Sure, the McDonald’s All-American game is an exhibition; the outcome serving as a backstory to the talent on the court. But when the West team’s 25-point lead was cut to four in the final minutes, it became imperative to earn a win.
“We’re talking about the 24 best players in the country, not just 12 (on the West team),” said Gordy Kerkman, head coach of the West. “You really knew, it sort of felt good to be 24 up, but you never feel safe.”
The West all-stars were able to hold off the East’s late-game comeback, earning a 106-102 victory. Though the margin of victory was a little too close for comfort.
“They put a little bit of pressure on us,” said IndianaHoosiers commit Yogi Ferrell, who posted eight assists in the win. “I felt like we made some sloppy passes. I came in the game. Me, (Rasheed Sulaimon), Archie (Goodwin), Grant (Jerrett), we all closed out the game pretty well.”
Shabazz Muhammad, the nation’s top senior prospect, according to Scout.com, was named the game’s MVP for his 21-point performance. Muhammad posted nine of the West’s first 11 points.
“It means a lot,” Muhammad said of the MVP award. “There are so many talented players out here. It was just fun tonight to play with everybody, Archie (Goodwin) and all those guys. Everybody is a terrific player. Just to be named the game’s MVP is an honor.”
Muhammad, a five-star guard, is considering offers from Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA and UNLV, and will make a college decision on April 10th. He was hungry to prove worthy of the top ranking.
“When you come to every event, you want to be known as the best player,” said Muhammad. “Coming in, I wanted to work hard and compete against everybody. This is the elite 24, the top players. When everyone competes, it’s a beautiful thing.”
After the game, Muhammad joined Kentucky commits Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin at the podium to meet the media. The three players combined for 54 points, led by Muhammad’s 21.
Goodwin dreamed of the trio playing as teammates in Kentucky blue. He feels the three players could lead the Wildcats to a second consecutive Final Four.
“It will be another repeat of what (the current team) is going to do this year,” said Goodwin.
As the game’s most valuable player, Muhammad joins the company of LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwight Howard. The last 13 players to win the award have moved onto the NBA (when eligible). Muhammad has his goal set on reaching that level. The key to doing so is simple.
“Just not being satisifed,” he said. “Winning all this stuff is a beautiful thing. Always staying humble is a thing I want to do. Knowing my next step is college, that’s what I want to do. Just staying in the gym working on your game, that stuff will work out for you.”