BROOKLYN, N.Y. –– Omari Spellman saw the McDonald’s All American basketball games, the same way most people did, on television.
Spellman, a 6-9, 275-pound power forward from St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.), is one of several players this week in the Jordan Brand Classic (Friday, 8 p.m. on ESPN2) at the Barclays Center who didn’t get an invite to play at the McDonald’s game in Chicago last month. Spellman wasn’t eligible for McDonald’s because he played for his school’s post-graduate team, but he’s still taking the snub as motivation.
“I definitely have a chip on my shoulder for not making the McDonald’s game, whether it’s because of a technicality or not,” Spellman said. “I want to prove to people that I belong at this level. I’m going to give my all. I’m not playing this like an all-star game. I’m playing this like a national championship game.”
Speaking of national titles, Spellman saw his future team, Villanova, win the NCAA title during a viewing party in the gym at St. Thomas More. He’s said he’s pretty sure he can help the Wildcats next season.
“They’re losing a starter in Daniel Ochefu,” Spellman said. “He’s a guy who plays very good defense, rebounds hard and provides on the offensive end. I can help rebound and help defend. They’re going to teach me to rebound how they want me to rebound and play defense how they want me to defend. I feel like they haven’t had a big at a high level offensive level in a while. They’re already a versatile team and I think I can make them more versatile.”
Cassius Winston led Detroit Jesuit to an undefeated record and a Class A state title. Perhaps because he wasn’t rated that high by recruiting services, the 6-1 point guard who is headed to Michigan State was also overlooked by McDonald’s. He’s one of five players on the Jordan Brand West squad who is playing in his first national all-star game this week. There are also two players on the East squad here that weren’t invited to McDonald’s.
“I had a pretty good senior year, no regrets, I guess,” Winston said. “I know I definitely had a shot at being in the game. I didn’t make the cut, so I just have to work hard and get in the gym.”
Michigan was also snubbed at McDonald’s on the girls side. Benton Harbor guard Kysre (pronounced Kaiser) Gondrezick, averaged 40.5 points, set a state record with 72 points in a game and was the state’s Miss Basketball. She will play in Jordan Brand, but the Michigan signee didn’t get an invite to McDonald’s.
“It should put a chip on my shoulder,” Gondrezick said. “I’m here, not only representing myself, but my state. I’m just taking in the experience. I’m honored to be here. At the end of the day, there’s a chance for everyone here to be great. You don’t have to penalize yourself because you weren’t acknowledged. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I think I tweeted out that McDonald’s is just hamburgers.”
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USC-bound guard Valerie Higgins and Duke-bound forward Leaonna Odom helped lead Chaminade College Prep (West Hills) to the California Open Division state title. A few days later, Higgins stayed home while Odom made the trip to Chicago for McDonalds. They are both playing at Jordan Brand, however.
“Everyone who played at McDonald’s deserved to be there,” Higgins said. “There are so many good players and only so many get selected, but I did get selected for this and I’m just doing the best I can to show I should be here.”
Gondrezick’s boyfriend, Josh Jackson, who recently committed to Kansas, did play in McDonald’s, though he won’t be here this week. He withdrew after being invited.
“He was pretty nice about it,” Gondrezick said. “There have been so many All-American players who have excelled at the next level and then there’s others who have been a no-show. So you just have to keep getting better, day-in, day-out, year by year.”