Texans In McDAAG: Then vs Now!

The special set of 24 players have been announced for the 2023 McDonald's All-American Game. A special time for the players that will grace the red, yellow and white color schemed uniforms on March 28. From NBA Legends such as Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant to the modern day stars like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis & James Harden, the McDonald’s Game has displayed an abundance of future NBA players. Everyone knows what it means to be a McDonald's All-American 

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Congratulations to all the players selected for this year's game and especially the two from Texas (little hometown bias never hurt): Ron Holland (Duncanville, Dallas) & Texas native Ja’Kobe Walter (Link Year Academy, Branson, Mo.) join the elite group of 24 and will man the courts at the Toyota Center. 

Representation as a whole of Texas players in the annual East vs. West affair that began in 1978, especially over the past ten years, has been strong. ESPECIALLY in comparison to the first ten years of the game. Why is that? I did some research and wanted to take a dive in to this topic.

Let’s start from the very beginning. 

No player from Texas was selected in 1977 (when a group of 15 took on the DMV All-Stars at the Capital Classic and featured Magic Johnson) but in ‘78 Rudy Woods of Bryan High School made the West team and won team MVP of the game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. He is the only player from Texas to win the MVP of the game. In 1979, future 12-year NBA vet Greg Kite (James Madison, Houston) made the field of 24 and that was impressive. From top to bottom that might be the most impressive McDonald's class of all-time.

We didn’t see another player make it to the game until 1983 when Rickie Winslow (Jack Yates, Houston) was selected. Rickie is the father of Justice Winslow (St John’s High School, Houston), who was selected in 2014. The Winslows are the only father-son duo from Texas to be selected for the prestigious game. In ‘85, the father of current Boston Celtic Al Horford made the game. Tito Horford arrived at Marion Christian (Houston) from the Dominican Republic in the upperclassman years of his high school career and made noise quickly. 

Finishing up the first 10 years, in 1987 for the first time we saw two Texas representatives in the game with LaBradford Smith (Bay City High School) and “Grandma Ma” Larry Johnson (Skyline High School, Dallas) LaBradford earned Texas Mr. Basketball in 1987 and was a first round pick in the 1991 NBA Draft. Larry Johnson won a NCAA Title with UNLV in 1990, was the 1st overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft and became a 2x NBA All Star. As he proved in high school, college and the NBA before his injuries, Johnson was a special talent even though he might of been overshadowed in many respects by Smith.  

That’s six…a total of six players from Texas that participated in the McDAAG and that was before a time where prep schools were a huge thing. That's significant because Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) was just becoming a national destination in 1987. There weren’t multiple players on a team making the McDAAG like we’ve seen in the past 10 years from the likes of IMG Academy, Montverde Academy, Findlay Prep, etc.

In saying all this, there weren’t many academy type programs, as players made the game mainly from public and parochial schools. There also wasn't many players that represented a school from a particular state, but held permanent residency in another state as you might see now. Texas had six players in the first ten years and was the third largest state by population at the time. Crazy right?

Now looking at the last ten years we have had 27 players originally from Texas make the game. Either that’s Texas natives who played for an academy-type (in which we still count here for argument purposes) or ones that went to school in the Lone Star State. 

2013 and 2014 alone surpassed 1977-1987 by three, as nine players saw their names announced. Since 2013, we have had four years where at least four players from Texas made the game. 2013 had five, there were four in 2014, five in in 2016, and 2022, we saw another five chosen. 

What changed? Did basketball get taken more seriously in Texas? I heard stories of players way before I was born, so it seemed the talent was here.

To get answers I had to ask the ones that witnessed what happened and were part of the history. First was long-time grassroots basketball scout and owner of Texasboysbasketball.com and Xccelerated Sports Metrics, Alan Branch. Next was Horace Coleman from Dallas who was part of grassroots programs Dallas Slamma Jamma who were approached and had contracts with numerous shoe companies and last but not least, current CBSSN Analyst, former Interim Head Coach at Texas Tech and four year point guard at Villanova from 1988-1992 in Chris Walker. Walker also played at Milby High School (Houston) where he was a Converse All-American and an UIL All-State and All-Greater Houston selection team. 

