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Basketball Thu Mar 31 2011

Fun & Flair at the McDonald's All-American Games

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It didn't mean anything. You don't care -- no one cared -- that the East won both the boys' and girls' games, both by fairly sizable margins. That's not what the McDonald's All-American Games are about.

They're about showcasing the nation's best high school basketball players, the next generation of stars who will be taking over the college game in the next year or two and will soon ascend triumphant to an NBA arena near you. (Or a WNBA arena, as the case may be, but with less triumph and bombast.)

They're about providing four dozen teenagers -- athletically precocious, increasingly pampered teenagers, but kids all the same -- with a first-class, all-expenses-paid vacation in a new city, where they can hang out and play ball, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. It's a coed basketball field trip (though I can't speak to the chaperone situation).

And at a basic level, the Games are about making money for McDonald's and the United Center and a slew of other corporate sponsors. Only a portion of the proceeds are going to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

So it was in that spirit, embracing their inconsequential but fundamentally delightful nature, that we headed over to the United Center last night. We watched from the press box, way up in the rafters, as Chicago's Anthony Davis, Wayne Blackshear and Ariel Massengale performed for an ESPN audience and visiting luminaries such as Alonzo Mourning and Doc Rivers and William "World Wide Wes" Wesley.

The local kids did not disappoint. All three drew starting assignments, though Blackshear played only eight minutes because of a shoulder injury that nearly (and maybe should have) kept him out of the game.

Massengale, a 5-6 point guard, was the shortest player on the court, but she showed all the swagger and fearlessness that prompted Pat Summitt to hand her the keys to the Lady Vols kingdom. She hit three 3-pointers, set the table for MVP Elizabeth Williams and led the East girls to a 78-66 win, playing as many minutes as anyone in the game.

Davis, a 6-9 forward/center in the Kevin Garnett mold, played for the West boys -- the teams are always a mishmash of geography, competitive balance and positional need -- and posted 14 points, six rebounds and four blocks in a 111-96 loss.

Yet for all the night's highlight dunks and Iversonian crossovers, there were glimpses of the teenagers behind the talent. Brianna Banks called it "overwhelming" to play before a Games-record crowd of 19,909. Michael Gilchrist, the boys' co-MVP, admitted he was "kind of nervous" to be facing a battalion of cameras and microphones at the postgame press conference.

And throughout, reminders of the close bonds these kids have formed by playing with and against each other in tournaments and all-star games over the past few years. The relationships developed or cemented here will carry through the rest of their basketball careers.

The girls laughed with each other during the postgame press conference. The boys clowned around in the hallway outside the team locker rooms -- and clowned on Austin Rivers during a second-half timeout when a video on the Jumbotron included a few bars of him rapping.

They'll remember those parts of the weekend more than their point totals or playing time.

"It's been nothing but smiles and laughter," Massengale said.

 
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