By Roy & Harv Schmidt
The McDonald's All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic are the two most prestigious post-season all-star games in the country when it comes to high school basketball. However, we believe that the selection process with respect to choosing the players for each game is severely flawed. With that being said, we thought we would take a few minutes to point out the idiosyncrasies and offer a suggestion for improvement.
First of all, we extend our congratulations to 6'9 Michael Dunigan from Farragut and 6'4 Iman Shumpert from Oak Park. Dunigan and Shumpert were each named to compete in both the McDonald's All-American Game, which will be played in Milwaukee on March 26 and the Jordan Brand Classic, which will take place at Madison Square Garden on April 19. While we are happy for both Dunigan and Shumpert, the problem we have is that we believe there are a handful of other players from the class of 2008 in Illinois who have performed well all season long yet in all likelihood will not get the opportunity to compete on a national stage once the postseason arrives. Homewood-Flossmoor's Kevin Dillard, Decatur Eisenhower's Lewis Jackson, Batavia's Nick Fruendt and Simeon's Stan Simpson are ones who immediately come to mind.
This gets at the #1 thing that is wrong with the selection process in connection with all of these all-star games. It is the fact that the selection committees for most of the top all-star games are comprised of national analysts, many of whom we call "big game" people, meaning that they only watch prospects in marquee environments, such as a prominent AAU event or top holiday tournament or in-season shootout. Knowing that, the question we have is how can they consistently monitor and track the progress of all of these players throughout their high school season? The answer is they can't.
As a result, it means that the entire setup as it relates to choosing players for any national postseason all-star game tends to be elitist in nature. This is immediately noticeable when looking at the overall makeup of this year's McDonald's All-American team. The first thing that sticks out is how the selection process is influenced by the player's recruitment. Once again, the majority of players chosen for the game will be playing their college basketball for schools that either compete in one of the nation's top conferences or are a consistent top 25 program. Of the 24 players selected for the 2008 McDonald's game, 8 will be attending a school in the ACC, 5 will be playing in the Pac Ten, 4 in the Big East, 2 in the Big Ten and one in the SEC and Big 12. Two players remain undecided.
Secondly, getting back to the problem we have with the selection committees being controlled by "big game" people, it means that voting is finalized much to early and without any regard whatsoever to how the player performs during his senior year. Instead, more weight is given to how well a player fares during the spring and summer on the AAU circuit. All it takes is one outstanding performance at a prominent national AAU event in front of numerous college coaches and all of the national gurus. If the player accomplishes that and then signs with a top 25 college program to boot, he is a virtual lock to be a McDonald's All-American.
The perfect case in point is Shumpert. Prior to this past spring, Shumpert was a relative unknown amongst the majority of national recruiting analysts. And then it happened. He "blew up" (a scouting term that we detest) on the AAU circuit, and achieved his coming out party with an outstanding performance at the King James Classic in Akron, OH last April. Then in September Shumpert signed a letter of intent with Georgia Tech and at that point he was in as far as being named to the McDonald's team. Unfortunately, it also meant that nothing that he did during his senior year at Oak Park would matter. Just another example of why we say that a high school basketball player's national reputation is made by how well he performs during the spring and summer.
We use Shumpert as an example because we have watched him on plenty of occassions this season and while he has come on strong in the last month, overall we believe that he has had a less than spectacular senior season. While we are not members of the McDonald's selection committee, we are part of a regional panel that recommends players from our geographical area (Illinois) for the game. With that being said, while we nominated Shumpert as a candidate for the McDonald's game, had we been on the committee we would not have voted for him when it came time to turn in the final ballot.
Let us emphasize that we are not national recruiting analysts and therefore can't comment on whether every player chosen to be a McDonald's All-American is truly deserving. However, being regional analysts, we certainly believe we are qualified to speak on players from the state of Illinois. With that in mind, a player who has performed as well (if not better than) any other player in the state from the 2008 class in Illinois this season is Kevin Dillard. While he may not be the frontrunner, Dillard has a chance to be named the Player Of The Year in the Chicago Area and is also among the leading candidates for the prestigious Mr. Basketball award. Yet the best that he might end up doing when it comes to postseason all-star games is playing in a few local contests. Once again, that tells us that something is wrong with the process and offers yet another indication of how the regular season in high school basketball has been rendered more and more meaningless.
How can this problem possibly be fixed? It probably can't, as most people probably believe that the set-up is fine the way it is. Nevertheless, we are going to offer a suggestion. In our opinion, more regional analysts need to be added to the selection committees, as they see players from a specific geographical region on a much more consistent basis than the national gurus, which is why their vote should weigh just as heavily. That way, more emphasis is likely to be put on regular season performance in addition to how a player fares over the spring and summer.
The difficulty lies in being able to balance the regional votes vs. those of the national analysts. There is probably no simple solution, but it is something that we believe needs to be looked at closely. Unfortunately, it will probably end up going no further than this blog.