I watched this year's NBA All-Star Game in February with my 6-year old son, an absolute basketball junkie. He's in his formative years, and I must admit, that game was a total embarrassment and a negative influence on my son and our younger generations. Bad shots, over-dribbling, playing for the cameras, and no defense. It was not real basketball. It was appalling to see.
So fast forward to this week, and I arrived in Houston, Texas, to attend the 2023 McDonald's All-American Game.
Throughout my life and career of growing up in and around the game and my various involvement working in basketball, I've had the opportunity to attend many high school All-American events. And typically, there's a lot of fluff, as there are always a lot of top young prospects playing for the cameras rather than playing the game to win, similar to this year's NBA All-Star Game.
So anyway, I got to town a few days before the McDonald's All-American game. In doing so, I was able to attend both the East and West teams' practices. And as soon as I stepped foot in the gym, I could tell this would not be your typical All-American event or all-star game. Contrarily, this year, it was apparent that the players and coaches meant business; no fluff.
As a self-proclaimed basketball purist, Tuesday night's game was refreshing; it was incredible! The kids really got after it from start to finish. They competed as if their careers were on the line. And considering the number of NBA scouts and people like myself that were in attendance this week, that might be the case to a certain extent.
There might not be any prospects in this year's class that are sure to become NBA superstars. However, this group is unique. As an NBA Draft Analyst and scout, naturally, I gravitate to talent as it's a prerequisite to playing at the highest level of basketball. Nothing frustrates me more than evaluating talented players who don't approach the game correctly — to win.
It's been a common narrative that this year's senior class is down in talent. And although that might be true, this group is filled with some ultra-competitive players that I believe are on the right track to maximizing their potential. To name just a few specific players that stood out to me that fit that bill of being high achievers are Isaiah Collier (USC), Jeremy Fears Jr. (Michigan State), Ron Holland (Texas), Sean Stewart (Duke), and Ja'Kobe Walter (Baylor).
Also, another thing that stood out to me is that the prospect in my eyes that might have the most untapped long-term potential is Cody Williams from FAB 50 No. 18 Perry (Gilbert, Ariz.). And although Williams' stock and value have sky-rocketed over the past year, and he could have gone just about anywhere he wanted, he didn't choose to go to a blue-blood. Instead, he decided to sign with Colorado to play for head coach Tad Boyle, who, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. Boyle doesn't typically sign 5-star recruits. Instead, he makes the most of the talent he does sign. So to see such a highly touted prospect like Williams choose a school like Colorado makes me like him that much more. And it tells me chances are he will embrace Coach Boyle's coaching and subsequently improve as a player.
Of course, the basketball world is changing dramatically with the emergence of NIL, a polarizing topic. But I'm hopeful that this group of McDonald's All-Americans represents a change in the tides for the basketball industry at the grassroots level, despite the amount of negativity surrounding the new way of operating. I have hope that, although these young prospects now have the opportunity to be paid to be influential basketball players, legally, it has changed their general approach. These young prospects are essentially professionals now, not amateurs. And this class has given me hope that the new age of NIL might be breeding young players who approach the game as just that: professionals.
So to all of the players in Houston this week, congratulations on this outstanding recognition and honor of being named McDonald's All-Americans; it's a big step in your careers. But I'd also like to sincerely thank you for approaching the game the right way, representing the game the right way, and leading the young players that will come after you in the right direction.
The future of our game is in great hands. Thank you!