WINTRUST ARENA- Like so many other of our favorite events and festivals, the 2021 McDonald's All-American festivities were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this year, the extravaganzas returned to Chicago A.K.A., the Windy City, and things felt commonplace for a change.
As usual, the two-day event kicked off with the Powerade Jam Fest to give everyone a preview of what the class of 2022 will showcase in the McDonald's All-American game.
Before the first activity, high school basketball standouts Kiki Rice and Dereck Lively II were honored for their outstanding achievements on the court and in the community. The first event, the classic skills competition that tests a player's accuracy, composure, and shooting ability, is the McDonald's All-American Skills Challenge. Participants included Cameron Whitmore, Amari Bailey, Jarace Walker, Mark Mitchell, Gabriela Jaquez, Indya Nivar, Paris Clark, and Ashlon Jackson.
On the girls' side, first up was Paris Clark and Gabriela Vasquez. Both started strong, flying through the obstacle completing the pass, but in the end, it came down to who could net the three-pointer first, and Clark proved to be the victor.
The other first-round matchup on the girls' side was, Ashlon Jackson and Indiya Navar. It ended similarly with both strolling through the Powerade cones, hitting the pass, but Navar netted her trey ball first and faced Clark in the finals.
Navar versus Clark. The finals were an exciting one, with both girls pushing the ball, keeping composure but, Jackson ousted Navar to take the Skills Challenge trophy.
On the boys' side, Mark Mitchell and Amari Bailey faced off first Bailey and Mitchell both jokingly went at it during warmups, so this was sure to be a good matchup. However, things got off to anunexpected start, Mitchell breezed through the obstacles while Bailey started nonchalantly and fell behind. But, Bailey noticing the great lead, sped up and seemed to regain some ground. Unfortunately, it was too late, and Mitchell netted the first three-point attempt to ensure no comeback.
Cameron Whitmore and Anthony Black finished the second round, with Walker coming out the victor and earning the right to face Mitchell in the Finals.
Mitchell and Whitmore faced off in the final round of the Skills Challenge event. Mitchell and Whitmore started fast. Maybe, a little too fast, as Mitchell knocked down a cone amid his takeoff. The matchup came down to the line, ending with both players taking turns to knock down the three but, Mitchell won.
After the Skills Challenge, there was a heartfelt moment. Anthony Black, another All-American, was treated to a montage featured on the Powerade labeled Jumbotron. The montage was perfect; it was reminiscent of nearly his entire basketball life up until this point; Black sat in harmony as he happily watched the video besides his All-American teammates.
Afterward, Black announced, to everyone, his future collegiate plans in fashion with a gift box containing a special Powerade drink and a hat revealing his college of choice. Anthony Black is now an Arkansas Razorback.
After Black proudly sat the hat on top of his curly bush of hair, everyone gladly cheered him. But, none were more excited than his All-American teammate, Jordan Walsh, who is also a Razorback recruit. They jumped around kiddingly, yelping words of joy and excitement.
The second activity, the three-point shootout, was next.
Participants included: Keyonte George, Dariq Whitehead, Gradey Dick, Chance Gray, KK Bransford, Ashlon Jackson.
On the girls' side, Jackson came out on top. The Duke signee came up short in the skills competition semifinals, but would more than redeem herself in the girls' three-point contest.
Jackson finished on top with 18 points, topping Miss Ohio Basketball and Notre Dame signee KK Bransford along with Oregon signee Chance Gray.
Not only were the 18 points tops in the girls' competition, but it was also the highest score of the night.
On the boys' side, Keyonte George won with twelve.
Now, last but definitely not least, the Powerade Jam Fest Dunk Contest.
Participants included: Ashlyn Watkins, Ayanna Patterson, Jordan Walsh, Chris Livingston, Dillon Mitchell, Nick Smith.
From the start, the contest was filled with stunning dunks from everyone. One of the craziest completed dunks came from Dillon Mitchell, pulling off a windmill while clearing a seven-footer, Derrick Lively and Dariq Whitehead.
Jordan Walsh, although he did not complete any dunks, had some ridiculous attempts. On his first round of dunks, he tried to clear three people two of which were seven-footers and who stood about 3 feet away from the basket. One would think he'd tone it down on the second round, but no, he increased the difficulty by adding another person to his human prop bunch and making them stand slightly further from the basket.
Despite all the insane performances from the participants, no one shined brighter than the winner, Ashlyn Watkins, who became the third woman to win the contest in history. Former Tennessee great Candace Parker won it in 2004, while Fran Belibi — now at Stanford — competed and won in 2019.
The Powerade Jam Fest was more than exciting for everyone in attendance, as well as everyone at home, watching on ESPN 2. This year's field of McDonald's All-Americans proved their worth. Wintrust Arena's McDonald's All-American Game tomorrow will be a treat.