by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
As high school seasons begin to wind down, it marks the begin of another season for many of the nation’s top ballplayers who will participate in all-star games and showcases throughout the country. The McDonald’s All American Game is, of course, the most prestigious of all.
Still two weeks away, the festivities have already begun. Tuesday, at The Westin Hotel in Chicago, a small handful of media were on hand for the announcement of this year’s male and female recipients of the Morgan Wooten Player of the Year Award. Austin Rivers claimed the award for the boys, while Elizabeth Williams won on the girls’ side.
Rivers, from Winter Park HS in Winter Park, FL, considered by many to be the best prep player in America, has been first-team All-State every year, leading his team to state titles in 2010 and 2011.
Williams, who attended Princess Anne HS in Virginia Beach, VA, led her team to three consecutive state finals, winning in 2009 and 2011.
While Rivers has already racked up a bevy of accolades, this one was particularly special. “To win an award like this, it means a lot, because it shows that we’re on the right track,” said the clean-cut 6-3 combo guard. “It’s more than just the athletic part. This award reflects on how you are as a person, you know, your grades, your athletic achievements, what you do for your community. Believe it or not, there’s life outside of basketball.
“I’ve been looking at players that have won these awards in the past, and I’ve seen a lot of great players come through here and win this, and it’s an honor to represent something that’s this big. It’s a great feeling to win something like this.”
Williams echoed his sentiments.
“It’s truly an honor to see the names of past winners, and to see what hard work and perseverance can get you to. I think it’s a combination of having the right support, strong family, for me, my faith in God,” said the post player who also doubles as a track and field star.
Ironically, both student-athletes will be attending Duke University next year.
“I developed a really good relationship with Coach K and his staff, and I could just see myself getting better as a player and as a person there at Duke,” Rivers said.
Williams, planning on majoring in pre-med, highlighted Duke’s academics and athletics as her chief reasons.
“It was a combination of things. Academics are really important to me,” she said. “I think Duke is a really good academic school, and I also have always wanted to major in pre-med and become a doctor… in addition, obviously basketball. They’re one of the top programs and I want to help them win a championship.”
In attendance as a special guest, and more significantly, to surprise his son Austin, was Doc Rivers, whose Celtics had the night off. Doc, who played in the 1980 game, and Austin, form just the second father-son McDonald’s All American combo. Milt Wagner and son Dajuan Wagner were the first father-son McDonald’s game alumni.
The younger Rivers was clearly shocked to see Pops walk through the door.
“I’m very surprised he’s here. I thought he was in Boston somewhere, I don’t know,” he said jokingly.
The man the award was named after was present, too. Coach Wooten, who Douglas Freeland, Director of Customer Engagement at McDonald’s called the “greatest high school basketball coach of all time,” coached at DeMatha High School in Maryland for 43 years. Winning 1,274 games and five national championships, he’s also been chairman of the McDonald’s game’s selection committee since its inception in 1977.
Rivers and Williams were chosen from group of finalists by a committee consisting of high school and AAU coaches, principals, and athletic directors, among others. Boys finalists included Rivers, Anthony Davis (Perspectives Charter HS, Chicago, IL), Michael Gilchrist (St. Patrick HS, Elizabeth, NJ) and James McAdoo (Norfolk Christian HS, Norfolk, VA).
The girls finalists were Williams, Cierra Burdick (Butler HS, Matthews, NC), Ariel Massengale (Bolingbrook HS, Bolingbrook, IL), and Kaleena Lewis (Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, CA).
Former male winners include LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Candace Parker and Maya Moore are former female recipients. Last year’s winners were Harrison Barnes and Chiney Ogwumike.
Criteria for the award is, “outstanding performance on the court, their outstanding performance in the classroom, their contributions and involvement in the community, and their character. The little things that really make them a winner.”
“They say the future of America depends on our young people. I think we can all agree today, after listening to Austin and Elizabeth, that we’re in pretty good shape,” said Wooten.
Both the girls and boys McDonald’s All American games will be played in Chicago at the United Center on Wednesday, March 30.