McDonald’s All American Game: Event has grown immensely over the last 42 years

Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports
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ATLANTA – Ask any of the 48 McDonald’s All-Americans what they’re most looking forward to, outside of competing, at Wednesday’s game (5 p.m., ESPN2) at State Farm Arena and they’ll all tell you it’s the halftime performance from Migos.

“I can’t wait to see that one,” East forward Vernon Carey Jr. said. “I think we’re all ready for that.”

The Games have grown into quite the star-studded event over the last 42 years, a stark contrast from its humble beginnings back 1977 when McDonald’s All American Games Selection Committee Chairman Morgan Wootten called around and inquired to college coaches about who the top players were and made a list of the first McDonald’s All-Americans.


One of Wootten’s many calls that year was to legendary coach Johnny Orr who informed Wootten about some kid named Earvin Johnson, who was supposed to be pretty good.

“It turned out to be Magic Johnson,” said Wootten’s son Joe, who serves as a member of the McDonald’s All American Selection Committee. “Back then that’s how it was done, and, amazingly, we’d get all the right players. Now we’ve got the committee and all the kids know each other. It’s amazing to see the growth. I was actually at the first game in 1978; it’s crazy to think it’s been 42 years.”

Jay Williams can relate to the shock of the time flying by.

Recently, Williams was up late watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play and saw that Nick Collison was having his jersey retired after a 15-year career with the Thunder.

Williams and Collison played against each other in the 1999 McDonald’s All-American Game in Iowa, where Williams was named Morgan Wootten Player of the Year.

“It’s so funny how all of that feels like yesterday,” said Williams, who serves as ambassador of the Games. “This game was so big for us back then and I love the fact that it’s growing more each year because of what it means for the players. This is a very big deal.”

To that point, most NBA scouts contend that it’s the No. 1 place they can come and evaluate this level of player before the NBA Draft.

“They’re talking about the NCAA Tournament, the combine, everything,” Joe said. “Because there’s never this much talent in one gym. This game is literally giving the kids a chance to realize their dreams.”

That was evident this week as NBA scouts lined the bleachers are practices jotting notes and evaluating players’ abilities and tendencies.

Last year Zion Williamson, now a freshman at Duke and probably No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, said the Games was the “best event I’ve ever been a part of.”

Makes sense for an event that legendary UCLA coach John Wooden served as chairman of from 1977 until he passed in 2010.

Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are just a few of the legendary players who have suited up in the game.

To that end, while Williams is excited that Migos, the No. 1 hip hop group in the world, is performing at the game, he’s far from shocked.

“Migos should be performing at this game, it’s that special,” Williams said. “Now, more than ever, kids are feeling like ‘Whoa, this is bigger than I ever expected.’ And that’s the direction we want to keep going in.”

Mission accomplished.

The consensus among this year’s crop of All Americans is a cosign of Williamson’s sentiments.

“This is a dream come true and it’s even better than I thought,” East forward Trendon Watford said. “I can tell that this is something that I’ll always be proud of; way after I’ve stopped playing.”

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY

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