CHICAGO – Good luck finding any player from the East or West McDonald’s All American squads that don’t think they’re No. 1 at not only their position, but, well, period.
“We all feel like we’re the top dog,” said Cypress Lake (Katy, Texas) point guard De’Aaron Fox, a Kentucky signee who will suit up for the East in the McDonald’s All American Game which tips Wednesday at 9 p.m. “That’s a big reason why we’re all successful because we have that mentality. But this is where you come and prove it. It’s the best of the best.”
There’s just one issue: Two of the best aren’t here.
Harry Giles III, the top ranked player in the ESPN 100, and Dennis Smith Jr., the top ranked point guard and No. 4 overall player, both suffered torn ACL’s which kept them sidelined for their senior seasons.
As a result, Smith enrolled early at North Carolina State in December to continue rehabbing before suiting up next season, and Giles transferred from Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) back home to North Carolina in November and now takes online courses at Forest Trail Academy (Kernersville, N.C.). He rehabs at Duke, where he’s signed.
The operative question is: Do the uber-competitive players that made the game feel somewhat cheated?
“That’s a great question,” said Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis) forward Jayson Tatum, a Duke signee who will suit up for the East. “I won’t say I feel cheated; mainly because they don’t play my position so we probably wouldn’t be matched up. I will say that I’m glad that Josh (Jackson) is here because we play the same position.”
Advanced Prep International (Dallas) shooting guard Terrance Ferguson concurred.
He said if Giles and Smith were in Chicago, point guards and power forwards “would be having a tough time.”
That’s not exactly a stretch of a statement about two players who are projected top 10 picks in the 2017 NBA Draft by most reputable draft sites.
“I mean they’re not ranked where they’re at for no reason,” said Ferguson, who will suit up for the East. “We’ve still got great players here, but, obviously, it would be even more competition if they were here.”
Smith’s early enrollment subsequently eliminated him from the rankings, giving Chino Hills (Chino Hills, Calif.) star Lonzo Ball the top point guard spot in the class.
And, yeah, that bothers Ball on some level.
“I mean, Dennis left high school as the No. 1 point guard,” said Ball, a UCLA signee who will suit up for the West. “I definitely would’ve wanted to be able to play against him. But you’ve just gotta go out there and go at whoever else is on the floor.”
High Point Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) forward Edrice Adebayo, who is ranked No. 4 overall, has only matched up against Giles once at a showcase event in North Carolina when they were freshman, and, while he acknowledged an awareness of “people really wanting to see us matchup”, he maintained that he never envisioned McDonald’s All American week as the time he’d prove he was the best.
Watch Giles and Adebayo go at it back in 2013.
“I’m just wired a little bit different,” said Adebayo, a Kentucky signee who will suit up for the East. “I don’t look at him as the player I need to play against. I’m more the type that focuses on destroying whoever is on the court when I walk out there. I wasn’t trippin’ off the matchup.”
Tatum said his reason for wanting Giles and Smith to be in the Windy City transcended the hardwood.
“I’m more hurt because those are my friends and I wanted to experience this with them,” Tatum said. “Being here is a dream we all had and to not have them here, it feels different.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY