CHICAGO,IL–When you come to town for the McDonald’s All-American Game, there is definitely no shortage of action. In addition to the game, there is a skills competition, a 3-point shootout as well as a Media Day. Here is my recap of the interesting highlights from the North Pole Hoops crew so far this week.
The POWERADE Jam Fest began Monday evening at Chicago State University. Having arrived in Chicago on Monday afternoon, the NPH team had just enough time to change clothes and catch the media bus to the event. We grabbed courtside seats and set up shop to make sure we didn’t miss the action. I started the night off on a high note as I bumped into former NCAA Player of the Year, and former Duke Blue Devil, Jay Williams. Williams currently works as a color commentator for ESPN. As a huge Duke fan, it was definitely a thrill to meet him, and I made sure to let him know where my allegiance lies.
The Jam Fest opened up with the 3-point Shootout, which was won by Canadian Junior National Team member Kyle Wiltjer, who bested 7 other contestants. At 6’10, Kyle’s shooting display underscored the reason why he was a highly-sought after NCAA recruit, and why he landed with the prestigious Kentucky Wildcats.
Toronto native and Texas-bound point guard Myck Kabongo competed in the Skills Competition, where guards had to complete a series of dribbling, passing and shooting obstacles, and see who could finish with the best time. Kabongo made it to the finals of the competition but eventually faded out. Nonetheless, he showed the crowd why he is considered one of the top point guards in North America, as he moved up and down the court with effortless grace. Kabongo also competed in the Three-Point Shootout.
The highlight of the night was the Slam Dunk Contest. Montreal’s Khem Birch was one of the participants, but in the end his high-flying antics were beat by his peers. Austin Rivers, a.k.a the best prospect in the entire world, brought the crowd to its feet on with his first dunk. He tore off his warm-up suit and showed off a throw-back Atlanta Hawks Doc Rivers jersey. For those of you who don’t know, Doc Rivers is Austin’s father and currently the coach of the Boston Celtics. Austin proceeded to throw down a monstrous dunk while streaking in from the baseline. It was a half-tomahawk, half-windwill jam that highlighted just how athletic this 6’3 guard really is.
6’10 Marshall Plumlee had something to say about that though, as he responded by throwing down a couple of monster dunks as he glided through the air, reminiscent of the way Julius Erving used to soar in his heyday as a Philadelphia 76er. Surprisingly, the contest was won by 6’7 LeBryan Nash from Dallas, although it seemed that his winning score was actually the byproduct of a scoring error. Regardless, the Slam Dunk Contest was an entertaining affair and a good way to cap off the night. It was straight back to the hotel for the NPH team as we had to catch some shut-eye and gear up for a busy Tuesday.
The All-Americans held a practice at 9am that was open to media and scouts. There were several notable NBA GMs and scouts there. NPH bumped into Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace early on. Team Canada coach Leo Rautins was in attendance as well, talking with a scout from the New York Knicks. Following the practice, the media had a chance to catch up with the players and do interviews. NPH got together with Myck Kabongo, Khem Birch and Kyle Wiltjer for interviews, as well as Leo Rautins and Marshall Plumlee. Once again, my Duke roots showed through when I chatted with Plumlee, who will be joining the Blue Devils in the fall.
Kabongo was by far the most enjoyable player to interview. A natural-born entertainer, the gentlemanly Kabongo had everyone eating out of the palm of his hand with his funny one-liners. Austin Rivers commanded the most attention of all the players, as he constantly had a group of reporters following his every move around the room. Let me be the first one to tell you that the hype is LEGIT – this kid can flat out ball. He was dazzling in the practice despite only going at half-speed. He’s an explosive athlete and carries a large skill set. He also comes across as a well-grounded individual. After watching him in person, I have no doubt he is the real thing.