The 1994 McDonald’s All-Americans were definitely a class of their own.
by Donnell Suggs
Earlier this month, ESPN aired a fantastic documentary that focused on the life and career of Chris Herren. Directed by Jonathan Hock—who has directed a number of documentaries for the network, most notably 2005′s Through the Fire, the story of Sebastian Telfair’s senior season at Lincoln High School in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn—did a good job blending Herren’s basketball career with periods of rampant drug use and ultimately his recovery and present success as a public speaker.
His health and remarkable turn around got me to thinking about the first time I ever saw Herren play basketball, on television at the 1994 McDonald’s All-American game. That year’s game was being held at Alumni Hall on the campus of St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens.
The reason for this was to further showcase the top player in the nation, Rice (New York, NY) high school’s Felipe Lopez, who had committed to St. John’s along with fellow Mickey D’s All-American Zendon Hamilton. Lopez had already spent his entire high school career on the back pages and throughout the sports sections of all of the New York papers, he would eventually grace the cover of the Village Voice and Sports Illustrated before ever playing in a college game. Yes, he was that big time.
Lopez came to New York City from the Dominican Republic and was soon a superstar on the AAU scene for powerhouse Riverside Church. I went to school at Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn, Rice and Loughlin are both in the Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA)—the same league that has birthed Lew Alcindor ( now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)(Power Memorial), Kenny Anderson (Molloy), Kenny Smith (Molloy), current Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson (Loughlin), Ron Artest (LaSalle) (Yeah that Ron Artest went to a well respected Brooklyn Catholic high school) to name a few—so I got to see Lopez up close and it was always worth the price of admission.
Outside of Alcindor and Anderson, Lopez was the most hyped schoolboy player in the city’s history and that saying something. New York had three representatives performing that Sunday afternoon, to go along with Lopez and Hamilton was a whip quick Kareem Reid, a point guard out of tradition rich St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx. The rest of the rosters were star packed as usual with players from Chicago, Virginia, Baltimore, California, Texas, New Jersey and places as far away as Alaska.
What happened to those player’s careers in both college and professional basketball is what sets this class apart forever.
Iverson was a once in a lifetime type of athlete by any definition of the phrase. Scholarship offers from all over the country were pouring in from football and basketball schools before they abruptly stopped due to a bowling alley incident on Valentine’s Day 1993 that we all should be familiar with by this point in the man’s career. This incident knocked him out of McDonald’s contention thus opening the door for another Virginian to represent the state in New York City, Oak Hill Academy’s long range bomber Curtis Staples.
Granted Staples was an All-American in his own right, having played in the backcourt with Jerry Stackhouse (1993 McDonald’s All-American game MVP) the year before, going undefeated in any and all competitions. Staples signed with Virginia along with fellow participant Norman Nolan out of Baltimore.
Staples and Nolan went on to become solid contributor to mediocre Cavalier squads that never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament, neither man played more than a season and a half in the NBA. Staples ended his college career as the NCAA’s all-time three-point field goals made before Duke’s JJ Reddick (a fellow McDonald’s All-American out of Virginia and now of the Orlando Magic) broke his record in 2006.
Nolan played All-ACC ball as a senior, averaging 21 points per game to go along with 9 rebounds before going undrafted in 1998. Nolan played ball overseas in countries ranging from Puerto Rico to Kuwait.
What makes the 24 players selected to this All-American game special is that it was one of the first and most definitely the last Micky D’s team to not make an impact on professional basketball. More on that later. The universities that made up some of their rosters are very common among college basketball fans all over the world but have changed a bit since 1994: Duke (a usual), Michigan, Indiana, St. John’s, (aforementioned) Virginia, Florida State, Boston College and Cincinnati.
For the first and last time ever in the history of the game, there wasn’t one player going to play college ball in Chapel Hill, NC. Another reason this game goes down as an original, for mostly odd reasons. Indiana had two players en route to Bloomington in Neil Reed and Andre Patterson. Reed, a traditional coach’s son type of point guard from Louisiana eventually transferred to Southern Mississippi to play his senior year for his father due to legendary IU coach Bobby Knight and his well documented tough love treatment of his players. Patterson, out of Abilene, TX, was expected to come into the Big-10 and contribute immediately to a solid Hoosier team.
