Torrance, Calif. -- As the season comes to a close for nearly all of the country's top players, all eyes will be glued on the 2008 McDonald's All-American Game next Wednesday in Milwaukee. While the post-season all-star game circuit can both help and hinder a player's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidacy, the game for all intensive purposes in a no-lose situation.
A sub-par performance is usually just that -- one bad game -- but for those that shine it more often than not means good things lie ahead. In 1983, EA SPORTS National Player of the YearReggie Williams made only three of 12 field goals for six points, but it wasn't a big hindrance to his national player of the year candidacy. He helped Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Maryland to a 31-0 record and the mythical national title while averaging 25.3 points per game so he'd obviously done enough. Besides, he made nine of 16 shots good for 20 points while grabbing eight rebounds in the 1983 Dapper Dan Roundball Classic and helped Georgetown University win the 1984 NCAA title, so it was just one of those days.
In 1993, Rasheed Wallace scored nine points and was outplayed in the post by an imposing center named Darnell Robinson from Emery High in Emeryville, California. Robinson, known as "Tank", also helped the University of Arkansas beat Wallace's North Carolina club in the semifinals of the 1995 NCAA Tournament, but Robinson never played in the NBA. Wallace, meanwhile, has been a mainstay on talented Detroit Pistons teams and was the 1993 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year. Not a bad choice considering his all-star game performances.
James Worthy was a two-time prep all-american out of Ashbrook High in Gastonia, North Carolina but the 1979 McDonald's Game wasn't a great memory for him -- one of six field goals for a paltry two points. Game seven of the 1988 NBA Finals was, however, as "Big Game James" went for 36 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists, still the only triple-double performance in the seventh game of a NBA Finals series.
On the other hand, checking out the top performers in the history of the McDonald's All-American reveals a very interesting trend. The 27-point, 16-rebound performance by L.A. Crenshaw's John Williams in front of hometown fans at Pauley Pavilion solidified his status as the 1984 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year. Two years later, he led LSU to the NCAA Final Four and he was an instant NBA starter. The other two 27-point games were put up by NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse (Oak Hill Academy, Va., 1993) and by NBA superstar and two-time EA SPORTS National Player of the YearLebron James (St. Vincent - St. Mary, Akron, Ohio, 2003) before 18,728 at Gund Arena in Cleveland, where he now is a perennial All-Star with the Cavaliers.
The game's 28-point performances were turned in by 1991 EA SPORTS National Player of the YearChris Webber (Detroit Country Day, Mich.), Eddie Curry (Thornwood, South Holland, Ill.) and Paul Pierce (Inglewood, Calif.). A 30-point performance was turned in by Michael Jordan (Laney, Wilmington, N.C.) and was a prelude of things to come and the game's all-time leading scorer with 31 points was 1999 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Jonathan Bender (Picayune, Miss.). He was the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft coming out of the scholastic ranks but his knees robbed him of a lengthy NBA career, although he did manage to play seven seasons.
So who among the 2008 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidates might have a big game? If last season is any indication, it could be a player in the backcourt for the East team or a wing player on the West unit.
The thinking going into last year's game in Louisville was that the West All-Stars, stacked along the frontline with players such as Kansas State freshman sensation and eventual game MVP Michael Beasley, Pac-10 Player of the Year Kevin Love of UCLA and Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, were just going to be too much for a smaller, less physical East unit. The West romped in the scrimmage the day before the game at Louisville's Freedom Hall and Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal knew what needed to be done.
"After we came back to the hotel after the scrimmage, we knew what we had to do (during the game)," Lawal remarked after scoring 12 points and grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds. "They (the West) worked us on the boards so we knew we had to crash like our lives depended on it."
The West still outrebounded the East during the actual game, 54-47, but Lawal and others such as N.C. State's J.J. Hickson stepped up to keep the game close. This season the perceived advantage coming in lies in the West backcourt, where EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker point leader Brandon Jennings (nine ballots, 86 points) from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia will team up with leading vote-getter Jrue Holiday (10 ballots, 76 points) from Campbell Hall in North Hollywood, California in the backcourt. Also at the West's disposal is combo guard Willie Warren (four ballots, 24 points) from Duncanville, Texas, not to mention the California point guard duo of Malcolm Lee (J.W. North, Riverside) and Larry Drew (Taft, Woodland Hills).
