Five thoughts and observations from the McDonald’s All-American week

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(McDonald’s All-American Game)

CHICAGO — The 2014 McDonald’s All-American game was played last night and the same saw a showcase of the future stars of college basketball. Having McDonald’s All-Americans on your roster is usually a pre-requisite to winning a national championship.

Since 1979, only Maryland in 2002 won a national title without a McDonald’s All-American on its roster. Wisconsin and UConn (Rodney Purvis is sitting out the year) could threaten that status in this year’s Final Four.

The game is a fun showcase that saw the West beat the East, 105-102, in the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday, but the week’s worth of practices and scrimmages are where the action takes place. NBA GMs and scouts will take in McDonald’s All-American practices and all of the top national talent evaluators are in the building as well.

Here are five thoughts from the week of practices and the game that saw a talented — but not star-laden — 2014 class compete.

1. I’m not sure who the No. 1 player in this 2014 class is yet, but I’m not sold on it being Jahlil Okafor, the No. 1 player for ESPN, Scout and Rivals. Although Okafor is a no-brainer contributor on the offensive end for Duke next season — and Jahlil won co-MVP honors for the West team on Wednesday — there are still some concerns in his game going into the collegiate level. Outside of three feet Okafor often puts the ball on the floor and attempts to spin and use his hips to create space instead of going up strong or quick, which will aid collapsing double teams at the college level. Okafor is also an average positional defender who is just okay at hedging ball screens. He’s a great area rebounder but average out-of-area rebounder at times. That being said, Okafor isn’t falling out of the top three, but there are some concerns about all of the bigs in this class.

2. To go along with the other bigs, Texas-native and unsigned center 7-foot center Myles Turner has a lot of potential with his ability to block shots and hit perimeter jumpers. Turner has added strength and still has good end-to-end speed. But he isn’t very laterally quick and at times struggles with footwork. 6-foot-8 Chicago-native and Kansas commit Cliff Alexander is aggressive, powerful and raw, but he still needs skill development and at times struggles against length. Kentucky commit and Indiana-native Trey Lyles is talented at 6-foot-9 but has slowdowns in effort and isn’t as tough on the interior as he needs to be at times. Similar things can be said of fellow Kentucky commit Karl Towns, a skilled 7-foot center with great skill but a power game that lacks at times.

3. So if Okafor isn’t the clear-cut No. 1 player, who is? Texas guard Emmanuel Mudiay will try to put SMU into the NCAA Tournament next season and he should pair nicely with current sophomore guard Nic Moore. The two can score or handle and Mudiay told NBCSports.com that they plan on playing both guard spots. Mudiay is a tremendous athlete at 6-foot-4, a lockdown defender, fierce competitor, and fantastic passer. He is at his best scoring off the dribble where he is nearly uncontainable because of his first step, size and athleticism. His jumper still needs some work, but he’s tough going to the rim. Findlay Prep guard Rashad Vaughn should be exactly the go-to perimeter scorer that UNLV needs next season as he’s a complete guard that can do a number of things well. At 6-foot-5, Vaughn has an advanced array of moves off-the-dribble, can go left or right with ease, he passes well with both hands and has improved cross-court vision. Vaughn is also a reliable jump shooter that has improved tremendously in consistency since last summer. He’s clearly put in a ton of work in his senior season. Arizona commit Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-7 skilled and strong force on the perimeter also could stake his claim at being one of the best players during the week.

