Personalities emerge at McDonald's practices


MIAMI -- Every basketball season, the group of high school all-Americans who make up the McDonald's team have a different makeup.

There are different players each year, of course, but they also have a different chemistry with one another.

Three years ago in San Diego, current Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden was the dominant player and every big on the East club tried to keep up with him. It produced spirited play in practice. In the game, the West's Kevin Durant, now of the Oklahoma City Thunder, displayed the talent that makes him just as good a pro as the heralded Oden.

The 2007 class was one of the most talented since the inception of the McDonald's All-American Game in 1978. The mature group included standout NBA rookies Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love. It was a class so special that 2009 Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year and probable No.1 NBA draft pick Blake Griffin didn't even stand out.

Last year in Milwaukee, EA Sports National Player of the Year Brandon Jennings set the tone. The guard-dominated group tried to keep pace with him and Tyreke Evans, who won the Wooden Award as the game's MVP.

This year, there is no dominant talent such as Oden or Jennings and the group certainly is not as mature as the 2007 class. The 2009 McDonald's All-Americans are a loose group that is tight off the court but has yet to show much competitive juice after two practice sessions.

The one player who might carry the mantle for the group is Derrick Favors (South Atlanta, Ga.), the No. 2 prospect in the ESPNU 100. Favors is a dominant presence in the paint with his athleticism, length and ability to face the basket or play with his back to it. If he were more aggressive on every occasion, he might be able to raise the bar, especially on his East team. Favors' laid-back demeanor appears to resonate with his teammates, but it would be interesting to see what would happen if he developed more of a mean streak.

The No. 1 prospect in the ESPNU 100, Xavier Henry (Putnam City, Okla.) is taking a similar approach on the West club. He's letting the game come to him, and every time he touched the ball in the live scrimmages (which wasn't all that often), he made positive things happen. Of the wing players in Miami, Henry is the most physically developed, with a body built for the NBA. It will be exciting to see how he matches up with the East's Lance Stephenson (Lincoln/Brooklyn, N.Y.), the other wing player with that type of frame.

Stephenson, who is set to announce his college destination Tuesday, has not yet practiced with the East club, as his Lincoln Railspitters were competing in the New York State Federation Class 2A playoffs, where they lost in the semifinals to Rice on Saturday night.

So far, the East's first unit consists of posts Favors and DeMarcus Cousins (Leflore/Mobile, Ala.) and guards Dominic Cheek (St. Anthony/Jersey City, N.J.), Dexter Strickland (St. Patrick/Elizabeth, N.J.) and Peyton Siva (Franklin/Seattle). The guards seem to be making a conscientious effort to get the ball inside and were working on a high-pick-and-roll set in the first practice session Sunday.

The West's play in scrimmages has been a bit more individual in nature, but the players seem to get more work in as a team than their East counterparts. It will be noteworthy to see whether that changes on the final day of practice and which team's approach to practice will pay off come game day.

The West's first unit consists of Henry, David Wear (Mater Dei/Santa Ana, Calif.), Renardo Sidney (Fairfax/Los Angeles), Abdul Gaddy Jr. (Bellarmine Prep/Tacoma, Wash.) and Avery Bradley Jr. (Findlay Prep/Puyallup, Wash.). Gaddy and Bradley played together at Bellarmine as underclassmen, so the chemistry between the duo is excellent. That chemistry, however, might hinder other players in the lineup.

"I'm looking forward to playing with Avery," Gaddy said. "I haven't played with him since the Rose City Classic in Portland [June 2008]. We were both MVPs there."

The West club also is getting a boost off its second unit from power guard Michael Snaer (Rancho Verde/Moreno Valley, Calif.), the No. 44 player in the ESPNU 100. Snaer is playing as if he has something to prove. He's leading drills, working hard on his shooting during downtime and finishing strong around the basket. Another West player putting in the extra work is Keith "Tiny" Gallon (Oak Hill Academy/Mouth of Wilson, Va.). He's doing a good job getting up and down the floor and looks to be slimmer than his listed 293 pounds.

Snaer's counterpart on the East seems to be Siva. He's a warrior on the floor and plays every possession with passion. Another player getting the most out of his time in Miami is Alex Oriakhi (Tilton/Lowell, Mass.). He has a solid offensive arsenal that includes an effective half jump hook in the key.

The story lines are starting to emerge for this year's boys' McDonald's All-American game. Will the West's first unit come together on game night, and will the Bradley-Gaddy backcourt combo be effective? When Stephenson arrives and is in the East lineup, will that disrupt the game plan of trying to go inside to take advantage of the talents of Favors and Cousins? Will East players try to get the ball to hometown favorite Kenny Boynton Jr. (American Heritage/Pompano Beach, Fla.)?

Ronnie Flores is a senior editor for ESPNRISE.com.