HOUSTON — McDonald’s All American week is the best chance to see the 48 best players in high school basketball — 24 boys, 24 girls — under the same roof.
Usually, the practices leading up to the actual games tend to be the most competitive events of the week. However, this year’s games saw a hard-fought comeback from the East boys to defeat the West 109-106, as well as the highest-scoring girls’ game in McDonald’s history (West 110-102 East).
After two days of practice, two scrimmages, an extensive media day, and the two showcase games, here are some notes on this year’s All Americans and their futures:
Bronny James had the most buzz of any prospect coming into this week and he didn’t disappoint. The Sierra Canyon guard has existed in an odd limbo for most of his high school experience. Everything Bronny does is overly scrutinized, but he has largely remained underrated despite being a genuine contender for best guard in his class.
Oregon commit Mookie Cook, who coincidentally will star as a younger version of Bronny’s father LeBron in an upcoming film, might have summed it up best: “I feel like he’s been good.”
Few teenagers are as comfortable as Bronny from three. He can make those shots spotting up, off movement, coming off wide pindowns or double staggers, and pulling up off the dribble. In particular, I thought Bronny flashed more than I’d seen from him until now in the latter area. He let it fly when defenders went under on pick-and-rolls — a massive no-no for scouting reports in the future — and made tough shots with his deep range. In the boys’ game, all 15 of his points came from three.
Then, Bronny is a two-way playmaker with his creativity and defensive versatility. He plays bigger than 6-foot-3, can switch onto bigger guards and wings because of his developed physique, and can wreak havoc in the passing lanes without selling himself out.
Looking towards the future, Bronny’s mid-range game still has room for growth. His footwork and shot are clean and crisp, so it should be a matter of reps and potentially growing into a role that requires more self-creation. I’ll also be curious to see how his passing looks against set, half-court defenses. He’s flashed solid reads on the EYBL circuit, but there is bound to be an adjustment curve as he makes the step up to the next level.
Bronny has not yet announced where that will be, but West teammate Isaiah Collier has already pitched James on joining him at the University of Southern California.
Collier had an impressive few days in Houston in his own right. The incoming USC point guard is an awesome passer who understands what pace to play with and when to get who involved. From a physical standpoint, I’d be surprised if he struggled in college or the NBA down the line. Collier is built like a freight train with broad shoulders and thick legs.
I watched Collier’s Galen Center debut in January when his Wheeler (GA) squad faced Sierra Canyon, and I think that the Georgia-born prospect’s outside shot has improved since then. Collier was making threes in drills and live action. His release isn’t the quickest, but Collier is getting much better arc and rotation on his three-ball. His first make in the boys’ game was a three.
Collier had a tremendous showing on Tuesday night, being named one of the co-MVPs. He finished with a game-high 25 points. However, he went 5-for-12 at the free throw line, including two missed foul shots with 13 seconds left and the game on the line.
Omaha Biliew, who will play for Iowa State next season, generated some buzz with his athleticism, budding jumper, and defense. He’s built like an NBA forward at around 6-foot-8 with a chiseled frame, and he understands how to use it. Biliew also stood out because of how vocal he was. His leadership was evident all week as he was one of the few players who was always talking during drills, keeping others engaged, and motivating his peers.
Incoming Texas freshman Ron Holland is another highly intriguing forward who looks like a top 5 candidate for the 2024 NBA Draft. His long-term role is still a bit uncertain, but Holland was mostly used at the 4 by his coaches this week. The Duncanville-based prospect was consistently getting to the rim while also making plenty of threes. Holland is probably most effective right now coming out of hand-offs. That way, he already has momentum getting downhill and can then score or create.
On the girls’ side, Juju Watkins continued her dominant final year of high school. She was typically poised and productive in practice, scoring at all three levels and showing good fire on defense. Then, she was named co-MVP of the girls’ game after racking up 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, and 2 blocks in 22 minutes.
Mikaylah Williams, the no. 2 girls’ player in the country, will be worth watching when she arrives at LSU. She has a super smooth jumper with a high release point that is difficult to block.
UCLA commit Amanda Muse was steady all week and made a real case to be considered the best big on her squad. She had 16 points in as many minutes.
Lastly, I’m always entertained when I watch La Jolla Country Day point guard Jada Williams. The incoming Arizona freshman has tight handles and a vast arsenal of passes, but can also shoot from way downtown. Her energy off the court is infectious and her teammates at any level will enjoy playing with her. She finished with 16 points on Tuesday night.
Matas Buzelis is 6-foot-10 with the skills and fluidity of a guard, and the bounce of a dunk contest participant. He is set to join the G League Ignite next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if his role on the court fluctuated across all five positions, because his skillset is that versatile right now. The Lithuanian prospect said that he models his game after Luka Doncic and Paul George. His goal is to keep developing his body, which is still quite skinny although not worryingly so.
DJ Wagner became the first third-generation McDonald’s All American, following in the footsteps of his father Dajuan and his grandfather Milt. Wagner had some people in the gym talking after a strong first day of practice, but he didn’t fully show his repertoire until the second half of the boys’ game. Wagner scored all 19 of his points then, getting to the rim and making a trifecta of threes. Up next, I want to see him continue to develop as a playmaker, not just in terms of reads but also willingness.
Aaron Bradshaw speaks to how the game has changed. The 7-foot (and he’s probably a hair taller than that) Kentucky commit has an eye on playing as the 3 or 4 man in Lexington. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but Bradshaw is certainly tantalizing with his sweet stroke at that size. He can space the floor and takes shots off the bounce, but needs to keep filling out and learning how to use his size more effectively.
On the girls’ side, Hannah Hidalgo and Milaysia Fulwiley both popped — especially after capping their weeks off with stellar performances in the girls’ game on Tuesday. In simple terms, they can go and get you a bucket any time. Hidalgo (26 points) and Fulwiley (17 points) will join Notre Dame and South Carolina next season, respectively.