4. Multiple schools have multiple All-Americans. Kentucky and Duke each have four, North Carolina has three and UCLA and Kansas each has two. The rich get richer. The Wildcats add Lyles, Towns, point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting guard Devin Booker. Ulis is small at 5-foot-9 but incredible at running pick-and-rolls and running high ball screens while Booker is skilled and shows a great ability to score in multiple ways, although he’ll need to get more physical. Duke has Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones, shooting guard Grayson Allen and wing Justise Winslow. Jones is fantastic offensively and the most complete offensive package of any point guard, but he’s had a so-so defensive week as an on-the-ball defender. Allen has shown a pretty well-rounded guard package with great athleticism and bounciness. Winslow is the son of former McDonald’s All-American Ricky Winslow (’83, Houston) and is a really tough two-way wing that does anything to win. The Carolina trio of point guard Joel Berry II (6-foot-1), wing Theo Pinson (6-foot-5) and wing Justin Jackson (6-foot-8) are all skilled and should play well together. UCLA’s interior duo of Thomas Welsh (7-foot) and Kevon Looney (6-foot-9) played well at times this week and should help the Bruins interior depth. Kansas commits Alexander and 6-foot-8 wing Kelly Oubre both had great days and off days during the week.

5. Some good scoring guards headed to some unique schools in this game. Seton Hall is getting a competitive 6-foot-4 guard in Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead. Whitehead can really defend and loves hitting tough shots. Indiana is getting a tremendous scorer in James Blackmon Jr., who is definitely more of a scoring guard. On high screens, he’s devastating, but he’s not strong enough as a passer to be a primary handler. Maryland commit Melo Trimble is 6-foot-3 and can really get hot shooting the ball with his great-looking jumper. He has a tough time defending at times, but should get points off the bench at a minimum. Ohio State should get some scoring help from D’Angelo Russell, who’s sweet lefty jumper can go down from nearly anywhere on some tough looks. The only player I didn’t mention is Stanford commit Reid Travis, who is a tough 6-foot-7 forward that is athletic and plays with power moves but is a tad undersized. He’ll figure things out eventually.

Did Nike plagiarize JellyFam, Minnesota freshman Isaiah Washington to sell kid shoes?

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The JellyFam movement started as nothing more than a way for a little New York City point guard to add some flair to his game, a way to stunt on an opponent when you can’t dunk on that opponent, and has grown into something no one, not even Isaiah Washington, could have imagined.

Washington is that little point guard, and a few years ago, he and a couple of his hooping buddies coined the jelly, which, at its root, is essentially nothing more than a finger roll. Where the magic happens is when that finger comes after weaving around an opponent or finishing the layup despite the presence of a shot-blocker at the rim, with a sprinkle of NYC Point God showmanship. Think Kyrie Irving’s layup package if they happened at Rucker Park with an And1 Mixtape crew filming the game:

What JellyFam has turned into is a full-blown, grassroots movement powered by social media.

And while Washington is the face of the movement, it’s not just him. A half-dozen other talented New York hoopers are members of JellyFam, but Washington is the star. He’s a celebrity on the city’s hoops scene, drawing massive crowds wherever he goes and garnering more than 335,000 followers on Instagram despite having just 27 posts on the site. It’s not as if Washington is a sure-fire NBA All-Star, either. He’s a 6-foot-1, 160 pound point guard that doesn’t crack the top 50 on any of the major recruiting services and is headed to Minnesota to play his college ball.

His popularity is tied directly to the movement that he created.

It’s a shame, however, that he cannot profit off of it, not if he wants to remain an amateur that is eligible to play college basketball.

That doesn’t stop corporations from profiting off of what he has created.

Today, Nike released a new colorway for the kid size PG1s, Paul George’s signature shoe, that has been dubbed the ‘JellyFam PG1’. It’s being sold for $90 on their website right now. This is what it looks like:

What you’ll notice, in addition to purple and turquoise colors that are a staple in the JellyFam gear that Washington wears, is the straps. On the right foot, it says “score in bunches”. On the left foot, you’ll see a design that looks like basketballs on a grapevine … or the grape emoji, with basketballs instead of grapes.

Washington and the rest of the members of JellyFam have adopted the grape emoji as their own when posting on social media.

According to a Nike spokesperson, these shoes were “inspired by Paul George’s love for fresh grapes.”

What Nike is doing here is wrong.

They are trying to capitalize on a movement created by athletes that are not allowed to monetize something they built simply because of the NCAA’s amateurism rules. They are stealing the work created by these young men simply because they can. At worst, this is plagiarism.

