The McDonald’s All American Games are a unique event in so many ways, it is the pinnacle of high school basketball that every player dreams of being apart of. They all have different paths to get there, whether it’s Cole Anthony, the son of a former NBA Player and national champion Greg Anthony, who has been in the spotlight since middle school and has been forced to live up to the hype his entire life. Whether it’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who was put on the B team in 9th grade, or Nico Mannion, who expedited his process by reclassifying this past summer. None of that matters now, they made it. They were one of 24 of high school basketball’s elite that have been selected to be part of the prestigious McDonald’s All American Boys Game (there are also 24 girls selected to be part of a girls game). But what everyone else doesn’t know, is that it’s way more than a “Game.” The game itself, is the cherry on top of a long, pressure-filled yet magical week for the players.

The practices before the game are not “typical” practices, they are lined with NBA scouts and GM’s analyzing their every move. There is nowhere to hide, the rankings are out the window, and all that matters is who can play when the lights are the brightest. I was talking to someone at one of the practices and they put it best, “This is a job interview.” All 24 players envision themselves playing in the NBA, representatives from all 30 teams are in attendance. They know the list of NBA superstars that came before them and donned the “Golden M,” and they also know the list of players in their exact same position that didn’t “make it.”

Throughout the week they are treated like celebrities, given multiple sweatsuits, bags, a personalized box with all kinds of specialty items, seven pairs of shoes (a player counted for me) and they are playing on national television. These kids are wired differently, they’re used to the spotlight, used to the star-studded sidelines, used to recruiting questions. They are forced to grow up quickly, but at heart, they are still kids. Kids who love to talk about rap, fortnite and NBA2K. One parent received a text during the week, it read “Enjoy this experience, it’s something the richest man couldn’t buy.” Through all the long days, the grueling practices and media appearances, I’ve always marveled at the perspective of these 24 kids and their families to live in the moment. To live in this once in a lifetime experience.

This was my fourth year covering the McDonald’s All American Game and each class is obviously different. Some years the group is filled with many one and done players (Lonzo Ball, D’Aaron Fox and Jayson Tatum to name a few) and some years one or two stars dominate the headlines (last year with Zion), but this year was uniquely special. This class was full of personality and was deeper than I have seen in the past. I really enjoyed watching and speaking to them. Below is an analysis of a few who stood out.

Nico Mannion (Arizona)

The future Arizona Wildcat, who will be looked at as the guy to bring them back to prominence, did not disappoint all week. He constantly went head to head with top point guards Tre Mann and Tyrese Maxey during West practices, and Mannion showed that he can do it all against top competition. He was making outside shots all week, and especially had his signature pull up three going which forced the defense to locate him at all times. Mannion was the most effective guard in Atlanta coming off the pick and roll and his poise, patience, ability to score and read the defense was truly elite. It seemed like he always made the right play, whether it was throwing the lob to James Wiseman, a cross court pass to Josh Green for an open three or a bucket for himself, Mannion is a pick and roll maestro. If someone is going to bring Arizona back to the promised land, it will be the hometown kid.

Tre Mann (Florida)

I did not have the opportunity to see Mann prior to this, and man, was I impressed. He is a baby-faced killer that has the ability to takeover a game with his starpower. Mann has an elite stroke, his walk-in three ball is absolutely lethal and he’ll make you pay with any kind of space. He also had a scoop shot that was nearly impossible to stop around the rim, Mann could finish it off either leg with either hand, it was a masterful combination of touch and deception that is essential for a smaller guard to finish at that level. The future Florida Gator has a vibrant energy about him that correlates to his on court swag, he should make an immediate impact in Gainesville.

Anthony Edwards (Georgia)

The future Georgia Bulldog is the most effortless scorer I’ve ever seen at the high school level, the only person that might be able to challenge him would be Michael Porter Jr., but I would still give Edwards the nod. He pretty much has every move you could think of in his bag, and is still a very capable catch and shoot shooter when off ball. His physical attributes are hard to comprehend–he is a big guard which makes it nearly impossible to knock him off his spots, but Edwards also has a great burst and can jump out of the gym. He’ll be a force to reckon with next year, and is the early number one on my 2020 Draft board.

Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky)

There weren’t many, if any, players more entertaining than Maxey in Atlanta. He brings constant energy and swagger every time he touches the floor. He has a unique trait called “Magnetism” that is rare, even amongst elite players. People are attracted to Maxey, both on and off the court, he is just the guy you want to be around. He also has a surplus of offensive skills that will help Kentucky immediately next year. The Texas native has NBA range, both off the catch and dribble, and is lethal in the pick and roll because of his ability to pass and score. Maxey gets after it on the defensive end too. I can easily picture him starting next to Ashton Hagans in next year’s Champions Classic.

Matthew Hurt (Undecided)

Any day now Matthew Hurt is going to make someone very happy. This was my first time being able to catch him live and I was beyond impressed. Hurt is very mobile for a guy his size and really gets after it on the glass. His offensive versatility is elite. Hurt’s ability to be the roll guy and drop the hammer at the rim, or the pop guy and splash a three ball is going to drive defenses crazy next year. His game is tailor made for a stretch big in today’s game, pairing Hurt with an elite point guard will be a scary sight. I heard the Duke commits were putting the pressure on during the week, we will soon if they were successful.

Cole Anthony (Undecided)

I first saw Anthony when he was a freshman playing two years up on the EYBL circuit, everyone knew he was special then, and his development hasn’t skipped a beat. The five-star point guard flaunted a more confident, sped up and improved jumper and that is the final touch on his all around game. Obviously no player is perfect, but Anthony’s ability to impact every facet of the game always stands out, no matter what setting he’s playing in. He is a blur in transition with elite end to end speed and the poise to make the right play while going full speed. No matter what jersey he is donning next year, Cole Anthony will be one of college basketball’s biggest stars.

Jaden McDaniels (Undecided)

Without a doubt, McDaniels is one of the most intriguing high school players I’ve come in contact with. While labeling him as the “Next Kevin Durant” is wildly unfair to McDaniels, he mentioned to me that he models his game after the two-time Finals MVP and it’s impossible to not see the resemblance. Standing at 6’11”, his fluidity as a wing is beyond impressive for an 18 year old. His handle, awareness and ability to create immediately jump off the page for a guy his size. McDaniels shotmaking ability is second to very few in the high school game, and has an unlimited amount of tools in the toolbox. I like to call him “The Silent Alpha,” he is a reserved kid and doesn’t do much talking (Unless you want to talk NBA2K, then he’ll let out a little smile and tell you how unstoppable Paul George is) but everyone knows what he is capable of on the court, and everyone knows it’d be foolish to put a ceiling on Jaden McDaniels.

Check out my rapid fire interviews on twitter @jakeinthepaint and instagram @jakeinthepaint_

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