For the sixth consecutive year, the McDonald’s All-American high school All-Star games are taking place in Chicago at the United Center, and while most basketball fans are honed in on the forthcoming NBA playoffs or even their NCAA tournament brackets, the McDonald’s All-American game later this week is a good first nationally-televised glimpse of next year’s biggest college stars who could very well find themselves in the NBA just 15 months from now.
Any current NBA mock draft right now is absolutely loaded with potential lottery picks that played in this high school exhibition just a year ago. Both Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons were there last spring, as was Jaylen Brown, Henry Ellenson, Deyonta Davis and Ivan Rabb, all players that could and probably will be selected in the lottery this coming June.
This year’s crop of graduating high school seniors is especially impressive, particularly for the University of Kentucky, who somehow landed three of the consensus top eight prospects in the country, and Duke, who arguably signed the two most talented high school players in the nation, though one of them (Harry Giles) tore his ACL this past autumn.
Not all of the top prospects are headed to those two universities, but regardless of where these players park themselves for the next year, the important thing is that many of them will be in the NBA in no time. Here’s a look at those most likely to make that leap most successfully and the quickest:
Josh Jackson, SF, Michigan (Undecided) – It seems like every year there’s at least one high-profile recruit who heads into the McDonald’s All-American game without having chosen a school, and this year that player is arguably the top recruit in the nation, Josh Jackson, who reportedly is deciding between Michigan State, Arizona and Kansas.
All three of those schools have to be waiting on his decision with baited breath because he already looks like an NBA player thanks to his athleticism, handles and uncanny ability to finish around the basket. He’s got a strong Andrew Wiggins vibe to him, which obviously is good for his chances as a future NBA prospect. He’s a dunk contest trophy waiting to happen, and whichever school he chooses should end up one of college basketball’s top-rated teams before the season. This kid’s a highlight reel.
Jayson Tatum, SF, Missouri (Duke) – While Jackson is the real show-stopper in this crop of high school all-stars, Tatum is just as effective if only about a quarter as exciting to watch. Nearly every scouting report of Tatum on the internet calls his play “clean,” and watching the video of him it’s pretty clear that he’s a fundamentally-sound, smooth-shooting small forward that flat-out does good work on both ends of the ball. In typical fashion for a Duke recruit, he’s just about the furthest thing from a showboat, but scouts love his versatility on both offense and defense. He looks like the kind of heady, steady player that has a long career in the NBA.
De’Aaron Fox, PG, Texas (Kentucky) – At only 6’3, you don’t expect the stringy Fox to be as athletic as he is, but the kid is a leaper who essentially serves as a walking AND1 Mix Tape. He’s small and rail thin, but the young man has hops for days and sees the floor the way a top-rated point guard recruit should. With Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe and Tyler Ulis all likely headed to the NBA this summer, Fox could have plenty of opportunities to see the floor next season and, on a loaded Kentucky team, that could lead to some highly-entertaining college basketball.
Malik Monk, SG, Arkansas (Kentucky) – Also headed to Lexington is Monk, the top shooting guard prospect in the country this year. Put as simply as possible, Monk is a scorer, and he’s able to pour in buckets from all over the court. Like a lot of the other top prospects in the country, Monk has no problem dabbling above the rim, but at some point his hops are going to be necessary to help him overcome his 6’3 frame. He’s a little small and undeniably thin for the NBA, but he’s crafty enough to overcome all of that. Muscle always can be added later, but a skillset like the one this kid has is unique enough to land him a spot on the most reputable NBA factory in college hoops.
Bam Abedayo, PF, North Carolina (Kentucky) – The last of the UK triumvirate is Abedayo, who is ranked as high as #4 in the country by some outlets. While he’s a little rawer than some of the other top recruits, his quickness and agility out of the four spot make him look like a nightmare to guard, especially with a trademark spin move like the one he really likes to use. He’s strong, aggressive and skilled, all of which are great qualities for a power forward that likes to smash the glass and throw down whatever alley-oops are lobbed his way. Expect him and Fox to connect a lot next season in all sorts of really fun ways.
Lonzo Ball, PG, California (UCLA) – Not every top prospect is headed to Duke or Kentucky, as Lonzo Ball is proving by staying in-state to play at UCLA, which is a good omen considering how well big point guards from UCLA have fared in the NBA. As a 6’5 point guard, Ball towers over most defenders at the high school level, which helps him to see the court about as well as any prep player in the country. The young man can dish a rock, but he can also knock down a shot and run a fast break. He’s thrilling to watch and already is so polished despite his age. He looks like a sure-thing NBA player in the not-so-distant future.
Mile Bridges, SF, West Virginia (Michigan State) – ESPN compares Bridges to former NBA combo forward Rodney Rogers, a powerful-yet-jumpy undersized power forward that sort of scored from all over the floor. Bridges is versatile like that, but he’s also incredibly strong and arguably has one of the more NBA-ready bodies in this group of All-Americans. He and Josh Jackson are good friends through AAU and reportedly have discussed playing together for Tom Izzo, but whatever happens with Jackson, Bridges is enough to keep the Spartans relevant next season after their early tourney exit this year. Easily a top five-to-seven recruit, this kid is a winner and one of the most well-rounded recruits in the country this year.
There are, of course, several other McDonald’s All-Americans of note that easily find their ways to NBA teams, but that’s why the game itself is worth watching. Tune into ESPN on Wednesday, March 30th at 9:00 p.m. ET, and see for yourself which of these players is most primed for the NBA. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James all played in this game. Is the next big NBA superstar on one of these rosters this year?
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