For such a ballyhooed class of outgoing seniors, last night’s McDonald’s All-American game at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City was a bit anti-climactic. There is no doubt the Class of 2004 is an impressive one, however a lot of factors contributed to a lackluster finale.
Never before, have the players seemed so weary in a setting like McDonald’s. Maybe it was some long playoff runs by a few of the players, maybe it was unbalanced squads or some friction between a few players, or maybe it was just the toll of three busy years of high school hoops finally kicking in.
Of course, the throngs of assembled NBA personnel and the extensive coverage and attention given to them also played a part. This isn’t a debate about who should or shouldn’t be going to the draft. That would be tired. This is about how constant focus on the NBA and lots of media interest took away from the game.
By game time, a lot of kids looked to be like they just wanted to get the week over with and as a result the play suffered.
Still, ragging on the NBA or the media doesn’t get us anywhere, and the kids and some of the performances still deserve a little run without any NBA chatter.
EBOSS’S MICKEY D’S HIGHLIGHTS
In an All-Star setting, there is never going to be a shortage of highlight plays and it was no different in OKC.
For my money, the play of the game was turned in by the East’s Dwight Howard. In the first half he grabbed a loose ball on his defensive end and took off on a full court drive to the basket where he split Malik Hairston and Shaun Livingston and went all the way to the cup for an acrobatic finish. Guys who are 6-10 and 18 years old just aren’t supposed to do stuff like that.
Howard also proved, once again, that he is clearly the top prospect in the class. His peers just don’t know what to do with him in a man up situation and he’s got something new each time he takes the court.
Although his lack of a mid range game was completely exposed Josh Smith still left an impression. His block of a dunk attempt was beyond description and the alley-oop left for him by Darius Washington was pretty. Smith is a terrific prospect, but he needs to look to make plays on every trip and has to handle the ball better.
Rudy Gay is going to be a big timer and might have as much upside as any player in the class. He is effective inside and out, athletic, mature and he has fun on the court.
How about Bassy giving up the rock? After taking a lot of jump shots during the practice session, Sebastian showed off a little bit of that passing ability that made him a phenom before he reached high school. He dropped 11 dimes and focused in getting his teammates who were feeling it -- J.R Smith and Howard -- the ball in scoring position.
J.R. Smith would probably take a jump shot from the airport if he was given the chance, but his stroke sure is pretty. He’s a crowd pleaser , when he is playing loose and in a good mood like he was last night, there is no telling what he is capable of. As soon as he gets tougher off the bounce……………….yikes.
Something isn’t right about Rajon Rondo’s ability to finish in the lane. He’s skinny and isn’t a particularly explosive leaper. But, his long arms, incredible body control, hang time and ability to spin off the glass and finish around the bucket is incredible.
The Detroit duo of Malik Hairston and Joe Crawford were solid if unspectacular. These are system guys who get their points in the flow of the game, but it is obvious they are very talented. Crawford showed a touch of his explosiveness even though he hasn’t gotten his legs back yet.
Announced attendance: 14,040.
Actually there: No more than 9-10,000.
Next year’s location: South Bend, IN.
BUZZ ON MALIK HAIRSTON
It isn’t any secret that Malik Hairston’s recruitment is one of the most closely followed races in a while. Although Malik maintains a poker face, the rumor mill is churning. Nobody is saying much, but there are some schools of thought and there seems to be something new everyday.
Most consider this to be a race between mainly UCLA and Kansas, and that UCLA may hold a slight lead. Still, a decision hasn’t been made and Michigan is making a very strong push at the last minute. The NIT run isn’t hurting them and the longer Malik goes without making a decision, the harder it will get for him to leave Michigan. They may be a little too late, but the Wolverines aren’t dead and look to be in better shape than most people thought.
By all indications, Miami is not going to make it easy on C.J. to get out of his LOI. They will at least want him to meet with the new coach, and this could get interesting. Until he has a release, not much can be done.
If he gets the release Washington and Arizona may have an early lead over Kansas. Right now Kansas is focused on Hairston and any Giles situation would most likely be secondary to Hairston’s, even if they could talk to C.J. right now.
During the recent NCAA contact period for juniors, Criswell’s phone has been ringing off of the hook. The 6-9 combo forward from Piper (KS) High has field calls from the likes of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Arkansas, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Kansas and a slew of other schools.
Most are planning to catch Criswell in Las Vegas from April 16-18 where he will playing with KC Pump ‘N Run. Oklahoma State is working him really hard and might have an early edge, but he isn’t anywhere close to deciding. Also, it looks like he may be taking his first official visit, to Marquette, in the latter part of April.
Local fans will get their first look at Criswell from May 7-9 at the Jayhawk Invitational at KU.
SPEAKING OF THE JAYHAWK
No final fields have been set, but early indications are that it could attract a field more reminiscent to that of the inaugural edition in 2001. It will likely be a 32-36 team field in the 17U division, 16 teams in 16U and from 8-16 in a 15U division.
There is a good chance that teas will come from all over (perhaps from Delaware to say Seattle) and it looks promising that there will be more local and national prospects than in the last few years.
Kansas City native Brandon Rush may end up playing with a local team a few times this spring and summer. Going to school in North Carolina, it isn’t feasible for him to spend much time with a KC team, but if he shows up at a local tourney before he graduates, odds are it will happen at the Jayhawk. Local fans might be interested to see how he has come along.
Unfortunately there isn’t more concrete information available on the Jayhawk Invitational (there will also be a junior jayhawk invitational as well). Stay tuned though. As soon as the details are taken care of, there will be a full breakdown of who fans of a particular school may want to watch.