“Well AAU didn’t come onto the scene in Texas until the late 80’s,” Branch said. “They didn’t allow AAU but we could play in Little Dribblers in the summer and play games at the recreation center. The winner of that would go on to the all-city league.”

Starting to make some sense out of it, a court case also opened things up for summer basketball camps in the state. 

“There was only one summer basketball camp a kid in Texas could go to back then and that was in Huntsville and they only invited 30 players,” Coleman said. “When Greg Kite sued the UIL (University Interscholastic League) and won, it started opening up basketball more in Texas which was the start of what we see today.”

Yes, Kite, who participated in the 1979 McDonald’s Game, sued the UIL to allow players to attend summer camps in Texas. The action was actually filed in 1978 by Robert Kite, who was the Next Friend of Greg Kite, due to Greg being a minor at the time. 

Prior to Greg winning the case in the early 80’s, if a player went to a camp that wasn’t approved, under UIL rules that player would have to sit out the entire year of school ball. 

With influential writers and media concentrated on the East Coast at the time, a player from Texas didn’t have many opportunities to play in front of those guys in the spring and/or summer. 

“There was definitely an East Coast bias at the time," Walker said. "A majority of the writers were from the East Coast and the college games you saw on TV were Big East or ACC. TV as a whole wasn’t big like that. Everything was regional. The Southwest Conference didn’t have a national TV deal, so everyone thought Texas was just a football state and hoopers there weren’t good.”

Before the BIG 12, there was the eight-team Southwest Conference that consisted of University of Arkansas, UT-Austin, University of Houston, SMU, Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and Rice. According to Coleman, Branch and Walker, colleges from other regions thought it would be a waste of time to recruit in Texas because they would end up at a school in the Southwest Conference. Since there wasn’t any national coverage here and most players went to school in the Southwest Conference, the players didn’t get the attention they deserved.

Guys such as Smith (Louisville), Johnson (UNLV) and Walker (Villanova) showed coaches across the country, not to mention younger players from Texas, that they could go out of the region and be successful.

Walker and Coleman talked about no writers from Texas at the time, but the pioneer in regards to covering the players was Mike Kunstadt. The creator of the Great American Shootout and Texas Hoops Scouting Service. 

“Mike was the first one to write about the players and put reports out. It brought more attention to the college coaches outside of Texas about the talent out here,” Coleman said. 

Now let’s talk about the emergence of grassroots basketball. When talking about the Godfathers of AAU in Texas, Michael Young, Stephen Land and Jack Thompson are prominent. 

Land and Thompson had the only two AAU programs in the state of Texas. Their programs were also the only ones in Texas that could get invited to John Farrell’s Summer Invitational Tournament in Las Vegas. 

Their successors are now legends in the Texas grassroots space; guys such as Rob Wright, Horace Coleman, John Eurey, Mitch Malone, Wes Grandstaff, Hal Pastner and the list goes on. 

Now fast forward to today and now I understand what took place, and why, in order for Texas to get the basketball recognition it deserved. 

1. AAU and travel ball opened the popularity of basketball in the state, which caused more children to play the sport. 

2. The advancement of TV brought exposure to the players.

3. Guys in Texas leaving the state for college and having success changed the narrative on players from the Lone Star State

4. Writers reporting about the players and those reports going to the masses also helped change the narrative.  

Speaking of narratives, it has definitely changed in the past 46 years. From a state where it’s was only recognized for football to a state that produces pros yearly, a state that prep schools come every year to recruit, a state where the norm is 40-55 Division 1 recruits and 15-20 of them are going high major a year. That every year now! 

Texas has also withstood the era of prep schools dominating the high end market as we still recognize our guys that finished out in a different state such as ‘22 honorees Keyonte George (IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL), Jordan Walsh (Link Year Academy - Branson, MO) and the most recent transplant: 2023 Ja’Kobe Walter of Link Year Academy in Missouri. 

It’s great to live in a state that's a hotbed for high level basketball players. I'm also appreciative of the ones that fought and made it what it is today.


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