CHICAGO – Nigel Williams-Goss plans to enjoy all of the typical spoils that come with being a McDonald’s All American.
He’ll chomp down on deep dish pizza while taking in the sights and sounds of the Windy City, get dapper for the snazzy McDonald’s banquet and visit the Ronald McDonald House.
“It should be great," said Williams-Goss, a point guard for the West. "It’s a lifelong dream and I’m here with a bunch of my friends. Can’t ask for more than that. It’s gonna be a good time. No worries.”
Well, almost none.
While most of the other players have concluded their high school seasons, Williams-Goss will have to maintain some degree of focus since he’ll begin his quest to lead Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) to back-to-back ESPN National High School Invitational titles Thursday at Georgetown Prep in Bethesda, Md.
The McDonald’s All American game tips Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago.
Montverde’s (Montverde, Fla.) duo of Dakari Johnson and Kasey Hill, who will suit up for the East, are also vying for the coveted national title.
Findlay, the top ranked team in the USA Today HSS Super 25, knocked off No. 2 Montverde in last year’s NHSI title game, 86-83 in overtime.
“I won’t lie, that’s gonna be tough,” Hill said of the quick turnaround. “The travel alone is gonna make it tough, but we’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do.”
Williams-Goss won’t make it to Maryland until 11 a.m. on Thursday, just an hour before the first quarterfinal game kicks off.
The Pilots face Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) at 6 p.m. (ESPNU). Montverde plays Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) at 4 p.m. (ESPNU).
“I’m gonna hop right off the plane and head to our shootaround,” said Williams-Goss, a Washington signee. “I know it’ll be different, but I’m going in with the mindset that I’ll still be at my best.”
The hectic travel certainly didn’t bother Williams-Goss’ teammate Anthony Bennett last year.
Bennett, a forward who just finished up his freshman year at UNLV, hopped off a plane from the McDonald’s game and posted a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes in the Pilots’ quarterfinal win.
Still, not all transitions from the McDonald’s game to NHSI have been smooth ones.
Both Austin Rivers, now a rookie with the New Orleans Hornets, and Myck Kabongo, who just finished his sophomore year at Texas, struggled in the opening round of the NHSI in 2011 and their teams lost as a result.
“I always wondered how much that schedule affected those guys every year I played in the NHSI,” said Hill, a point guard who is signed to Florida. “Now I’m gonna find out firsthand. I know it’s gonna be rough, but my bigger goal is to win that national title.”
For that reason, Hill said he plans to “dial it back” a bit in practices and in the game.
“I don’t think I’m gonna be diving for loose balls or anything like that,” Hill said. “I’m definitely gonna try and be really careful out there. I can’t afford a tweaked ankle or anything like that. I want to be 100 percent on Thursday.”
Johnson said years of AAU travel will make this week’s grueling schedule a little easier to deal with.
“When you’re in AAU you’re playing four or five games a day for like four days straight,” said Johnson, a center who is signed to Kentucky. “This is easier because we’re just gonna relax and enjoy the all star game.”
Still, Hill and Johnson said that they plan to hit the sack as early as possible after Wednesday’s game to catch their 6 a.m. flight on Thursday.
“We’ll get in around 8 a.m. and then we’ll probably go right back to sleep,” Hill said. “To be honest, I don’t think there’s any way around it; we’ll be a little more tired than normal. But we’re competitors. Hopefully, that will drive us in that first game. We’ll be ready, no question.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.