Long gone are the times when Earvin – later known as Magic – was named to be part of what was to be the first class of McDonald’s All-Americans to ever grace such honor. He, along another 13 more players from around the nation and two alternates just in case someone couldn’t make it, were selected for the team that comprised what were supposed to be the most stacked roster of high school seniors available back then in 1977 to face a squad made out of stars from Washington D.C.
Of those who made it to the NBA (10 of the 14), almost everyone had at least three or four fruitful seasons in the League, while Magic Johnson became the face of it during his peak. The trend has been steady since the first edition of the game, and although there have been atrocious classes (the one of 1992 only featured six future NBA players, and three never reached 600 games) the norm says that more than half the field of players selected would have productive pro-careers.
We still don’t know what will happen to the class of 2018 in terms of their career development. What we already know are the names of those who will feature in this upcoming late-March clash between the East and West All-American teams.
The game isn't until March, but the rosters are in.— ESPN (@espn) January 24, 2019
Here's your first look at the @McDonalds All American Game: pic.twitter.com/oewq2VizLw
The rosters, must be said, are as stacked as they can. Yes, there are snubs. Yes, there are players who – most probably – will eventually flop. It’s the law of nature and we can do nothing about it. The selection committee had to chose between 800+ pre-selected players (including boys and girls) and only 24 made the final cut (48 if we include the girls’ teams). That means less than 6% of the players that appeared on the preliminary list will play in March, let alone the percentage if we consider all seniors and eligible kids playing around the nation.
Although each scouting service ranks player differently, we can look at 247Sports Composite rankings (which aggregates those of multiple sites) to get an overall idea of how the selection went and who deserved to get in or was left out without meriting it. Of the 24 selected, only three fall off the best 24 players ranked by 247Sports (No. 27 Trendon Watford, No. 26 Tre Mann and No. 47 Samuell Williamson). They got in by moving next-best ranked No. 18 Onyeka Okongwu, No. 21 Will Baker and No. 22 Keion Brooks out. By these rankings – which by no means should be taken as the be-all end-all benchmark of future success – the selections were pretty much spot-on.
With the names already known, let’s take a quick look at the tiers of prospects that will feature (and who won’t) on the 42nd edition of the McDonald’s All-American game:
Tier 1: Can’t-Miss Kids
The cream of the crop of this season’s class of HS seniors is highlighted by James Wiseman, Vernon Carey, Cole Anthony and Anthony Edwards. Everyone of them boast a grade of 0.999+ on 247Sports, which is to say they are historically on par with prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons or Kyrie Irving. Two of them, Anthony and Edwards, have yet to pick a college and will play together on the East team along other players who could sway their final decisions. A little under that mark, I would personally put Scottie Lewis (No. 12), Bryan Antoine (No. 13) and Nico Mannion (No. 14) in this group too.
Tier 2: Best Prospects
A notch below the sure-things (if we can be sure of anything at this level), we find a bunch of players that have been tearing up rivals during the past few seasons. For me, the names to keep an eye on would include those of Jaden McDaniels (No. 5), Isaiah Stewart (No. 6), Kahlil Whitney (No. 8), Tyrese Maxey (No. 10), Josh Green (No. 11) and Isaiah Mobley (No. 17). I find hard to find glaring faults in their game, and that made them stay in this second group.
Tier 3: Good-not-Great Guys
Be it a lack of effort (because of them or the lack of competition, which can happen at this level), of an aspect of the game (outside shooting, vision, rebounding, defense, you name it) or any other little flaw, the next few guys are also at the top of the game but dropped to this third tier. Here I would allocate kids such as Matthew Hurt (No. 7), Precious Achiuwa (No. 9), Joshia James (No. 15), Trayce Jackson-Davis (No.16), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (No. 19), Armando Bacot (No. 20) and Tre Mann (No. 26). I hope I don’t have to remind you that even while they were put in this third level, this guys were cherry picked from all of the nation’s seniors, so we are not dealing with middling players here.
Tier 4: All-Upside Players
Finally, at this point we are left with five prospects that for one reason or another are not ranked that high as their peers. On average, they are low in the positional ranks for the role they play on the court, and that means they’ll play with a chip in their shoulder, thus trying to elevate their game over that of the most coveted players. Here we have Oscar Tshiebwe (No. 23), Wendell More (No. 24), Trendon Watford (No. 27) and Samuell Williamson (No. 47).
No-No Tier: Snubs and Misses
I have already said it and I can’t be clearer: this All-American class of players is as good as it can be, snubs or not. Even with that, though, some names that won’t be on the court for the all-star game this next March make some of the selections a little dubious not because of the lack of quality of those picked, but because of the talent of those left out.
The most glaring case can be that of Onyeka Okongwu (No. 18), who playing for Chino Hills has never been nationally ranked lower than No. 20 and has quite a résumé including being named California Mr. Basketball and having a national AAU chip to his name. With him, two other already mentioned prospects ranked between the best 24 players of the nation (Will Baker and Keion Brooks) will be watching from home. On a personal level, I’d include Cassius Stanley (No. 27), Jalen Lecque (No. 29), Boogie Ellis (No. 36) and Isaac Okoro (No. 38) as notable omissions that will take some fun off the game not being part of it.
At this point, and just to close all of this, you may still be wondering why after reading more than a thousand words you have yet to find the name of LaMelo Ball. The youngest of the BBB brothers is playing point at SPIRE Academy (OH) this season after a spell in Lithuania. That, precisely, is what has – also with the business of LaVar Ball floating around – made it a tough out for him to make a name for himself in the HS and college recruiting rankings, as his situation is unique. Although considered one of the best point guards and overall players in the nation (ESPN just ranked him No. 13 for the 2019 class, only behind fellow PGs Cole Anthony and Nico Mannion), he has yet to receive official offers from meaningful NCAA DI colleges and that is not a lock to happen as he could be deemed ineligible to play at that level. This could mean sitting out for a year, another season playing in Europe or at another country and team who eventually wanted his services, or enter the NBA’s outer-circles by playing for a G-League team before he declares for the 2020 NBA draft. In any case, LaMelo’s ability is undeniable and he will make it to the League in most scenarios. Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear his name a lot during the next twelve months, but prepare to see him raise on mock drafts come June 2020.
Wiseman, Carey, and the rest of the top-crew will still be there, but competition will definitely emerge from the most unexpected places and things will start looking much different once the new college season start next fall and finishes months later with everybody looking to make the jump to pro-ball.