AL HAMNIK: McDonald's All-American Game should focus on the complete player

2013-04-02T17:00:00Z 2013-04-17T21:31:10Z AL HAMNIK: McDonald's All-American Game should focus on the complete playerAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 02, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | How sad that a high school player's future can be summed up with flashy one-liners and comparisons to an NBA star.

He is projected as the next Blake Griffin.

He has Kobe Bryant's will to win.

He shoots the 3-pointer like Ray Allen.

Says who? Sports Illustrated? Recruiting web sites? College scouts? ESPN talking heads? Rivals.com?

These kids aren't even in college yet, and we've already got them earning millions of dollars bouncing a ball.

Our Indiana All-Stars are overly-publicized as if they possess the Midas Touch. Some go on to have good college careers, while others disappear.

Media exposure for the McDonald's All-American game featuring the nation's top players is worse. We're led to believe these gifted athletes would make John Wooden blush if he were still alive.

Tuesday's media day at the United Center, site of tonight's 36th annual boys game, had an atmosphere similar to the NBA Finals.

Right off, 6-foot-8 Aaron Gordon of San Jose, Calif. held a press conference to announce his college choice. The room was packed with as many television cameras as media.

Gordon sat at a table with baseball caps from Oregon, Arizona, Kentucky and Washington all in a row. He quickly placed the Arizona cap on his head, then leaned back, smiling.

"I hope to be the X factor," he said of a program that's losing 80 percent of its scoring but has a 7-footer and two 6-10 towers returning.

High school kids having press conferences. Who would've ever thought it? Used to be, the kid's coach would call local media with the announcement and there'd be a few paragraphs in the next day's newspaper.

Aaron Gordon seems like a sharp kid, but c'mon, few prep phenoms are the next LeBron James. Yet, the 25 players representing the East and West squads are treated like royalty.

Maybe that comes from the young media covering high school sports, nationally, for hundreds of scouting web sites now in existence.

This isn't sour grapes, mind you.

The region has had seven McDonald's All-Americans -- Eric Anderson (St. Francis deSales), Branden Dawson (Lew Wallace), Melvin Ely (Thornton), Roger Harden (Valparaiso), Jerome Harmon (Lew Wallace), Glenn Robinson (Roosevelt) and Antoine Walker (Mt. Carmel).

But expanded media coverage, the Internet and ESPN are all competing for today's younger audience more than ever. If the 7-year-old next door can dribble behind his back and shoot 3s, he's probably being recruited.

The McDonald's All-American Game is a good thing, benefiting Ronald McDonald House Charities by raising more than $10 million since 1978. The Game will remain in Chicago through 2015, which is another good thing.

But I'd like to know more about the players than their scoring and rebounding averages or NBA comparisons.

Of the 25 bios in the media guide, four were honor students. Only four?

Lacking were more stories like Notre Dame-bound Demetrius Jackson from Mishawaka Marian, whose single-parent mother raised five children on her own.

His inspiration comes from her sacrifices, not from shooting a basketball.

"Getting an education at Notre Dame has put a smile on her face," Jackson said, proudly.

"I want to keep it there."

That's the feel-good stuff I'm talking about.

The column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

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