2012 High School All-American Jam Fest: A Breath of Fresh Air

Posted: March 27, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: , ,

(left to right) Morgan Tuck, Jordan Jones, Shabazz Muhammad, Tyler Lewis, Rasheed Sulaimon
Courtesy of McDonald's

After far too many failed dunk attempts, the 2012 McDonald’s All American jamboree ended.  The real basketball game will be played Wednesday at the United Center but this night belonged to the glamor of showing out.  Poor three point shooting, a very exciting skills competition, and athletes who could jump out the gym – though not finish their dunks – brought the crowd and other All-Americans to their feet.  For the excitement and corporate sponsorship of the event, the action on the court didn’t blow me away.  This was stardom beginning to be harnessed for greatness but still free from total control.  Looking at some of the earlier All-American contests, these athletes – men and women- look bigger, stronger, and faster than their rivals two decades ago.  The ebbs and flows of the crowd also struck me.  Despite the distant relationship between the University of Chicago and the outside world, the crowd featured as many students as non-students making for a lively and refreshingly diverse audience.  Honestly, the audience made the event rising with the hot shooting of Morgan Tuck or the electricity of Shabazz Muhammad trying and eventually jumping over his peer for a crushing dunk.  It featured the frenzied reaction of people vying for free shirts – a time honored tradition that never stops working.  No matter what the situation, people at sporting events will go absolutely nuts trying to win a shirt.  No fights, no belittling, no animosity.  Everyone came to see the future stars and everyone left with a smile.  Being that this event was sponsored by McDonald’s, that last sentence looks like I was paid by them to write it but I assure I was not – just brainwashed by subliminal messages and the smell of a Big Mac.  Still all of the show took a back seat to the players in a different element – the press conference.

I’ve been to a handful of press conferences but they all involved professional athletes conscious of their brand.  When watching professional stars speak during in-game interviews or in press conferences, they usually don’t seem genuine.  I perceive cliché’s delivered like clichés.  I see someone saying the right thing because it is the thing to be said.  Never pushing the envelope but seemingly never living in the now.  Interactions with the media appear as a chore to most professionals because it grows to be one.  The winners of the Powerade Jam Fest did not reek of artificial sweetener for the media.  It was the real deal.  Just like the free reign on their physical gifts slowing being molded by their high school coaches, accelerated by college masterminds, and finally packaged for the pros, player enthusiasm and excitement could not be contained.  When Jordan Jones spoke about being blessed with the opportunity to work hard and succeed it felt real because it was real.  Three point champion Rasheed Sulaimon (Strake Jesuit) reveled in the spotlight of playing the game he loved and being around others like him.  The game he loved.

Loving the game for what it is and what it can do came out the press conference.  No clichés.  No worrying about the brand.  No name dropping.  Just talking about working hard, laughing, and at times heartache.  Skill competition winner Tyler Lewis (Oak Hill Academy) remembered the risky decision to transfer so Oak Hill but also remember finding himself in the new system.  Coaching matters at this level.  Players are stars but they do not forget the role of the coach, a frequent omission of the modern day professional.  Who can blame pros who make 4 to 9 times more than coaches for believing they are worth more to the franchise?  In high school there is no franchise.  It’s the school and game.  This isn’t to say that these stars aren’t concerned about their growth and development.  Girls skills competition winner Jordan Jones (DeSoto) began to answer a question about the girl’s dominance in the skills competition and three point shootout but stopped abruptly. “I can’t tell yall that story” she stated between laughter.  Consciousness to surroundings isn’t because an agent is telling her what to say or how to say it.  It’s knowing what is for private, what is for public, and being true to self.  It’s authentic.  While the media remained cold and, to be honest, quite phony in their appearance these winners restored life to an incredibly bland canvass.  The media audience featured agents, potential agents, controlling media figures, and every entity we expect to mold happiness into business.  Despite their attempts, for now, the kids got their way.  They answered questions to who they wanted and enjoyed the one-on-one time as much as the on stage time.  I asked Morgan Tuck what she thought about the beginning of the media circus.  Her response confirmed the evident: it comes with the territory but she just loves playing with her teammates and meeting new friends going forward.

Seeing the emotions of college basketball players losing in the tournament reminds us that young people are innocent and tempers the fostered cynicism of corporate sports.  Smiles and openness of high school basketball highlights the same only the corrupting forces have not set in.  Everyone feels the professionalization on the horizon but for now it’s about having fun.  No business, just life – a much needed breath of fresh air to be enjoyed for as long as possible.

Jordan Jones, winner Skills Competition
(Courtesy of McDonalds)

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