After being sidelined the last two years due to COVID, the McDonald’s All-American Games returned in all of its glory. Held at Wintrust Arena, home of the WNBA Champions, the Chicago Sky, we had two days of amazing basketball, a Lil’ Baby halftime performance and a Ronald McDonald sighting. It was definitely a great return to live action for the country’s premier high school basketball event.
Brittney Elena was tapped as host for the games and her energy matched what was happening in the arena. Things got started on Monday night with the Powerade Jam Fest. Indya Nivar edged out Paris Clark in the Skills Challenge. Mark Mitchell handled things a little more decisively on the boys’ end. The girls’ three-point contest gave us possibly the most exciting part of the evening. Ashlon Jackson gave a preview of what the fans in Durham can look forward to next year. The Duke commit caught fire on her last two racks, captivating her fellow All-Americans, making them stand up and cheer as she shot her way to a win. Her 18-points in the final round was the highest score of the night. Keyonte George took home the hardware for the boys’ but Gradey Dick made it interesting. He hit 4 out of 5 shots on the first rack but faded down the stretch. He had Keyonte sweating but just couldn’t get enough shots to fall.
The fireworks continued with the Dunk Contest. Nick Smith Jr. put on a show but in the end, Ashlyn Watkins held it down for the girls. She finished things off with a perfect score, after throwing one down off the backboard alle-oop. Watkins said she hadn’t planned on doing the dunk. She just winged it and came up with something creative. Safe to say that worked out for her. Ashlyn also paid homage to Candace Parker, the first female McDAAG Slam Dunk Champion, with a behind-the-back dunk, while donning the Chicago native’s jersey. Although he didn’t win, Nick Smith Jr. definitely had some impressive throw-downs. He east-bayed one off the bounce and caught an alley-oop to himself, while holding his cell phone in his off hand. Despite his awesome display, the lady high flyers have claimed the last two Slam Dunk Championships. The fellas have some catching up to do.
Tuesday night belonged to the East squads, as the boys and girls teams each won their respective games by at least 20 points. In the girls game, Janiyah Barker set the tone early, scoring the first 6 points as the East jumped to a quick lead. They never looked back, as they secured the wire to wire victory. Morgan Wooten, Player of the Year, Kiki Rice, turned up as the game went on. She finished with 17 points and took home Co-MVP honors, with her future UCLA teammate, Gabriela Jaquez, who also finished with 17. On the boys side, future Blue Devil, Dariq Whitehead was named MVP, after racking up 13 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in the rout. A couple of his teammates joined the party as well. Villanova commit, Cam Whitmore, had 19 points, 8 rebounds and 5 dimes and Chris Livingston, who will suit up for Kentucky next year, put up 13 points, 6 boards and and 5 assists. Mark Mitchell stood out for the West, with 19 points, but the East ran away with this one to the tune of a 105-81 victory.
It was a great couple of days in Chicago and the kids showed out, in front of a star studded crowd. Ivory Latta was a judge for the Dunk Contest and Jermaine O’Neal and Erica Wheeler sat courtside during the games. After a two-year hiatus, this was a perfect way to welcome back fans and players. 2023 can’t come fast enough. I’m sure they’re going to have something special cooked up.