January 25 was one of the most anticipated days of the high school basketball season. It was the day 24 of the nation's best players were chosen to the prestigious McDonald's All-American team. Not everyone's dream will come true, however, as there is always more great players than spots available. We take a look back at 13 players who truly deserved recognition on high school basketball's biggest stage.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published in January 2014 and has been edited to include what has transpired recently.
As the dream of becoming a McDonald's All-American has grown over the years, so has the scrutiny of the annual roster selections. Twenty five years ago, the picks were announced and few people had the knowledge or insight to argue them. Before the Internet, YouTube and social media, information on great high school players traveled slower around the country than it does now. Only a handful of national scouts truthfully saw a majority of the nation's best players.
"Sonny Vaccaro began his game nine years before me (1965) when I started the Capital Classic in 1974," McDonald's All-American Game founder Bob Geoghan said in 2014. "I was always honest with people and told them for the Capital Classic, I did what was in the best interests of the game. The McDonald's Game was different because you had to be voted on, and I decided I would not have a vote. As the founder and executive director, I would never have a vote. It's not a perfect system, but I hand-picked a number of people who were legitimate talent evaluators.
"In some of the early years, we only picked 20 players," Geoghan said. "I always felt we picked the best we could. It's always hard to project late-bloomers and some of the guys who were can't miss, didn't make it anywhere."
The McDonald's Selection Committee came under scrutiny in the late 1990s and 2000s for some of the selections, including a grey area of allowing some fifth-year players to participate and others not to. To its credit, the game's organizers realized the selection committee needed to be expanded to include younger, more mobile, talent evaluators so a new crop of credible talent scouts were brought into the fold. This infusion of scouts, who are regulars on the recruiting trail, helped curtail a majority of that scrutiny in recent years.
"I started with about 12, but the voting committee slowly expanded because I wanted to make it as democratic as possible," Geoghan said. "I always lamented one of the voters picking a player because he saw them once -- and saw him play his best game -- and said 'he has to be a McDonald's All-American.'"
Not everyone is happy with the annnual selections. With a task as enormous and important as nailing down the nation's 24 best high school players, it comes with the territory that the end result will produce a deserving player or two being left off.
And we're not talking about great talents without a high school resume, or who were injured or fifth-year players ineligible for the game. We're talking about players who enjoyed some success in grassroots basketball and monster success with their high school team.
Over the years, there's been some All-American-level players overlooked and today we decided to give them their proper acclaim.
Top 12 Players Who Should Have Been McDonald's All-Americans
(List does not include those ineligible for the game because of age, academics, injury or because they were post-graduate players. Players who fall in one of these categories include Anfernee Hardaway, Schea Cotton and John Wall; All-Star Sports rankings began in 1979 and the Hoop Scoop in 1984)
1. Glen Rice, Northwestern (Flint, Mich.) 6-7 F (1985)
Ranking: No. 8 (Hoop Scoop), No. 13 (All-Star Sports)
Whenever the term McDonald's snub is used, it conjures up an image of this sweet-shooting forward. Michigan's Mr. Basketball for 1985, Rice averaged 20.8 ppg on a 27-1 team as a junior and was even better his senior season. Northwestern finished 28-0 and ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today. "The committee didn't choose him, but we knew of him because, back then, coaches called to make sure we knew about a kid. Quite frankly, they didn't know how the team was picked," Geoghan said.
2. Rod Strickland, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-2 G (1985)
Ranking: No. 16 (Hoop Scoop), No. 4 (All-Star Sports)
Led Harry Truman (Bronx, N.Y.) to a state federation title as a junior and was a consensus Top 20 ranked prospect, but transferred to Oak Hill for his senior season. Oak Hill didn't have the sterling reputation it does now and current Oak Hill coach Steve Smith told us Strickland was "a handful." As an assistant coach on that team, one of Smith's job was keeping Strickland in line. "I don't remember him particularly, but character counts to a certain degree," Geoghan said. Strickland was arguably the nation's best point guard and at Sonny Vaccaro's Roundball Classic, he was the U.S. team MVP with 20 points, six steals and three assists.
