Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: McDonald's All-American Game Postmortem

Shabazz Muhammad shined the brightest of all the McDonald's All-Americans.

Going into the game, I felt that the West squad was the better team on paper. For 30 minutes, my prediction proved true, as the West held a double-digit lead for most of the game. A late, spirited run by the East brought them back within striking distance, but the West held on to win, 106-102.

The consensus of this year's McDonald's All-American Game was that the talent level was down, but the kids were very coachable. After seeing them play for 40 minutes, I'm inclined to agree. There was a lot of deficiencies in plain sight: outside scoring was almost non-existent, point guard play was below average, and a few fundamentally sound players probably would not have made it in a better year.

Still, there was some serious talent on display. I think this crop will be great for college basketball. Very few of them are likely to be "one-and-done," but many have the potential to become multi-year college stars. Think of them as a bunch of Patrick Pattersons, staying multiple years and helping their teams win conference titles and NCAA Tournament games. Yes, maybe even the Kentucky players to be. Chuck Klosterman, eat your heart out.*

Best Overall Player: Shabazz Muhammad (Undecided)

In Muhammad's first couple of series, he displayed an explosiveness and athleticism simply beyond his fellow participants. It was easy to see why recruitniks elevated him high above the other players; I thought for sure he would end up going for 30+ points and dominating the game. Almost inexplicably, he came back down to earth, displaying some physical limitations and making mental errors.

He still ended up as the game's best player, winning the MVP award, but it wasn't as big a landslide as I envisioned. Still, his game is incredibly well-rounded, as Muhammad pulled down 6 rebounds and was one of the better passers in the game (6 assists) to go along with a game-high 21 points.

From a freshmen offensive impact standpoint, I think Muhammad is more Harrison Barnes, less Kevin Durant. Which is to say: still dang good.

Best Big Man: Cameron Ridley (Texas)

This was a spirited battle, and seeing Ridley and opposing East starter DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse) go head to head was enjoyable. Coleman led the game in rebounds with 12, but Ridley was the highest scoring big, posting up 12 points. Isaiah Austin (Baylor) showed undeniable perimeter talent, and Tony Parker (undecided) was a load inside. Also, Arizona's future twin tower duo of Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett looked sneaky good.

In the end though, Ridley showed the most with a dazzling array of fundamentals. He started the game with a nifty post move (though he didn't finish), was excellent at rolling to the basket, and was one of the few bigs who felt comfortable enough handling at the perimeter (shades of Josh Harrellson). Most importantly, Ridley was a solid rebounder and the best defender, owning the paint better than his fellow bigs.

It was easy to see why this class is tilted so top-heavy, as I liked the forward/center play better than the guards'. Also, the McDonald's game did not even include notables like Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Mitch McGary (Michigan), or Kentucky target Nerlens Noel (undeclared), three bigs that are also plenty talented.

Most Athletic: Alex Poythress (Kentucky)

Poythress opened a lot of eyes with his play, not just during the game but also in practices. In the game, he certainly looked like a beast. No one could say he didn't go hard; Poythress earned the dubious distinction of fouling out of the McDonald's game.

When he was in, he was beastly. Poythress basically did it all: finishing around the rim, slashing to the bucket, and hitting outside jumpers. His jump shooting form looked a little bit stiff, with not a lot of bend in his knees, but the ball went in the hoop. He scored an East-leading 19 points.

What was most surprising to me is that Poythress played like an interior player all the way, looking more Terrence Jones than the Michael-Kidd Gilchrist I was expecting. He and Kyle Wiltjer actually look like they'd make a great combination, as they could switch between defending 3's and 4's depending on the player matching up across them.

First Off the Bus Award: Shaq Goodwin (Memphis)

Goodwin also doubles as a star for his high school football team, and it shows. In another life (and with that hairstyle), he could be Vernon Davis. As it stands, his game is much more power than finesse right now. He looks like a plus rebounder already, and should be a load on the interior. Kenneth Faried comes to mind.

Best Leaper: Archie Goodwin (Kentucky)

Aside from a breakaway dunk attempt where Goodwin failed to go above the rim (and lost a shoe in the process), he looked like the guy with the most hops. Surprisingly to me, Goodwin failed to showcase an adequate perimeter game and definitely did not look like a strong outside decision-maker, a la Darius Miller.

However, he made up for it with excellent takes into the paint, and had a handful of the more exciting dunks not slammed by Shabazz Muhammad. Goodwin finished with 14 points, mostly close to the bucket.

