CHICAGO, ILL–The electric crowd in a record-setting, packed house (over 20,000) at the United Centre welcomed North America’s elite prospects on the biggest stage in high school basketball. All the big dogs were in attendance from the infamous William Wesley AKA World Wide Wes who was referred to as the most powerful man in basketball, to of course, Doc Rivers, father of rising phenom, Austin Rivers. Alonzo Mourning was also in attendance!
Entering the game, scouts, and fans had some doubt about the motor and drive which Montreal, Quebec product possessed based off of a lack-lustre performance during the practices.
None of that mattered to Birch. He explained a night before that he was planning on leaving it all out, and the man kept his word to the tune of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks.
“Just like I said yesterday, I wanted to play hard; I was really disappointed before the game because people were saying I lacked effort. I came out and proved everyone wrong,” explained Birch ecstatically.
Birch played phenomenal, especially considering the fact that nobody ran a play for him. He earned everything on his own, scoring off offensive rebounds and straight energy.
“I’m really happy because this is what I dreamed of before the game, this is what I wanted to do…I don’t know, I can’t explain, I’m sorry,” said Birch.
No need for explanations. The young Canadian had NBA scouts with their jaws dropped to their laps while hurriedly browsing through the game’s program in search of this prospect’s name. He was also in consideration for MVP status.
Entering the gym, it’s safe to say that Birch was not on a single NBA scout’s radar; 40 minutes later, that all changed.
“NBA scouts were extremely impressed with Khem’s ability on not the first, and second bounce, but also the third. Players in the NBA get paid handsomely for possessing these type of skills,” stated Canada Basketball’s Rowan Barrett, Director of Youth Player Development.
Despite the fact that most will need to crack the code before entering Khem’s world, his peers were satisfied with his presence.
“On the outside he’s shy but he’s just a normal kid…I spent a lot of time getting to know him in San Antonio for the hoop summit last year and it’s been fun,” expressed Kyle Wiltjer, referring to Birch.
As for Wiltjer, he was solid as usual, recording 11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 block and a steal. A message to the Kentucky faithful, Coach Cal secured an absolute stud from Wiltjer’s basketball skills to his genuine character and humble nature.
“I’m just working on my versatility, there’s not one part of my game that is perfect, so I’m working on everything.”
NBA scouts also had great things to say about Kyle, with a chunk of it concerning his understanding of the game and versatile scoring touch. Yet, Wiltjer credits his father for such great basketball instincts.
“He’s taught me most of the fundamentals on the court. He’s done a lot on and off the court, developed the man I am today. I just thank him for doing everything he has done.”
Flashes of father, Greg Wiltjer were evident within the course of the game, the most striking move being a beautiful Kareem-like hook shot that Kyle was displayed, which had the media row impressed about.
“That’s all him, his go to move but it’s still a work in progress,” said Wiltjer about his father’s sky hook.
Last, but certainly not least was fellow Canadian, Myck Kabongo who registered, 2 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.
Those that follow Kabongo, know that he can score in bunches, however he came into the game with a different mind-set.
“I didn’t struggle offensively, today was a day for my teammates. It was not a day for me to score; it was to get them involved.”
Although he didn’t break the assist record set by Jacques Vaughan, (13) Kabongo was not complaining.
“I tried to get the assist record, it didn’t work out but hey it is what it is, I had fun out there, and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
The lightening quick point guard received criticism during the game regarding his “hot-dogging,” or playing with the ball too much. However, Kabongo’s maturity is striking as he understands the McDonald’s All-American game is the perfect platform to perform for the fans.
“It’s an all-star game, you’re trying to have fun and make plays to woo the crowd because that’s what they came to see and we’re trying to get their money’s worth, he said.”
“We’re trying to make the best plays…probably not the smartest plays, but you always try to make the best play for the fans,” continued Kabongo.
Simply put, it was an extraordinary night of elite basketball and a memorable experience for all! Those that didn’t have a chance to make it to Chicago, be sure to browse through NPH for all your recaps and feature stories on the event.
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Myck Kabongo on Nike Hoop Summit and not being selected:
“If people want to say that, then people want to say that. Everyone has their own choice and I’m not going to be bothered at all. I’m just happy to be in the position that I’m in. I’m at the McDonald’s All-American game, I just played a fantastic game with all my friends, the top 24 players in the country and you can’t top that.”
Myck Kabongo on Texas with four Canadians:
“I’m just going to work hard, live in the gym, that’s what I’m going to do, you’ll never see me in any other place until they kick me out. We’re all going to work and just continue to make Canada proud.”
On the loss:
“I’m angry about the loss, I hate losing. Even if you play a great game, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. I’m just really upset and on the way back to the hotel we’re going to hear about it.”
Entered the press conference sporting a mean mug as if they just lost in game seven of the NBA Finals. Rivers is a winner through and through, keep tabs on this young stud as he enters Duke next season in the NCAA.
“I just hate to lose, plain and simple, that’s it.”
PHOTO COURTESY: DRAFT EXPRESS