Diary From Day 1 Of McDonald's All-American Game Week

03/31/2013 09:30 PM

While most people were hunting Easter eggs and spending quality time with their families, 48 high school basketball players gathered in Chicago for the festivities leading up to the McDonald’s All-American Game. Six of them are committed to Kentucky and will be in Lexington this summer to begin working on what looks to be the most promising season any team could ask for.

I briefly spoke with the boys’ West team coach Mike Flaherty from Mt. Carmel High School. When I told him I covered Kentucky and was here to talk to the six All-Americans committed to UK, he asked if Aaron Gordon had committed. Just to be clear, Gordon plans to announce his decision Tuesday, but Flaherty’s reaction showed the power of UK, John Calipari, and Big Blue Nation. Kentucky is never out of the race for top recruits.

Aaron Harrison, his twin brother Andrew Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, and the newest addition to the Kentucky family Julius Randle certainly were proud of being Kentucky Wildcats. The Ronald McDonald House hosted some Easter-themed activities, including cookie decorating, an Easter egg hunt, and playing video games, for the All-American players to interact with children involved in the charity. During cookie decorating, every future Wildcat decorated at least one cookie with blue “UK” letters. Lee even added all of his future teammates initials to his cookie.

During the Easter egg hunt, all of the 6’5” or greater UK recruits helped the young kids reach the plastic eggs hidden on the top of lamp shades and fireplace mantles. The Harrisons posed for a photo with a set of triplets, and when it was time for the official All-American photo to be taken on a staircase, the 6’9” Lee got excited when McDonald’s reps said tall people needed to be on the lower steps. Probably the first time for the tall young man to get to be in the front of a photo.

Kentucky already set a record for the most All-Americans in one year with six, and they could add to that record. UK is still on Gordon’s short list, though most recruiting experts believe he will stay out West. The other big uncommitted recruit is, of course, Andrew Wiggins. He began the day at the Ronald McDonald House keeping to himself, but when the players began interacting with the children, he opened up with the children and with the other All-Americans. On Friday, John Calipari reportedly told Wiggins if he comes to Kentucky they should win every game by an average of 30 points, and Wiggins echoed that sentiment when he told us in a one-on-one interview that if he came to Kentucky it would be the best college team ever and “we would win it all for sure.” Just the fact that he said included himself by saying “we” tells me he is seriously considering coming to Kentucky if he hasn’t made up his mind already to become a Wildcat. Also, that smile says a lot that words can’t.

After the trip to the Ronald McDonald House, the players went off to a closed practice. For dinner, all the players went to one of the biggest McDonald’s. After their meal, I asked if we could get a photo with all six UK signees. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendship already there among this group, and with all six gathered together, the gravity of the moment was overwhelming. This could be the majority of next year’s National Championship team already assembled.

Of course, John Calipari’s recruiting class is loaded with talent, but this particular group seems focused on the goal ahead, the 2014 National Championship. They know it won’t be easier and it won’t happen without hard work. These six young men, though, appear poised on the edge of greatness, and they all seem to know what their potential is and want to do whatever it takes to reach that potential.

Big Blue Madness can’t get here soon enough.

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