The McDonald's All-American Game is a rite of passage for basketball's youngest stars, an event that exists to showcase and hype the sport's next wave of talent. The game annually brings together 24 of the country's top high school players, but so often the spotlight falls on one or two individuals.
In 2013, it was all about the national introduction of Andrew Wiggins, the Canadian mixtape sensation with unparalleled athleticism and an NBA-ready frame. The big men ran the show the next year, with Jahlil Okafor drawing even more attention than Karl-Anthony Towns and Myles Turner before delivering a national title at Duke. Last year was the start of the Ben Simmons show, and also the beginning of Brandon Ingram's emergence.
There are people who follow recruiting for a living that will tell you the class of 2016 is more impressive than any of those groups. This class always looked better than the one a year ahead of it, and Scout's Evan Daniels went as far to say that it's one of the best classes he ever covered.
What's interesting is that there's no true headliner this year. Instead, the class of 2016 is special because of its depth, and the idea that anyone out of a group of 10-15 players could emerge as the new top dog by the time the 2017 NBA Draft rolls around.
The level of talent was immediately evident at the first day of practice on Monday, even without some big names in attendance. Five-star prospects like Harry Giles (Duke), Dennis Smith (NC State), Jonathan Isaac (Florida State), Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky), Rawle Alkins (Arizona) and Thon Maker (uncommitted) aren't even in attendance, and the overall strength of the class is still shining through.
You're going to need to know these names soon. What better time to start than now?
The power wings
(Michigan State commit Miles Bridges // Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Jayson Tatum has been considered a top-three player in the class by most publications for the last 18 months. He's set to join best friend Harry Giles at Duke next year, marking the first time the top two players in ESPN's rankings have each committed to the same school.
Tatum is a 6'8 wing from St. Louis who will enter college basketball with as much polish as anyone in the class. He's a mid-range assassin and is starting to extend his jumper out further on the perimeter. He averaged 13.9 points as one of four high school players on the United States' gold medal winning team at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship, and might have produced the most impressive highlight of the tournament:
Josh Jackson, another Team USA U19 high school star, offers even more athleticism and defensive potential than Tatum. Jackson is thoughtful off the court, but he's an alpha dog on it. We're talking about a player who jawed back and forth with Gary Payton in the middle of a game in January. It's easy to see Jackson in the mold of Wiggins or Stanley Johnson, and right now he's ranked No. 1 by Rivals and 247 Sports.
He's also the best uncommitted player in the class, with a decision coming in the next two weeks. Jackson is down to Kansas, Arizona and his hometown school, Michigan State.
If Jackson chooses the Spartans, he would pair with another Michigan native, Miles Bridges, to form the most intimidating wing tandem in the country. Bridges is a combo forward that seems ideally fitted for the way the game is trending, a 6'7, 235-pound athlete already blessed with perimeter skills and grown man strength.
The 3-and-D(unks) guys
Malik Monk is a human highlight reel waiting to happen. The younger brother of former standout Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk, Malik is headed to Kentucky to co-headline what might be the nation's top recruiting class. The 6'4 guard is a pure scorer with elite athleticism and shooting range that extends beyond the three-point line:
Terrance Ferguson is even bigger than Monk, at 6'6, and he might be a better pure shooter and more impressive dunker. Ferguson recently uncommitted from Avery Johnson and Alabama, and is said to be choosing between Kansas, Baylor and Arizona. This is a player with the skill set to potentially win a dunk contest and a three-point shootout one day:
The point guards
(Kentucky commit De'Aaron Fox // Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Point guard might be the deepest position in this class, and there's still no consensus on who's the best long-term prospect between Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Markelle Fultz and NC State commit Dennis Smith, who is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in August.
Ball is a 6'5 UCLA commit and the oldest of three brothers set to play for the Bruins. Ball has a brilliant floor game, great size and can make threes despite a funky release. He's been groomed to play an uptempo style that relies on outlet passes and 30-foot threes, which should make for must-see TV in Westwood next year.
Like, this pass!
Fox is considered the best defensive point guard in the country and arguably the fastest player in this class. The 6'3 Kentucky commit led the EYBL in assists and steals last summer. He struggles to shoot from three at this point, but he still has all the tools to be John Calipari's next great point guard.
Fultz is 6'4 with a 6'9 wingspan and a silky-smooth game that allows him to create separation off the dribble at will. The DeMatha product has become one of the most improved players in the class, going from JV to five-star status over the course of 12 months. He'll run the show at Washington next season from the moment he steps on campus.
There's also Frank Jackson, a 6'3 combo guard who could fit either in this section or with Monk and Ferguson above. He's expected to play off the ball at Duke next season, but could be a point guard long-term. If anyone doubted his explosiveness, he was the surprise winner of the McDonald's dunk contest Monday night:
(Kentucky commit Bam Adebayo // Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke commit Harry Giles would have been the headliner of this group and in the mix for the No. 1 player in the class, but he tore his ACL in November and isn't at the McDonald's Game. Giles is a 6'10 big with great athleticism and solid two-way skill set, but the injuries are starting to become worrisome. He also tore his ACL, MLC and meniscus playing for USA Basketball after his freshman year of high school.
Bam Adebayo rose to prominence as Dennis Smith's grassroots teammate and will be the most highly touted big in Kentucky's 2016 class. He doesn't have much of a perimeter game at this point, but he's incredibly strong at 6'9, 230 pounds and can get off the floor effortlessly:
Marques Bolden is considered the best low-post scorer in this class. The 6'10, 255-pound center is thought to be choosing between Duke and Kentucky, and is good enough that he should be projected to start at the five as a freshman, regardless of which program he chooses.
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The 2016 McDonald's All-American Game tips off at the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. The game will be shown on ESPN.
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