In an all-star setting like the McDonald's All-American Game -- where agendas, “relaxed” defensive intensity and nervousness creep in -- the ball tends to be less than crisp. Wednesday's game, from my perspective, went according to script. Let me explain.
• Shabazz Muhammad (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman) was on a business trip. That much was evident from the time he arrived on Saturday until the moment he was handed the MVP trophy. The best player who people paid handsomely to see in the game played, arguably, the best game and he lived up to the expectations.
• Alex Poythress (Clarksville, Tenn./Northeast) has always been a good player. From a scouting perspective, the question I had was he ready to take the next step and go from supporting actor to a leading role? After watching practice and then seeing him assert himself in the game, I’d venture to say he boosted his stock more than any other player.
• If you read my blog leading into the game you wouldn’t have been surprised to see the lackluster point guard play. The 2012 class is not known for its future lottery pick lead guards and every point – Yogi Ferrell (Greenfield, Ind./Park Tudor), Marcus Paige (Marion, Iowa/Linn-Mar), Kris Dunn (New London, Conn./New London) and Tyler Lewis (Statesville, N.C./Oak Hill) – shot the ball poorly from the field. For the most part, they each kicked in modest assist totals. However, the guy who played the best game was Ferrell, making a concerted effort to find his teammates. On Saturday, he won the state championship and on Wednesday he moved up a slot or two in my mind on our point guard list.
• Devonta Pollard’s (DeKalb, Miss./Kemper County) noggin found Isaiah Austin’s (Arlington, Texas/Grace Prep) elbow in Tuesday’s practice and because of it he missed the game with a concussion. Seeing the disappointment he wore on the sidelines ripped your heart out. He's been through a lot personally with losing his father and his home. It was incredibly sad for him to miss the game.
• Rasheed Sulaimon (Houston/Strake Jesuit) turned in the most complete week of any shooting guard. Marcus Smart (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus) may have been the top dog until the tip but once the game began it belonged to Sulaimon. Smart wasn’t on his game, Gary Harris (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton SE) didn’t adjust to the setting (see blog) and Sulaimon was terrific. I think we have him ranked accordingly so there may not be a ton of movement with his grade but he walked out of that gym with a sense of accomplishment. On a night where shooting percentages mirrored Shaquille O'Neal's numbers from the free throw line, Sulaimon let us know he can fill it up.
• The McDonald’s game is our best showcase of talent and I think the Super Bowl for high school kids. Fans watching at home should exercise patience and not rush to judgment on what they saw. They should understand that this is an average class with one superior talent in the game. A great number of these kids will be three- and four-year college players and expectations have to be tempered. I also saw nervous 18-year olds last night.
Overall, this class as a whole is average. It was missing Nerlens Noel (Everett, Mass./Tilton School), Kaleb Tarczewski (Claremont, N.H./St. Mark's), Ricardo Ledo (Providence, R.I./South Kent), Sam Dekker (Sheboygan, Wis./Sheboygan Lutheran) and Mitch McGary (Chesterton, Ind./Brewster Academy) last night. Put them in the mix and it may have been a more exciting roster, but for differing reasons they weren’t there.
From an NBA front office perspective -- and I spoke with almost a dozen people -- there wasn’t much to be excited about coming out of the week. That’s fine, we knew going in this group was good, but lacked the pizzazz and sheer star power to move the needle in college basketball and beyond. It was an all-star game; not MJ and Magic’s competitive-style game but a showcase and if you take it for what it was, you should have at least enjoyed the sneak peek into next season’s freshmen.