Washington did not respond to messages from NBC Sports, but on Friday morning he tweeted, “It’s crazy bro they know I can’t so they just take advantage.” That tweet has since been deleted.

If you read this space, you know my feelings on the NCAA and amateurism. It’s wrong and it needs to be changed, but that’s another column for another day that’s been written thousands of times.

This column is much simpler: An international, multibillion-dollar company like Nike is already profiting off of the unpaid labor of amateur athletes.

Stealing their art, their work, their movement to try and sell sneakers to kids for $90 is despicable.

And I’m not sure there’s anything else to add.

Joel Berry II’s touching encounter with grieving fan

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When you are the starting point guard at North Carolina and a preseason All-American coming off of a season where your team won the national title while you won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award, getting recognized in Chapel Hill comes with the territory.

Joel Berry II should expect it when he goes out to eat.

What Berry wasn’t expecting, however, was that simply being recognized could profoundly affect the life of one of his fans.

Berry shared the story with UNC’s in-house media arm, GoHeels.com. He was at breakfast with his girlfriend when he noticed two women eyeballing him. As it turns out, those two women were the mothers of two boys that had been best friends. One of the boys had moved to Oregon and, in February, died in an car accident. His name was Rob McKiver, and Berry was his favorite player on his favorite team.

MORE: Joel Berry II, fake tattoos and a family’s loving gesture

From GoHeels.com:

That’s why Carol Freedman and Myra McVicker sat in their booth that May morning with tears trickling down their cheeks. Freedman ultimately sent Berry a heartfelt email. She relayed the story of the McVicker family and then explained why the two women had been so closely watching Berry. “Your presence that Saturday, that morning when we could have met anywhere, at any other day or time, reaffirms our belief that those loved ones who leave this Earth are still with us if we look and listen,” she wrote. “In death, Rob let his mother know that his love for her is stronger than ever.”

The email deeply touched Berry, who wrote back that same day.

“This is by far the greatest email I have ever received,” Berry wrote. “I got goosebumps reading this letter and had to share it with my mom and dad. When telling my mom, she cried with joy knowing her son had impacted someone in that way. Each morning, I always tell myself, ‘Something good is going to happen today,’ and as I read that email, I said to myself, ‘This is more than something good. This is a life changer and I will always remember this.'”

I wrote about Berry and his family after UNC won the national title. I found him to be a likeable young man and someone who is very easy to root for, unless, of course, you live in Durham.

I guess I’m not the only one that feels that way.

Tommy Hawkins, first black all-american at Notre Dame, dead at 80 years old

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black basketball player to earn All-America honors at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, died Wednesday. He was 80.

Hawkins died in his sleep at home in Malibu, son Kevin told The Associated Press. He had been in good health and had lay down to rest, his oldest son said.

Hawkins graduated from Notre Dame in 1959 after playing three years on the basketball team. He had 1,318 career rebounds for the longest-standing record in Fighting Irish history. He was named to the school’s All-Century team in 2004 and inducted into its Ring of Honor in 2015. He led the Irish to a 44-13 record over his last two seasons, including an Elite Eight berth in the 1958 NCAA Tournament.

“He loved Notre Dame with every fiber of his being,” said Kevin Hawkins, who followed in his father’s footsteps and played basketball for the Irish before graduating in 1981. “He said Notre Dame did so much for him and grew him up to become the man that he would become.”

Hawkins became close with Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh, who served from 1952-87. Hesburgh was supportive when Hawkins was dating a white woman from nearby Saint Mary’s College and they were turned away from a South Bend restaurant that wouldn’t allow the interracial couple to dine, Kevin Hawkins said.

“That act led Father Hesburgh to ban Notre Dame (students) from eating there until my father got a public apology,” Kevin Hawkins said by phone from his home in South Bend. “Notre Dame walked the talk when you talk about civil rights. That meant the world to him.”

Kevin Hawkins said his father’s basketball teammate and future NFL Hall of Famer Paul Hornung led Hawkins back to the restaurant to secure the apology.