Once again Knight’s “hands-on” approach rubbed a recruit the wrong way though this time didn’t lead to a transfer. Patterson went through some tough seasons—the Hoosiers made the NCAA’s all four of his years there but failed to win a game—and had a decent senior season. He was drafted late in the second round of the 1998 NBA Draft by Minnesota and hung around for a few seasons as a benchwarmer. Another of the 1994 class destined for mediocrity.
Duke always has it’s pick of All-Americans and 1994 was no different than any other year, three players were headed to Cameron following the departure of senior forward, All-American, do-everything, superstar, future lottery pick and Co-Rookie of the Year (along with Jason Kidd) Grant Hill (Duke went on to lose to Arkansas the following Monday night).
Trajon Langdon out of Anchorage, AK, three-time state player of the year, four-time all-stater, California’s Ricky Price and point guard Steve Wojciechowski from Bishop Gibbons in Baltimore. Price never made a dent in the ACC and spent his career in and out of the minor leagues, Langdon was injured during his sophomore year but put together a great four-year career that netted him a lottery spot in the ’98 Draft to Cleveland.
In over his head as a starting NBA shooting guard, Langdon moved on to play all-league ball in Europe for some powerhouse clubs in the Soviet Union. Not exactly where you’d picture one of the class’s best players. Wojo ended his Duke career as one of the most beloved Blue Devils and is presently an assistant coach at the school. He succeeded in life just not as a ball player.
Florida State University basketball under Pat Kennedy was very successful, players like Sam Cassell, Bobby Sura, Charlie Ward (yes, that Charlie Ward) and Doug Edwards to name a few, made them a player in the ACC and in the Metro conference prior to the move to the ACC in the early ’90′s. FSU was getting two McDonald’s All-Americans out of the same class for the 1st and last time in school’s history.
Corey Louis came out of Miam’s Senior High School with a big name and seemingly bigger game, Lamar Greer, a 6-4 power guard, put up huge numbers even for big-time standards in high school hoops. Greer played his ball on Cape Cod in New Jersey and was set to be the next big time guard for Kennedy and the Seminoles. He never was the player he was expected to be and neither was Louis, who had a decent career at Florida State but didn’t make a dent in the pros.
Even the group’s success stories didn’t always end so well. Lopez played four years at St. John’s and being named to the All-Big East First-Team as a senior, finally making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his and Hamilton’s careers, the Red Storm (originally Redmen) were ultimately upset in the first round by Detroit Mercy.
Drafted at pick 24 in the first round by San Antonio, Lopez’s rights were immediately traded to Vancouver on Draft night. Six years and three teams later (stops in Washington and Minnesota) his NBA career was done. To put this into proper perspective: The two McDonald’s classes that sandwich the 1994 game were two of the most special collections of schoolboy All-Americans ever assembled.
The 1993 class sent Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McInnis and Rasheed Wallace to North Carolina and eventually got Carolina into the Final Four into ’94′s Final Four, Charles O’Bannon though not a successful pro, helped garner a National Championship for UCLA in 1995 along with his brother Ed, a former McDonald’s All-American and Jacque Vaughn who won more games at Kansas in his four-year career than any other Jayhawk other than Danny Manning before the 1995 class is the gold standard for collection of teenage hoopsters by any measure. The class had it all, post players like Kevin Garnett, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
Point guards by the name of Stephon Marbury and Chauncey Billups, scoring guards and small forwards galore: Antawn Jamison, Paul Pierce, Vince Carter and Ron Mercer. All went pro and some like Garnett, Pierce, Wallace and Billups are NBA Champions; Garnett and Pierce are sure fire Hall of Famers. How did the 1994 class miss the mark so badly, we won’t know. But it did.
The college game was affected by the 1994 class, Antoine Walker won a Championship at Kentucky in 1996 as a part of one of the most dominating offensive forces in NCAA history. No other member of the class won a Championship, however.
Up until Maryland won its first (and only thus far) NCAA Championship in 2002 behind Juan Dixon, Steve Blake and a veteran squad there had not been a school win it all without at least one McDonald’s All-American since the first McDonald’s game in 1977.
Hopefully Chris Herren’s life, career and subsequent rebirth and recovery can sum up what will end up being the final description of the 1994 class.