CHICAGO -- Since Sunday, 24 of the nation's best high school players have been in the Windy City for the McDonald's All-American Game. With that much talent under one roof, there's much to watch and even more to learn.
Davis still on the rise
One of the final exams in the evaluation process poses a simple question: Did you finish your high school career on the rise, leveling out or on the decline? Anthony Davis (Chicago/Perspectives Charter) distinguished himself all week long. His combination of size, length, athleticism and competitiveness and his ownership of the biggest ceiling of anyone in the game is amazing. Not only does he have pro potential, he has the ability and desire to max out his talent. Should he slip past Austin Rivers (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park) for the No. 1 overall spot -- and it's certainly a possibility -- it's not a reflection of Rivers in any way but a tribute to how far Davis has come and where he's going. His evolution has been one of the most unique stories of the last decade. He turned in an impressive week of practice, scrimmage and game action. His career, from the evolution to the near-end of a high school career, is storybook.
NBA scouts share our pain
The NBA guys took in three days of practice and a closed-door scrimmage. At week's end, even amongst the guys who get the big bucks to make scouting decisions, there wasn't a consensus on who the best prospect in the Class of 2011 would be. We know this: Davis and Rivers are the only two we're contemplating.
Davis' shining practice moment came when he snatched a rebound, put the ball through his legs and dunked it left-handed. Most of the NBA GMs with high lottery picks don't have a guy currently on their roster that could contemplate the move. Tuesday's practice session belonged to Rivers, who seemingly engaged himself in a high-level horse game consisting of made shots no one else on the roster could figure out how to replicate.
Plumlee will hold his own
Marshall Plumlee (Warsaw, Ind./Christ School) is the last Plumlee in a long line of hoopers on the men's side of the family. He's also the most polarizing Plumlee, as opinions vary widely on how good he'll be at Duke and beyond. Plumlee improved his stock during the McDonald's practices, and his length, height and continually developing skills will translate at Duke. He has run his own race, and he wasn't out of place in Chicago.
Separating the pretenders from contenders
When you say "McDonald's All-American" fans immediately think the player is capable of global dominance on the basketball court. Not true. These are kids, and some are more talented and more emotionally equipped to deal with early success than others. The reality is many kids have to grow into starring roles in college and beyond. Most must add elements to their game before they can produce seasons like Jared Sullinger at Ohio State, Brandon Knight at Kentucky or Harrison Barnes at North Carolina.
Rivers will need to carry a big scoring load at Duke next year, and he's capable. Florida signee Bradley Beal (St. Louis/Chaminade) and future Tar Heels player James McAdoo (Norfolk, Va./Norfolk Christian) have backgrounds which makes one believe they could do it -- though McAdoo may not need to carry the load right away depending on UNC's personnel. Michael Gilchrist (Somerdale, N.J./St. Patrick) could be another playmaker, not because he's a volume scorer but because he's singularly focused on winning. Going into the week, we weren't positive Davis could do it. With a summer of strength work, there's reason to believe he'll be ready for a starring role right out of the gate.
Birch beasts when it counts
Khem Birch (Toronto/Notre Dame Prep) did not have a stellar week of practice. Truth be told, he sleepwalked through the sessions. Not even an elbow to the eye was enough to light his fire during practice. Going into the game, expectations for him were not high. However, what he does exceptionally well -- run, rebound and block shots -- sets up perfect in an all-star game. Out of nowhere, the Pittsburgh signee had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks. Only Birch and Gilchrist recorded double-doubles. We had him down for the count, but he rose up and gave us glimpses of the baby Derrick Favors that he is.
Speak up, fellas
Communication is a skill on the court that doesn't receive many mentions, but it's vital to being a good teammate and defensive player. Plumlee talks as much as any big in the game, followed closely by Indiana signee Cody Zeller (Washington, Ind./Washington). Gilchrist isn't afraid to speak his mind and lead, and Memphis signee Adonis Thomas (Memphis, Tenn./Melrose) has it in him, too. Texas signee Myck Kabongo (Toronto/Findlay Prep) was the best communicator, hands down. Birch, Oklahoma State signee LeBryan Nash (Dallas/Lincoln) and Kentucky signee Marquis Teague (Indianapolis/Pike) were amongst the least verbal players on the court.
Verdict on Kabongo vs. Teague
Kabongo and Teague are different style point guards. Teague gets low, drives by you and gets where he wants whenever he wants. As a scoring point, he's top dog. Kabongo is the bigger personality, a more dedicated passer and the more boisterous of the two. Who's better is, to a degree, a matter of personal preference. However, Kabongo simply must take care of the ball and cut down on his high-risk, low-reward passes. He overcooked it on Wednesday. Each player had five turnovers apiece, while the entire East team had seven. Once again, Kentucky will score big at the point with Teague. At this moment, there doesn't appear to be a change at the top; Teague keeps his championship belt for the position.
Izzo knows what to do with this guy
Branden Dawson (Gary, Ind./Lew Wallace), a Michigan State signee, proved he's the best rebounding wing in the country. We've touted him as such all year, and his knack for slipping into a crowd and coming away with an offensive rebound is exceptional. Tom Izzo might have to invent some new rebounding drills to keep this guy on his toes. Dawson had eight rebounds, six offensive, in 14 minutes of game action.
Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.