With that talent on paper, an East guard such as Mike Rosario from Rivals.com FAB 50 No. 1 St. Anthony could step up and shine. This week, he cracked the top eight of the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker with 19 points and a good showing in the practices, scrimmage and game against the West's loaded backcourt could bode well for his candidacy. Kemba Walker from Rice High in New York falls into the same category while the scoring abilities of a guard such as Tyreke Evans (four ballots, 17 points) could be important to keep the West's guards honest on the defensive end as much as possible.
What happens if the West's guards get out and run and are too deep for the East club to handle? Somebody will be finishing in transition and that will bode well for Demar DeRozan (Compton, Calif.), the West club's only true wing player. DeRozan appeared on two ballots and scored 14 points this week, but among some panel members he is one of the leading candidates to heave a breakout week along with Evans.
And as we've seen in the past, a breakout game bodes well for a player's future basketball career.
Read below to see the voting results of this week's EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker and make sure to stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com all season long to track the progress of the top individual players as well as the top teams in the Rivals.com FAB 50.
Each week, StudentSportsBasketball.com's panel of ten experts, which includes two active McDonald's All-American selection committee members, casts its votes for the top EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates.
Each panelist is asked to list his top seven EA SPORTS Player of the Year candidates regardless of class, and the votes are tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first place vote equaling ten points, a second place vote equaling nine points and down to four points for a seventh place vote. The number in parenthesis ( ) before the player's name refers to his ranking on the previous week's tracker and the second number in parenthesis ( ) refers to the number of ballots a player appeared on this week.
Expert's Take: (Each week, StudentSportsBasketBall.com asks one of its ten panelists to explain his ballot.)
By Patrick Stanwood -- Patrick Stanwood Basketball
1. Brandon Jennings, PG, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) Jennings has widely been hailed as one of the top prep players since his freshman season and he has more than lived up to the praise. He was named to both McDonald's All-American Game in Milwaukee and the Jordan Brand All-Star Classic which will contested at Madison Square Garden in New York City after averaging 35.5 points and 7.5 assists per game. This senior standout will showcase his talent next year for Lute Olsen's University of Arizona Wildcats and he should make all of the players around him better.
2. Derrick Favors, PF, South Atlanta High (Ga.)
After an amazing junior campaign at South Atlanta, Favors has the potential to be the No. 1 player in the Class of 2009. With his long, athletic frame and nice touch around the basket, Favors finished first in point production averaging 23.7 points per contest. His 7-foot-4 wingspan makes him hard to contain around the bucket. He also used it to snatch boards (17.1) and reject shots (9.1) at a dizzying pace, finishing with 19 triple doubles in 30 games. Favors won't rest on his laurels, as he'll showcase his talents this spring and summer in North Carolina, Atlanta, Lawrence, Arkansas, Los Angeles and, of course, Las Vegas.
3. John Wall, PG, Word of God Academy (N.C.)
After a standout performance at last July's RBK U Camp in Philadelphia, Wall has the potential to be the regarded as the top lead guard nationally in the Class of 2009. Those looking to see Wall in action this spring and summer can find him at the Cactus Classic, the GBOA South-Regional in Atlanta, the Pearland Classic in Texas and the Reebok Summer Championships in Las Vegas with D-1 Sports of North Carolina. Wall, who led his team to a 27-3 mark, already has a nice list of potential college destinations in Oregon, Kentucky, NC State, Texas, Oklahoma, Miami-FL, Memphis, Baylor, Southern Cal and Virginia.
4. Jrue Holiday, SG, Campbell Hall (Calif.)
Outplayed fellow elite Californian Demar DeRozan in a head to head match up at the prestigious Ocean View Tournament of Champions held at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach so he ranks high on my list considering how talented DeRozan is. This future UCLA Bruin in equal part scorer and distributor, averaging an amazing 25.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists. 4.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game. With those kind of numbers it's easy to see why Gatorade named him national player of the year although he doesn't rate quite that high on my ballot.
5. Sylven Landesberg, SG, Holy Cross (N.Y.)
Another named to the McDonald's All-American team, Landesberg led his Holy Cross Knights to a New York Catholic League title and if you follow prep basketball who'd know how many good teams and players he had to get past to advance to the Federation Tournament AFTER the McDonald's game. Landesberg is lethal at lead guard or on the wing, in a half court set he'll beat you with his NBA range from three or with his one dribble pull-up or in the open floor. The Queens native makes the proper pass or drive past his opponents. He absorbs contact and consistently finishes at rim level.
After the completion of the McDonald's All-Ameican Game, check back on StudentSportsBasketball.com for a final extended version of the EA SPORTS National Player of the Year Tracker leading up to the release of the 2008 EA SPORTS All-American Team in mid-April.