by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17
The on-court template for high school All-Star Games has long been established: flashy passes, crossover dribbles, copious alley-oops and minimal defense. What sets the Under Armour Elite 24 Game apart from its fellow dunkfests is the atmosphere.
This is streetball, baby. Played on a spectacular sun-splashed afternoon in Southern California, today’s game was played on the famous courts of Venice Beach, with announcers Bobbito Garcia and Joe Pope “calling” the action—by cajoling, encouraging, nicknaming and teasing the players, coaches and referees.
What the announcers were charged with today was to keep the game from turning into a non-stop fastbreak. And they did. With constant reminders to the kids to get back on defense and playful threats to have them pulled from the game, Kool Bob Love and Pope made it clear to this collection of future college (and in many cases, NBA) stars that they were being watched.
Ultimately, the 164-138 win for the Brandon Jennings-coached Raymond Lewis Squad over the Kyrie Irving-coached Marques Johnson Squad did turn into a giant fastbreak, but not till the last five minutes—and that was the fault of whoever drafted the teams, not the game’s format.
In a game filled with big forwards who could handle, block shots and dunk, the two best were San Jose (CA) Archbishop Mitty’s Aaron Gordon and Plano (TX) Prestonwood Christian’s Julius Randle. And they were on the same team!
“We were a little stacked,” the 6-7-but-seems-taller Gordon said sheepishly after notching 25 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and one of the four awesome surfboard-inspired MVP trophies Under Armour handed out after the game. “I was originally going to be on the other team but then they put me on this one. It was fun.”
Fun definitely seemed to be the mission for Gordon, who attempted all manner of dunk contest-worthy dunks, and punctuated the made ones with loud screams. “I might have done a little extra because this was an All-Star Game, but I always like to bring entertainment to the game,” he said.
The 6-9 Randle, the actual winner of Friday afternoon’s dunk contest, was also an MVP, scoring a game-high 27 points. “The ManChild” showed some nifty dribble moves and was another player that seemed to be having an absolute blast. “My whole weekend has been very fun,” Randle said. “The Dunk Contest, the game, and the way they do it with the announcers, and outside…it just makes it relaxing.”
Having the better team is relaxing, too; The Raymond Lewis Squad also featured twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison from Richmond (TX) Travis, who you should know from this year’s SLAM Diary. Aaron was the third Raymond Lewis team member to cop a MVP trophy, well-earned after an explosive 25-point performance on 11-14 shooting from the field.
For the Marques Johnson Team, which obviously didn’t have Gordon or Randle and was also without highly touted Canadian prospect Andrew Wiggins, who was originally on the roster but wasn’t able to attend the weekend, it was an uphill battle from the start. To make matters even worse, Johnson Squad member Keith Frazier from Dallas (TX) Kimball sprained his ankle early in the game. He came back a bit in the second half but still played a game-low 12 minutes.
Short-handed and down 75-65 at the half, the Marques Johnson Squad kept things within reach for awhile behind effort, an emotional bench (assisting Kyrie were UA endorsers Will Barton, DeAndre Jordan and Derrick Williams, all of whom waved towels throughout) and the play of their own well-built slashers.
The one Johnson Squad member to get a MVP surfboard was 6-5 Justise Winslow, a junior (remember, the Elite Game is technically open to all classes, though there were only three non-seniors this year) from Houston (TX) St. John’s who got in the lane repeatedly for 21 points on 10-11 shooting.
Winslow’s Elite teammate, Jabari Bird of Richmond (CA) Salesian, stood out as well. A 6-6 wing who had announcer Pope caw-caaawing like a bird every time he touched the rock, Bird dropped in 20 points and handed out 3 assists.
But regardless of Winslow and Bird’s ability to get into the paint, they’re still wingmen in a game that was dominated by the beastly forwards from the Raymond Lewis Squad, Gordon and Randle.
And if those two didn’t own the game because of their size and skill, maybe it’s because they just had the most fun.
“This is the best event of the summer,” Randle said as the sun set on a great afternoon and, really, the entire summer season.