate on Monday and playing with a fire we haven’t seen in a while. He’s really motivated to show he’s the best shooting guard in the country and one of the top players in the class, period.
The West probably has a bit more balance than the East when it comes to playmakers at each position, but the East has more all-around muscle around the basket.
Shooters Steal Show
The slam dunk contest is always the finale of the Powerade Jam Fest, but as has been the case with many of these types of events, the 3-point shooting contest was the highlight of Monday night’s festivities.
Blackmon Jr. won the overall contest by one point against girls winner Alexa Middleton (Riverdale, Murfreesboro, Tenn.), a slick shooting 5-foot-9 guard headed to Tennessee. Middleton was putting on an absolute clinic, but she missed all her shots in the last rack after she began playing to the crowd.
In the girls’ final, she scored 21 points, while in the boys’ final Blackmon Jr. knocked down the “Money Ball” to finish with 23 points. “Shooting is one of the things I do best, and I wanted to prove it,” Blackmon Jr. said.
Middleton and won the girls’ skills competition, while Jones did the same on the boys’ side.
Allen surprised the crowd with his leaping ability to win the dunk contest. On his final attempt, he wore a Duke jersey of former Blue Devil All-American Jay Williams (who was working in the ESPN broadcast booth) and promptly jumped over future 6-foot-11 teammate Okafor — without using his off arm or Okafor’s shoulder an an aide.
Jones, also headed for Duke, was one of the first to congratulate Allen on his performance while the fourth member of this McDonald’s class headed to Duke, Winslow, filmed the dunk with a smart phone. Williams also embraced Allen as did many others.
“It’s a good feeling to break that stereotype (of me being a shooter),” Allen said. “I surprised some people with my first few dunks.”