This is Part II of a two-part series recapping the 2016 McDonald’s All American Games. To read Part I, click here.
Day 4: Playing for the Scouts, and the Jam Fest
The first practice of the day ran from from 9 to 11 a.m. The players showed their competitiveness as they worked through a few drills, while the NBA teams were there to evaluate the players. The McDonald’s All American Games are often referred to as the number one event for NBA teams to evaluate future draft picks. But these days, the national media is also paying attention — and, of course, the players’ families.
The court was abuzz that morning with questions surrounding the best prospect, which player was the most competitive, who played the best, and who seemed to be emerging. Year after year, I’ve continued to find it interesting to see who shows they belong. I remembered back to the game in 2014, when two of the lower ranked players at the time stepped it up: D’Angelo Russell and Melo Trimble. This year, Jarrett Allen showed himself to be playing at a different level and Zach Collins proved he could mix it up inside as well as shoot the three.
During practice, the coaches ran full court three-vs-three. Every year, the scouts want to see if players know how to play without the ball in their hands, and this year was no different. Their basketball IQ was on display and many impressed with their reads off the ball screens, finding space for a shot as their man helped, or bigs showing they knew when to slip, short roll, long roll, or pop off the ball screens. They put the players through a variety of shooting drills, 4-v-4-v-4, and conversion drills. Because the four head coaches and their assistants were all long-time, successful high school coaches, they did a fantastic job of instructing the players, developing a rapport, and running a sharp practice.
It was great to see some of the players build confidence as they realized they could play with anyone, and also see the subtle changes they made as they realized they weren’t the biggest, fastest players on the court.
After an intense practice session, the players were interviewed by the national media and scouting services. They were slow to change, as all high school coaches can attest to with their own teams, but eventually we boarded the buses wrapped with pictures of McDonald’s All American Games alum like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Ivory Latta, Dela Donn, and many more.
The afternoon brought a lunch buffet, family time, and relaxation. At about 4 p.m. we left for the Chicago Theater for the Jam Fest. The legendary theater has hosted acts such as Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross. Backstage, all of the performers have a tradition of signing the walls. All of our players signed the wall as having performed there!
The Jam Fest included the legends contest, the 3-point contest, and the fan-favorite dunk contest. Frank Jackson took home the dunk contest honors, while all players enjoyed the night as they got to have fun shooting, dunking, and being creative.
After the Jam Fest, the players had pizza backstage before listening to a concert back on the stage. Then, the night wrapped up with a wing bar in the players’ hospitality room.
Day 5: Our Busiest Day
We had an early morning wake-up with what would be the busiest day of the week, beginning with a 90-minute practice in front of the scouts, followed by media day at the United Center and a scrimmage between the East and West boys’ and girls’ teams.
Practices were again intense and players started to settle in and get comfortable with their surroundings. NBA scouts asked questions about the players as people. As one scout put it, “In college, the coaches are trying to beat the other colleges in the recruitment of a player. In the NBA, we either have the pick or we don’t. Our job is to get to know as much about the player as we can, both on and off the court.”
From practice we headed to the United Center, where we first ate lunch in the media room. The players got a feel for what it is like to be in the NBA/WNBA as they pulled up to the loading dock on a chartered bus and enter as Michael Jordan did for so many years. Lunch was quick as we had to get upstairs for media day. Four of the players got to go from practice to the local radio station to be interviewed and got to media day just as it started. There were over 150 credentialed media there asking questions and finding out all there is to know about the future stars.
The girls were up first with their scrimmage. We reset the score at the end of each quarter, but the game ended up being a one-point differential — a great precursor to the overtime game that would follow the next night. The girls then headed back to the hotel after the scrimmage to get ready for the banquet in the dresses that they were fitted for when they arrived on Saturday.
The boy scrimmage was televised live by ESPN with Jay Williams roaming the sidelines getting feedback from players and coaches and giving his always-insightful observations. After a great scrimmage, the boys hustled back to the hotel to get their tuxedos for the banquet.
The families of the players and the supporters of the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) were on hand to bid on auction items and enjoy the evening. Douglas Freeland, the director of the games, spoke and recognized all the people who make the games possible, and the Chicagoland RMHC Chair spoke about the house and all the good that it does. I presented the Morgan Wootten McDonald’s Player of the Year to Lonzo Ball and Crystal Dangerfield — two great people who just so happen to be great players, as well, and who are very deserving of the award. The award is significant because it recognizes not just a player’s skills, but their academic achievement and service to their community. Then the players were all introduced and received their McDonald’s All American rings — rings they will keep with them for a lifetime. The night concluded with a few words from Jay Williams and the keynote address by Steve Schanwald, the former president of the Bulls. Both gave inspiring speeches. The night was capped with food and ping pong in the hospitality room.
Day 6: Starting easy, finishing strong
Day 6 was termed a shoot-around, but was really team picture day at the United Center. After going hard on the court for the last several days, the players took it easy and rested for the night’s game.
At lunch, The Hall of Fame bestowed the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award to a boys’ and girls’ coach for outstanding contributions to high school basketball. I presented the award to Bob Dwyer posthumously. His son, Bobby Dwyer, a former assistant to Coach K at Army and Duke, accepted on his dad’s behalf. Dr. Anthony Pappas, a member of the girl’s selection committee, was given the award for Lifetime Achievement in girls’ basketball. Two great men, two great educators.
The rest of the afternoon was free and we took our kids to see Chicago 360, where you can be tilted looking down from 96 floors up in the John Hancock Building!
Finally, the games arrived. Viewers of the girls’ game couldn’t have asked for more. The West, down most of the game, make a great comeback led by Sabrina Ionescu. She put on quite a performance, hitting step-back threes and winning the Coach John Wooden MVP award.
The boys’ game was also action-packed and exciting, with the West led by the two Jacksons: Josh (a future Jayhawk) and Frank (a future Blue Devil). The co-MVPs helped the West hang on versus a hard charging East team who cut the lead to seven. I presented the MVP award to both the boys and girls with Coach Wooden’s great grandson Tyler Trapani, who played at UCLA.
A party followed the game with everyone saying goodbye to the coaches and staff. Life is a collection of memories and all will remember the experience for the great coaches they had and the terrific job that they did.
And so, after another successful year at the McDonald’s All American Games, I turn my attention to the future. On to the next nomination and selection of the 2017 class of McDonald’s All Americans!