3. Onyeka Okongwu, Chino Hills (Calif.) 6-8 C (2019)
Ranking: No. 8 (Hoop Scoop), No. 22 (All-Star Sports)
Okongwu is known best for helping an already legendary Huskies club go 35-0 to capture the 2016 FAB 50 national championship when the Big O was a 14-year old freshman. After Melo Ball (another 14-year old starter on that team) left school, Okongwu became more of a focal point of the offense and simply dominated California ball because his impeccable defensive instincts and timing never wavered. He finished his career with three CIF state titles and is a two-time Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball. He also helped his Compton Magic travel club capture a mythical grassroots national title in 2018 with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots in a 81-79 overtime victory over Team Takeover.
4. Marc Wilson, Calvert Hall (Towson, Md.) 6-1 G (1982)
Ranking: Third Team Top 33 (B/C Scouting), No. 35 (All-Star Sports)
The point guard on the No. 1 ranked team in the country by the National Sports News Service (precursor to FAB 50), Wilson was a clutch player and a demon on the fast break, according to coach Mark Amatucci. Wilson got off to a great start his senior season and nowadays, that likely would have created a spot for him on the team in the mold of Tyler Lewis (2012) or Nigel Williams-Goss (2013). Calvert Hall finished 34-0, winning the Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic, the Pepsi Cola Challenge and the Alhambra Tournament along the way. On one of the first teams to truly play a national schedule, Money was better the bigger the game was.
5. Trevor Ariza, Westchester (Los Angeles) 6-8 F (2003)
Ranking: No. 18 (Hoop Scoop), No. 16 (All-Star Sports)
Ariza might not have had the greatest summer heading into his senior season and was a bit of a position-less monster, but his talent was immense. A consensus Top 20 prospect, Ariza averaged averaged 22 points and eight rebounds per game on a deep and talented team. Westchester finished 33-3 and ranked No. 4 in the FAB 50. It's not hard to find a guy in the 2003 game that Ariza should have replaced (whereas some years it's difficult to do that).
6. Cameron Thomas, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) 6-3 G (2020)
Ranking: No. 25 (Hoop Scoop), No. 25 (247 Composite)
Steve Smith has coached 33 McDonald’s All-Americans up to this point at the famous Southwest Virginia boarding school and was a bit perplexed his sweet-shooting guard was not No. 34. The normally mild Smith had something to say about it on social media. Thomas left the storied program as its all-time leading scorer and had a spectacular senior season. Thomas scored 1,258 points, just shy of the single-season school record of 1,312 points held by 2008 Mr. Basketball USA Brandon Jennings. He averaged 31.4 ppg for a 37-3 team that finished No. 9 in the FAB 50. In the summer pro, he was the Nike EYBL's leading scorer (29 ppg) and took Boo Williams to the Peach Jam title game.
7. Tyrone Bogues, Dunbar (Baltimore, Md.) 5-3 G (1983)
Ranking: No. 24 (All-Star Sports)
Teammate Reggie Williams (No. 4 All-Star Sports) was the Mr. Basketball USA choice on a team some observers feel is the best high school team, ever. With a dozen other players on the roster who could play at the D1 level, it's easy to see how Bouges was a bit overlooked. He shouldn't have been, however, because he was Dunbar's team MVP, averaging eight points, 10 assists and eights steals per game. Bouges dominated games with his determination, ball-hawking defense and stamina. "He got the MVP of the Capital Classic," Geoghan said. "I think because of his height, they said he was a water bug, and because Reggie Williams was projected to be a star, Bouges got overlooked. Nobody I knew at the time projected him to be a great college player. To be honest with you, we took Muggsy because we couldn't get Reggie."
8. DeAndre Jordan, Christian Life (Humble, Texas) 6-11 C (2007)
Ranking: No. 24 (Hoop Scoop), No. 22 (All-Star Sports)
The Class of 2007 was a special group, one of the greatest classes of all-time. Looking at the big men in the class, however, it's easy to see that Jordan belonged. He played outstanding ball at the 2006 ABCD Camp, ranking as the No. 12 performer in camp by the Hoop Scoop. As a senior averaged 19 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots per game. Jordan did play in the final Roundball Classic, scoring six points and blocking six shots.
