The most well-known of the high school postseason basketball games, the McDonald's All-American game, will be broadcast tomorrow, March 28, at 8:30 p.m. CDT on ESPN. As has become the norm under head coach Rick Barnes, Longhorns fans have a vested interest in the game. While Texas does not have a signed player participating, there are two names to keep particularly close tabs on.
The first is Cameron Ridley, whose recruitment has been well-documented here. Ridley has been committed to Texas since the beginning of 2011, but declined to sign his Letter of Intent in the Early Signing Period. As far as the broadcast is concerned, he is still committed to Texas and that will likely be all that is referenced by the announcers.
The second is Devonta Pollard, who remains uncommitted but has Texas amongst his finalists. On Pollard, Texas recruitniks have continually been cautiously optimistic, stating that Texas has always been a favorite, but never the favorite. Pollard is expected to decide by mid-April, and the Horns remain in the hunt.
PLAYERS TO WATCH - TEXAS PROSPECTS
Cameron Ridley | C | Fort Bend Bush | Houston, TX | Texas
Ridley is one of four Texans participating in the event, all playing for the West squad. Like the NBA All-Star Game, the high school postseason games aren't terribly conducive to lumbering post players like Ridley. Still, it will be interesting to see how Ridley fares against the East's big bodies like DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse) or Tony Parker (undecided). In college, Ridley should be a plus rebounder and defender based on size alone. How great a freshman season he has will depend on how quickly he can develop his interior post game rather than just relying on sheer brute strength.
As mentioned, Ridley is currently committed to Texas. After a long winter of many rumors (such as Ridley reclassifying to the class of 2013 after a prep year), most feel that Ridley is solid to Texas and will sign in the Late Signing Period (see Dave Telep's latest tweet below). However, he's technically a "free agent", available to play for any school, until he signs that LOI. For anxious Texas fans, the first day of the Late Signing Period is April 11. This may be the only time Longhorn supporters will see Ridley on television, as he is not participating in the Jordan Brand Classic or Nike Hoop Summit.
Cameron Ridley said he will sign with the University of Texas and be a Longhorn. He made that clear.— Dave Telep (@DaveTelep) March 27, 2012
Devonta Pollard | F | Kemper County | Porterville, MS | Undecided
Despite hailing from Mississippi, Pollard will suit up for the West squad. Hopefully, he and Ridley can swap stories of how awesome it will be to play for Texas. Pollard has drawn comparisons to Kevin Durant, and it doesn't hurt Texas that Durant is Pollard's favorite player. While he is not "All-World" like Durant, Pollard is a top 10 talent in his class that should have a huge impact next year.
One of the more interesting matchups to me will be seeing Pollard go up against SEC-bound Alex Poythress (Kentucky). Both Poythress and Pollard held Kentucky offers, but the Wildcats received a commitment from Poythress last fall. Pollard chose not to start his recruitment until this spring, after his football season had ended. As a result, Poythress had continued to list Kentucky but received little reciprocal interest. It appears that Pollard "officially" dropped Kentucky within the past week.
Pollard is choosing from Texas, Mississippi St., Alabama, Missouri, and Georgetown. The Bulldogs had long been considered the leader, but the recent resignation of head coach Rick Stansbury has thrown that recruitment in flux. Pollard has two official visits left, to Tuscaloosa on April 5 and Georgetown on April 15. Like Ridley, Pollard won't be participating in the Jordan Brand Classic or Nike Hoop Summit, so catch his skills now.
UPDATE (3/28): Unfortunately, Pollard suffered a concussion in practice and will not play in the game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH - BIG 12 BOUND
Isaiah Austin | C | Grace Prep | Arlington, TX | Baylor
Austin and Ridley. Ridley and Austin. The two big men have been lock-step for a long time in Texas high school basketball circles. They are the two most highly regarded Lone Star prospects in the class of 2012, supersized talents that many expect to dominate in college basketball next year.
As far as their games go, they couldn't be more different. Ridley is raw, powerful, and full of brute strength, whereas Austin is more refined, skilled, and perimeter-friendly. While Tristan Thompson versus Perry Jones III isn't a spot-on comparison, it will likely be brought up when (if?) Ridley and Austin go head-to-head in Big 12 play next year. One thing both need to show in the All-Star circuit is assertiveness. Take on the best, then be the best.
Like with Jones III, Texas never really had a shot at recruiting Austin. The Grace Prep standout committed to Baylor (in fall 2010) even before Ridley committed to Texas. I would love to see the West roll out a "twin towers" lineup with Austin and Ridley together, likely the first and last time the two will ever be teammates.
Marcus Smart | G | Marcus | Flower Mound, TX | Oklahoma St.
