CHICAGO -- There is no doubt all 24 boys’ basketball players set to take the floor Wednesday at the United Center for the 35th McDonald’s All-American Game (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) are among the nation’s best.
The question is whether the East team can keep up with the scoring prowess of West ringleaders Shabazz Muhammad of Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas), Archie Goodwin of Sylvan Hills (Little Rock, Ark.) and Marcus Smart of Marcus (Flower Mound, Texas).
Muhammad set the pace at the McDonald's practices with his work ethic, and many of his West teammates rose to the occasion as well. Smart in particular has been lauded for his ability to score in a variety of ways.
His physical presence at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds gives coach Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora (Aurora, Ill.) multiple lineup options. Smart can run the lead guard but will likely play on the wing on Wednesday, which should open up Goodwin for scoring opportunities. Goodwin is a volume shooter, so if gets hot the West should be in good shape.
The East team, coached by Billy Hicks of Scott County (Georgetown, Ky.), counters with a team that can pound it inside. The team will be extremely dangerous if the players stick to the team concept and balance the floor -- something easier said than done in all-star settings.
Alex Poythress of Northeast (Clarksville, Tenn.) will be a load for the West team to handle with his combination of size and athleticism around the basket. National scouts and even some NBA brass in attendance have been impressed with the 6-foot-7 Kentucky recruit in practice. DaJuan Coleman of Jamesville-DeWitt (DeWitt, N.Y.) also has a strength advantage down low on the West's pivots, so the amount of touches he receives could be key.
The East counters Smart's versatility with Kyle Anderson of defending POWERADE FAB 50 national champion St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.). The 6-foot-8 point guard is a huge matchup problem for any team he's up against and is the key to distributing the ball for the East. His unique feel for the game allows him to know when and where a teammate needs the ball and who hasn't gotten into the flow.
Anderson isn't used to losing. The UCLA pledge led St. Anthony to a 32-0 season and its 12th New Jersey Tournament of Champions title one week ago. He did not lose a game in his St. Anthony career, going 65-0. Counting his sophomore year at now-defunct Patterson Catholic (Patterson, N.J.), Anderson is 94-1, and he has no intention of losing Wednesday's game.
"Our coaches let us know right away they didn't intend to lose this game," Anderson said. "I want to win this game, but everybody else has got to take it just as seriously."
The West team's practices have been more intense with a focus on scrimmaging, while the East has focused on footwork and fundamentals in drills. The West was getting after it so hard on Tuesday that forward Devonta Pollard of Kemper County (Porterville, Miss.) took a hard blow to his head and guard Yogi Ferrell of Park Tudor (Indianapolis) took a hard spill and crashed into a cameraman.
The intensity level is something Anderson and his teammates didn't see, but definitely heard about.
"I was talking to (East teammates) Tony Parker and Rodney Purvis about what they were reading on blogs how the West was playing hard and they were going to kill us," Anderson said. "So we're going to shock the world a bit and sweep them off their feet."
He likes what he sees in his backcourt partner Tyler Lewis of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). Anderson feels the combination of their abilities should create positive momentum for the East team.
"Myself and Tyler are working well together," Anderson said. "Both of us are unselfish and will get the ball to the right people who will score."
Tough and Toothless
Lewis may have won the POWERADE Jam Fest skills competition title Monday night, but even more impressive was the toughness he showed just being on the court after having a tooth knocked loose during Monday’s practice.
During a live scrimmage, Anderson did a reverse dribble and caught Lewis right in his front tooth with an elbow.
“I knew it was loose enough that it was gonna have to come out,” Lewis said. “I knew it.”
After practice, Lewis went to a local dentist and had a false tooth put in.
“I’ve actually had that happen before to that same tooth,” Lewis said. “It hurt pretty bad when it happened, but I wasn’t gonna let it get me down. I’m having too much fun.”
When asked if he planned on wearing a mouthpiece from now on, Lewis replied, “No way. I’m a point guard and it’s hard to talk with a mouthpiece in my mouth.”
Practice Makes McPerfect?
On Tuesday morning, the East club went live for approximately 10 minutes in practice to conserve energy for Tuesday afternoon's scrimmage against the West. The West went live for roughly the same amount of time in each of the last two practices.
The performance in those scrimmages would point to the West club being a prohibitive favorite for Wednesday's game. At prior McDonald's Games, however, there have been instances when the apparent underdog has rallied to win after being inspired by talk of poor practices or after losing the official scrimmage.
“Quinn said we get free McDonald’s for a year,” said Parker. “Is that true?”
When told he’d been duped by the current Duke freshman, Parker laughed and said, “Are you serious? He got me, he got me.”