9. Sergio McClain, Manual (Peoria, Ill.) 6-4 F (1997)
Ranking: No. 32 (Hoop Scoop), No. 35 (All-Star Sports)
Sure, McClain's game didn't translate into superstardom on the next levels, but that shouldn't have kept him from being recognized as a McDonald's All-American. The leading scorer on the nation’s top-ranked team (18.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists), his value in fourth quarter, pressure situations simply can’t be measured by any stat. McClain was one of high school basketball's ultimate winners, helping Manual win four straight Class AA state championships. He was chosen Mr. Basketball in Illinois, even over teammate and McDonald's All-American Marcus Griffin.
10. Kawhi Leonard, M.L. King (Riverside, Calif.) 6-7 F (2009)
Ranking: No. 16 (Hoop Scoop), No. 50 (All-Star Sports)
A classic example of a later bloomer and a player who didn't get the proper exposure on the grassroots circuit, Leonard was a part-time starter as a high school sophomore. He kept working on his game and after transferring to King helped the Wolves to two consecutive CIF Div. I SoCal regional finals. Whenever a majority of the selection committee got to see him play, however, he was overshadowed by McDonald's All-American Renardo Sidney on the L.A. Dream Team, a grassroots travel team created for Sidney. Halfway through his senior season (in which he averaged 22.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists) it was evident to many Leonard should have been on the team. He was on his way to a cinch Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball selection.
11. Jamal Mashburn, Cardinal Hayes (Bronx, N.Y.) 6-8 F (1990)
Ranking: No. 4 (Hoop Scoop), No. 8 (All-Star Sports)
Perhaps the voters didn't want to make the game too New York City heavy. Perhaps he came on a bit late. Mashburn, however, got plenty of exposure playing for the legendary New York Gauchos travel team and in the most competitive high school basketball league in the country at the time (C.H.S.A.A.). The four other players from the CHSAA he made first team all-state with (Tolentine's Adrian Autry and Brian Reese and Christ the King's Khalid Reeves and Derrick Phelps) were McDonald's All-Americans, but it was Mashburn who was named New York's Mr. Basketball. He led Hayes to its first CHSAA title since 1944 by scoring 18 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists in the 52-46 championship game win over All Hallows. If you include Oak Hill Academy's Anthony Cade, New York City produced five McDonald's All-Americans that season, but Mash wasn't one of them. From a national rankings perspective, Mash could easily be No. 3 or No. 4 on this list.
12. Leon Wood, St. Monica’s (Santa Monica, Calif.) 6-3 G (1979)
Ranking: First Team Top 33 (B/C Scouting), No. 25 (All-Star Sports)
Similar to DeAndre Jordan, Wood played in a loaded class, so it was likely a numbers' game. Wood, however, was arguably the best shooter in the class. He stood out at the '78 Superstar Camp, according to noted skills trainer Ruben Luna. "I saw Leon beat Paul Westphal in H-O-R-S-E with the whole camp yelling, 'Take him outside Leon.' He was raining from deep." As a senior, he averaged 41.5 ppg and was his team's MVP in two games at the Roundball Classic.
13. Imari Sawyer, M.L. King (Chicago) 6-2 G (2000)
Ranking: No. 19 (Hoop Scoop), No. 23 (All-Star Sports)
A consensus Top 25 player, Sawyer was a scoring guard who could also pass the rock with flash. As a senior, he averaged 31 points and 12 assists per game. Even if he had a slow start to his senior year or a couple of bad outings in the summer, it's not as if voters didn't know who he was coming from a program that previously produced numerous All-Americans. Sawyer finished his high school career with 3,005 points.