Kevin Hawkins said he spoke to his father almost daily and they had recently discussed last weekend’s civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers with the third pick in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played one season in Minnesota before moving with the team to Los Angeles. He went on to play six seasons for the Lakers, averaging 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds in 454 games.

The 6-foot-5 forward also played for the Cincinnati Royals from 1962-66. Hawkins recorded 6,672 points and 4,607 rebounds in his pro career.

“He was and will always be part of the Lakers family,” team CEO and majority owner Jeanie Buss said. “His baritone voice and easy demeanor made him a favorite of the fans and media, as well as everyone who had the honor of calling him a friend.”

Hawkins’ influence continued beyond his playing days. As a player representative, he had a key role in establishing the first collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union and the NBA.

Born Thomas Jerome Hawkins on Dec. 22, 1936, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he moved to Chicago with his mother and aunt as a child. He starred at the city’s Parker High, now Robeson High, before being recruited by Notre Dame.

Kevin Hawkins recalled his father as a man with interests that ranged from poetry to jazz to sports. He self-published a book of poetry and Hawkins was in the midst of writing a memoir on his basketball career when he died.

“My father was a person who didn’t want to be defined as a jock or an ex-player,” Kevin Hawkins said. “He was an eclectic man. He had stories about everything from Notre Dame to the NBA to broadcasting.”

Hawkins enjoyed friendships with Alabama football coach Bear Bryant; UCLA basketball coach John Wooden; Southern California football coach John McKay; and artist LeRoy Neiman.

“You think about a man who grew up in the projects of Chicago that had done all these things in his life,” Kevin Hawkins said. “He called himself a cosmic functionary. That was his big deal. It made us all cringe, but he just loved it. He was a man of the world and a man of the people.”

Hawkins’ gregarious personality was on full display as master of ceremonies for the John R. Wooden Award presentation for over 30 years before he passed on his MC duties in 2011. He was co-national chairman of the award that honors the nation’s top male and female college basketball players.

Hawkins was hired in 1987 by then-Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley to be vice president of communications and he worked for the team until 2004.

“In life we are fortunate to know many people and Tommy was one person I always looked forward to seeing and being with,” said O’Malley, who sold the team in 1998. “He did an extraordinary job for the Dodgers as vice president, and his friendship will be missed by his family and many admirers.”

The Dodgers had a moment of silence for Hawkins before their game against the White Sox on Wednesday night.

Before joining the Dodgers, Hawkins worked in radio and television in Southern California, including stints with KNBC-TV and KABC radio.

He is survived by his second wife, Layla, and their daughter Neda; his first wife, Dori, and their children Kevin, Karel, Traci and David; seven grandchildren; and a great grandchild.

The family will likely hold a public memorial at a future date, Kevin Hawkins said.

Brad Underwood pokes fun at his version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’

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On Thursday afternoon, Brad Underwood, the new head coach of Illinois, was invited to Wrigley Field to throw out the first pitch and sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the seventh inning stretch.

While the ceremonial first pitch went well, his rendition of the ballpark classic did not go as smoothly.

Underwood was at least able to poke fun at his vocals following his performance.

“I’d rather coach naked than sing in front of 40,000,” Underwood said afterward. “There’s a reason my wife won’t let me sing in church.”

Underwood took over Illinois in mid-March following a one-year stint at Oklahoma State. He had previously led Stephen F. Austin to three NCAA Tournament appearances in as many seasons.

 

AAC plan men’s basketball tourney at new Texas arena in ’20

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The American Athletic Conference will hold its men’s basketball tournament in a new arena in North Texas in 2020.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco announced Wednesday that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth has been selected to host the tournament for three years, starting in March 2020. That is only four months after the facility is scheduled to open.

On the same day of a groundbreaking ceremony for the 14,000-seat arena last April, the NCAA announced that first- and second-round games of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held there. The NCAA women’s gymnastics championships are scheduled there from 2020-22.

The closest AAC school to the new arena is SMU, with its campus in Dallas about 40 miles away.

Orlando will host the 2018 AAC tournament, which moves to Memphis in 2019.