I had thought that Goodwin would fill the Doron Lamb role for Kentucky, but right now he looks more like a DeAndre Liggins. His leaping ability and long wingspan make me think that Calipari will turn Goodwin into Kentucky's next great perimeter defender.

Best Shooter: Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke)

While Sulaimon did win the McDonald's three-point contest, I was still surprised by how smooth his stroke looked in game action. Sulaimon canned 4 of 8 from distance. No other player hit more than one, and aside from Sulaimon, the All-Americans combined to shoot an eye-gouging 5 for 31 on three-pointers. Like I said, it wasn't a pretty shooting night.

In the mold of a Daniel Ewing, DeMarcus Nelson, or Nolan Smith, Sulaimon looks like the next great Duke combo forward. He's the first Blue Devil since Ewing to hail from the state of Texas, and he is bringing some of that Lone Star gunslinging accuracy to Tobacco Road.

Best Passer: Kyle Anderson (UCLA)

Point guard was probably the worst represented group on the court, so much so that I felt like Kyle "he's not a point guard!" Anderson showed the best court vision. Anderson tied Indiana-bound Yogi Ferrell as the assists leader with 8. I love Anderson's innate feel for the game. He knows where he wants to go, what he wants to do, when to shoot, and when to create. Jay Williams, a surprisingly insightful color guy, said that Anderson plays the game at his speed. That's a great way of putting it.

Anderson's size will be an issue as a full-time point guard; a West guard (I forget who) flat out picked his pocket when he tried a slow crossover. In a perfect world, Anderson harnesses his scoring prowess and becomes a Tracy McGrady-type player. In a non-perfect world, he goes to UCLA to play for Ben Howland (only half-kidding, Bruins fans!).

The Yo-Yo Award: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St.)

One of the most intriguing players in the game for me was Smart, whom I pegged as a darkhorse candidate for MVP. He did a lot of things well, playing the junkyard dog role to a T: 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and a lot of additional unrecognized effort on the court.

However, he was one of the more unathletic players in the game, and he flat out could not shoot, going 0 for 4 from the field and just 1 for 4 from the charity stripe. In fact, Smart and the East's Gary Harris (Michigan St.) were the only players not to hit a field goal in the game. At some point, balls-out talent will beat intelligence and hustle, and Smart looks like the type of player that will need to work extra hard to keep pace with similar 5* players.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Amile Jefferson (Undecided)

Jefferson was longer and just a teensy bit bulkier than I expected, which was good. Even better, he looked just as comfortable playing inside as he did from the wing. With Jefferson reintroducing Kentucky to his list, I would not be at all disappointed if Calipari were to reignite that fire. I actually thought he played better than just the lean box score of 8 points and 3 rebounds. For some reason, I liked the cut of his jib.

Other Brief Player Notes:

  • Anthony Bennett (undecided) looked easily fatigued, most likely from the hamstring injury that sidelined him most of the season. He still has a baby fat body, but reminded me of a Draymond Green or Damion James, guys who play bigger than their size.
  • Rodney Purvis (North Carolina St.) had a nice overall box score with 15 points and 3 rebounds, but I couldn't find anything specific that stood out as special. He and future teammate Tyler Lewis were the only two players not to grab a rebound in the game.
  • Speaking of Lewis, he and East teammates Gary Harris and Perry Ellis (Kansas) make my "meh" list. Excuses were made that this format wasn't the place to showcase their skills. We'll see.
  • The point guards couldn't hit a golf ball into an ocean, but Ferrell is waterbug quick, Marcus Paige (UNC) and his passing ability look like an adequate, if not awesome, replacement for Kendall Marshall, and Kris Dunn (Providence) could become a Brad Wanamaker "across the box score" type 1.
  • I was surprised to see T.J. Warren (North Carolina St.) get the start over Anderson, but Warren did all right with 10 points and 5 rebounds.
  • It's a shame Devonta Pollard (undecided) couldn't play. Looks like both teams' players gave great effort and loved playing in the game.
  • You remember pundits from the Baylor game saying that if Perry Jones III had Anthony Davis' drive and determination, PJIII would be the number one overall pick? That's kind of how I feel about Isaiah Austin, and not just because the dude is going to Baylor. He has sick skills but needs to feed the interior beast.
  • Kentucky is getting two dang good players, and could very well add a few more to make this a fourth straight number one recruiting class. Coupled with the Final Four weekend, that makes me positively giddy.
  • The full box score is here.

*To be fair to Klosterman, he's actually my favorite writer not named Michael Lewis. And maybe he's right in thinking Kentucky shouldn't win. But I'm sure he's wrong.

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