CHICAGO – Think of the McDonald’s game not as a final exam but the next closest thing. The score will be kept but it’s not the be all, end all for the players. For starters, not everyone is an “all-star” in this setting. Before you flip on your TV set, understand this: all of the players earned the right to be here but outside of Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman), there isn’t a bonafide superstar with the power to put fannies in the seats. He’s the main draw, the big-timer at the United Center.
Having said that, I do own expectations -- other than seeing a ton of points scored -- heading into the game.
• First off, I’d be surprised if anyone but Muhammad took home the hardware as the game MVP. Since he arrived in Chicago, Shabazz has been locked in. His approach has been measured and his play intense. He’s the alpha male in a year where there simply aren’t many alpha dogs in the pack. Most important, the other kids respect that notion.
• A year ago, if not sooner, we knew that the senior point guard crop was not going to be deep. For the longest time, we didn’t list a single point guard in the top 25 overall prospects (Marcus Paige (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Marr) and Kris Dunn (New London, Conn./New London) have since ascended into the mix) but point guard play this week has been hit and miss. Someone has to raise his level of play and cement himself as the top point. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Paige is the guy I’d pick to run my college team but Dunn is the player I’d be most intrigued with from a pro perspective. Barring a transformative performance, I still think this remains one of the most difficult questions to answer from the class.
• Expect a big effort from Marcus Smart (Flower Mound, Tex./Marcus) of the West and Amile Jefferson (Philadelphia, Pa./Friends Central) of the East. Why? “Smartacus” has been the top shooting guard here in my opinion. He’s the most complete guard for his position and for the first time in a setting like this, he seems to feel like he belongs. Remember, he doesn’t have the most hype and isn’t a Twitter guy. He just balls. Jefferson’s the energy guy for the East and that means a lot of put-backs, slashes and chances to score.
• Will Anthony Bennett (Brampton, Ont./Findlay Prep) put a cherry on top of his senior season? He spent a portion of the year sidelined with injury. His physical attributes are fascinating and his explosiveness stands out amongst his peers. Will be able to ascend and enter the first tier of elite prospects in his class?
• Which big man will muster up the best effort? It sounds strange but there isn’t a take charge, dominant big in Chicago. There are a lot of good ones but so far, in terms of separation, there hasn’t been any. It’s a big stage and you’d think someone is going to step up? I’m inclined to go with hybrid forward Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast) as my one to watch.
If you’re at home watching these guys for the first time here are some answers to questions you’re bound to ask yourself?
Is Yogi Ferrell (Indianapolis, Ind./Park Tudor) really that quick? Yep. He is.