If there's one recruitment that stings, it's Marcus Smart's. The swingman from Flower Mound was highly regarded by Texas, but Smart ultimately chose Oklahoma St. because the Cowboys offered a scholarship to his teammate, Phil Forte.
Smart was named the Gatorade Texas Boys Player of the Year, and is also a two-time UIL 5A State Champion (Marcus defeated Travis this year to take the title). His body of work screams "winner." His game screams junkyard dog, but that's not fair to Smart, who is a super talent in his own right. However, Smart craves contact, isn't afraid to mix it up in the post, yet still has an intelligent perimeter game. He reminds me of ex-Cowboy Byron Eaton, and I mean that with the highest praise. If Texas fans don't downright hate him, but also respect the hell out of him, I'll be very surprised.
Of all the players in the game, he isn't the most talented, but I cannot really see him failing, either. He is my darkhorse pick for the game's MVP.
Perry Ellis | F | Wichita Heights | Wichita, KS | Kansas
Ranked as a consensus 4* by recruiting services, Ellis is one of the lower-ranked prospects in the game. He has a great pedigree, though. Kansas St. and Kentucky were amongst the finalists for this four-time 6A State champion, who ultimately chose to be a Jayhawk.
Ellis plays bigger than he is. Listed at just 6'8", he's more of an interior player, and will draw some intriguing opponents at the 4, most notably Arizona-bound players Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett. Ellis is currently Kansas' top recruit in the 2012 class, though the Jayhawks are still after notable uncommitted prospects like Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker. It wouldn't surprise me to see Ellis step in and start from Day 1, but I think Self may defer to upperclassmen while Ellis learns as a reserve like Cole Aldrich, the Morris brothers, or Thomas Robinson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH - OF INTEREST
Shabazz Muhammad | F | Bishop Gorman | Las Vegas, NV | Undecided
Muhammad is the consensus top player in the game, as fellow top prospect Nerlens Noel was not eligible after a late reclassification. Most everybody scouting the practices has had nothing but good things to say about Muhammad. ESPNU's Dave Telep says he "goes hard," which is apparently a compliment whether you're a high school basketball player or a male adult video star.
Texas had reportedly offered Muhammad back in the day, but nothing ever materialized. Muhammad did take one of his official visits to Texas A&M (where his father played college ball), but is down to UCLA, Kentucky, and Duke, with Kansas, UNLV, and USC trailing. He is expected to announce on April 10.
With his incredible scoring ability, Muhammad should be considered the favorite to take home the MVP award.
Anthony Bennett | F | Findlay Prep | Brampton, ONT | Undecided
Bennett is the latest, greatest Canadian import via Findlay Prep (following in the footsteps of Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, and Myck Kabongo). Unlike those three, Bennett plays AAU ball for CIA Bounce instead of Grassroots Canada. Also unlike those three, he won't be attending the University of Texas.
Bennett is one of the more versatile players in the game, with the body and skill set to play either small or power forward. I will be interested to see which position he looks more natural in, though my guess is he plays a hybrid role similar to Kentucky's Terrence Jones or Kansas' Marcus Morris.
Bennett has yet to "go hard" in his recruitment, reportedly having academic-slash-ACT issues. Those have been denied by his camp, and Kentucky, Florida, and UNLV make up his top 3, with Oregon and Washington also in the mix. He hasn't taken any official visits, so this recruitment may drag out into May.
Rasheed Sulaimon | G | Strake Jesuit | Houston, TX | Duke
Two years ago, Texas fans dreamed about an all-Houston backcourt of Sulaimon and L.J. Rose (from Westbury Christian). That never materialized. Sulaimon made it very public that he wanted to be a Blue Devil, and when Duke reciprocated, he committed. As for Rose, he ended up falling in the rankings and was passed over by Texas in favor of Louisiana's Javan Felix.
Sulaimon has stayed hot, finishing up his career as a low-end 5* prospect. A high-energy player, Sulaimon reminds me a little bit of another Houston-to-Duke player, Daniel Ewing. Sulaimon, playing for the West, is on the same squad as two other higher profile 2-guards, Smart and Archie Goodwin (Kentucky). I'm intrigued as to how Sulaimon measure up to those two talented ballplayers.
Brandon Ashley | F | Findlay Prep | Oakland, CA | Arizona
Ashley is the last name in the game that had some Texas connections. The Longhorns were amongst his finalists before he picked Arizona, though it never looked likely that Ashley would leave the Pac-12. He is part of a dream class for Arizona's Sean Miller, a popular name amongst Longhorns faithful as a "possible replacement" should Texas ever lose Barnes.
In Tuscon, Ashley will team up with two other 5* big men, Grant Jerrett (also in the McDonald's game) and Kaleb Tarczewski. With those three in two, Arizona may very well end the "Pac-12 is a joke of a conference" meme next year.