Others Whom Should Be Prominently Mentioned:
(Listed by graduating class and national class ranking)
TyTy Washington, AZ Compass Prep (Chandler, Ariz.) 6-4 G (2021)
Ranking: No. 25 (Hoop Scoop), No. 15 (247 Composite)
E.J. Liddell, Belleville West (Belleville, Ill.) 6-7 F (2019)
Ranking: No. 15 (Hoop Scoop), No. 37 (All-Star Sports)
Javonte Smart, Scotlandville Magnet (Baton Rouge, La.) 6-4 G (2018)
Ranking: No. 21 (Hoop Scoop), No. 33 (All-Star Sports)
Emmitt Williams, Oak Ridge (Orlando, Fla.) 6-7 F (2018)
Ranking: No. 10 (Hoop Scoop), No. 16 (All-Star Sports)
Chris Lykes, Gonzaga College (Washington, D.C.) 5-8 G (2017)
Ranking: No. 21 (Hoop Scoop), No. 44 (All-Star Sports)
Mustapha Heron, Sacred Heart (Waterbury, Conn.) 6-6 F (2016)
Ranking: No. 6 (Hoop Scoop), No. 19 (All-Star Sports)
Cassius Winston, U-D Jesuit (Detroit) 6-0 G (2016)
Ranking: No. 26 (Hoop Scoop), No. 31 (All-Star Sports)
Tyler Dorsey, Maranatha (Pasadena, Calif.) 6-5 G (2015)
Ranking: No. 12 (Hoop Scoop), No. 27 (All-Star Sports)
Nick Emery, Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) 6-1 G (2013)
Ranking: No. 56 (Hoop Scoop), No. 61 (All-Star Sports)
Sam Dekker, Sheboygan Lutheran (Sheboygan, Wis.) 6-7 F (2012)
Ranking: No. 17 (Hoop Scoop), No. 21 (All-Star Sports)
Dorian Finney-Smith, Norcom (Portsmouth, Va.) 6-7 F (2011)
Ranking: No. 43 (Hoop Scoop), No. 25 (All-Star Sports)
B.J. Young, McCluer North (Florissant, Mo.) 6-4 G (2011)
Ranking: No. 16 (Hoop Scoop), No. 37 (All-Star Sports)
Damion James, Nacogdoches (Texas) 6-8 F (2006)
Ranking: No. 23 (Hoop Scoop), No. 16 (All-Star Sports)
Kevin Bookout, Stroud (Okla.) 6-8 C (2002)
Ranking: No. 10 (Hoop Scoop), No. 16 (All-Star Sports)
Doug Wrenn, O’Dea (Seattle) 6-7 F (1998)
Ranking: No. 14 (Hoop Scoop), No. 47 (All-Star Sports)
Kenny Brunner, Dominguez (Compton, Calif.) 5-9 G (1997)
Ranking: No. 9 (Hoop Scoop), No. 41 (All-Star Sports)
Ricky Davis, North (Davenport, Iowa) 6-5 G (1997)
Ranking: No. 13 (Hoop Scoop), No. 11 (All-Star Sports)
Jason Hart, Inglewood (Calif.) 6-3 G (1996)
Ranking: No. 31 (Hoop Scoop), No. 21 (All-Star Sports)
Kenny Thomas, Albuquerque (N.M.) 6-8 C (1995)
Ranking: No. 31 (Hoop Scoop), No. 12 (All-Star Sports)
Tremaine Fowlkes, Crenshaw (Los Angeles) 6-7 F (1994)
Ranking: No. 27 (Hoop Scoop), No. 18 (All-Star Sports)
Michael Spruell, Albany (Ga.) 6-1 G (1994)
Ranking: No. 10 (Hoop Scoop), No. 41 (All-Star Sports)
Andre Woolridge, Benson (Omaha, Neb.) 6-2 G (1992)
Ranking: No. 23 (Hoop Scoop), No. 16 (All-Star Sports)
Harold Miner, Inglewood (Calif.) 6-5 G (1989)
Ranking: No. 22 (Hoop Scoop), No. 29 (All-Star Sports)
Curt "Trouble" Smith, Coolidge (Washington, D.C.) 5-10 G (1989)
Ranking: No. 33 (Hoop Scoop), No. 54 (All-Star Sports)
Richard Dumas, Washington (Tulsa, Ok.) 6-6 F (1987)
Ranking: No. 22 (Hoop Scoop), No. 35 (All-Star Sports)
Stacy Augmon, Muir (Pasadena, Calif.) 6-8 F (1986)
Ranking: No. 31 (Hoop Scoop), No. 8 (All-Star Sports)
Len Bias, Northwestern (Hyattsville, Md.) 6-8 F (1982)
Ranking: First Team Top 33 (B/C Scouting); No. 8 (All-Star Sports)