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2014 McDonald's All-American game: Okafor, Jackson take home MVP honors

Jahlil Okafor Jahlil Okafor backed up the talk about his talents, winning the All-American game MVP. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The nation’s top high school seniors squared off Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago in the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American game. The game got sloppy at times, as both teams would race down the court and launch ill-advised shots. The West team beat the East, 105-102.

The best of the best 

West

The nation’s consensus top-ranked player lived up to the hype. Duke signee Jahlil Okafor scored 17 points, grabbed seven rebounds and was named one of the game’s most valuable players (more on the other below). Okafor showcased his polished post skills and strength – when the 7-foot, 270-pound center posts up, he’s tough to move off his spot. Okafor threw down a powerful dunk off a feed from point guard Tyler Ulis in the first half and went toe-to-toe on multiple occasions with big man Myles Turner in one of the game’s most anticipated matchups. Okafor also had a big, go-ahead dunk with less than 40 seconds to play that put the West up 103-102. Here is more on Okafor’s recruitment and background.

East

Justin Jackson isn't as familiar a name as the highly-touted Okafor. Jackson, a 6-foot-7, five-star small forward who signed with North Carolina, led all scorers with 23 points on 11-of-12 shooting. Jackson, named co-MVP, is an instinctual player who repeatedly put himself in prime position to convert from close range and finish putbacks. While not as athletic as some of the other prospects on display, the savvy Jackson distinguished himself by flashing strong fundamentals and a good overall understanding of the game. At one point in the second half, he scored nine consecutive baskets. 

Who else shined?

- Dallas product Emmanuel Mudiay showed why he’s considered the best point guard in the class of 2014. The 6-foot-5, 197-pound Mudiay demonstrated the ability to penetrate into the lane, shoot from distance and facilitate for others. He should be able to make a huge impact at Southern Methodist next season. Mudiay finished with 15 points and six assists.

- Five-star shooting guard Rashad Vaughn, who is considered one of best pure scorers in the 2014 class, scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds. Vaughn is extremely athletic and his shooting range extends out to the three-point line; he matched east teammate Devin Booker with a game-high two treys.

- Of the more than 17,000 fans in attendance at the United Center, a large portion no doubt already knew about Matteson, Ill., native and Kentucky signee Tyler Ulis. Unlike some of the point guards John Calipari has coached in the past, Ulis is a true pass-first point guard. Midway through the first half, Ulis fed Okafor for a dunk, then got a steal and converted a jump shot. Ulis finished with five points, three assists and three rebounds.

- Small forward Stanley Johnson, who will join Arizona next season, flashed his impressive athleticism and polish. While many of the players in this game will undoubtedly have plenty of success during their freshman years in college, Johnson’s advanced skill set suggests he’ll enjoy a smooth transition to the next level. He flushed home a big dunk in the second half and made several key plays to help the West prevail.

Which teams should be excited about next year?

Three of the bluest bluebloods in the sport will welcome in a batch of heralded prospects who figure to make immediate contributions.

Kansas 

Though center Cliff Alexander was limited by a wrist injury, Jayhawk fans got a glimpse of the 6-foot-8 power forward’s athleticism and power when he finished an impressive one-hand jam in the second half (he missed a dunk earlier in the game). Shooting guard Kelly Oubre, the other member of Kansas’ 2014 class, exhibited why many believe he can help fill the scoring void left in the wake of Andrew Wiggins’ departure to the NBA. Oubre, who stood out in the dunk contest Monday night, scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots.

Duke

By now, you’re well aware of Okafor’s talents. He may be the most offensively polished high school big man since Demarcus Cousins, and there’s a strong chance he’ll be a top-five pick in the 2015 draft; In its latest 2015 mock draft, DraftExpress projects Okafor will be the No. 1 pick. In front of a hometown crowd, Okafor shone again Wednesday night. Heralded point guard Tyus Jones lined up against Okafor, but the two should form a productive duo under coach Mike Krzyzewski next season. Jones, who won the skills competition on Monday night, showed he is an excellent facilitator (he had a game-high 10 assists) who rarely makes mistakes with the ball. The Blue Devils will also bring in shooting guard Grayson Allen, the winner of the dunk contest on Monday night, and 6-foot-6, 210-pound small forward Justise Winslow, who scored nine points and grabbed three rebounds.

Kentucky

The rich get richer. This weekend, Kentucky and its all-freshman starting lineup will take on Wisconsin with a berth in the national championship game on the line. It’s not known how many of those freshmen will return next season, but the Wildcats do have a fresh crop of high school talent on the way. Ulis shone throughout the week – at Monday night’s Powerade Jam Fest, in practices and in Wednesday night’s game. Center Karl Towns Jr., who finished with six points and two blocks, is as versatile a big man as exists in this class: he can step out and shoot from the perimeter, score over both shoulders and create for others. Wildcats fans also got to see former Indiana commit Trey Lyles, a polished post scorer who can shoot it from distance, and skilled, 6-foot-5 shooting guard Devin Booker, who shot 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Kentucky’s four-man class may not draw hyperbolic reviews, but it’s still one of the best in the country.
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