Chicagoans who are looking forward to seeing Simeon's Jabari Parker participate in the annual McDonald's All-America basketball game in 2013 will be disappointed.
The game, which was held at the United Center last year and will be held in the same venue on March 28, won't return in 2013.
There aren't any Chicago products in this year's McDonald's boys game, one of the few times in the history of the selections that Illinois has failed to be represented.
However, there will be three local representatives in the girls game -- Connecticut-bound Morgan Tuck of Bolingbrook, Kentucky-bound Janee Thompson of Whitney Young and Notre Dame-bound Jewell Loyd of Nlles West.
And the Chicago area will be represented on the sideline with coaches Tanya Johnson of Zion-Benton, who will guide the girls West team, and Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora, who will direct the boys West team.
Both are well-qualified. Johnson coached Loyola to state championships in 1997 and 1998. Kerkman has won more than 725 games in his career, including a state title in 2000.
The nation's top-rated seniors will be on display, too. The girls are led by Breanna Stewart of Cicero, N.Y., who is committed to Connecticut, while the boys are led by Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas, Nevada, who is uncommitted.
But next year? The class of 2013 in Illinois is one of the best ever produced. Parker, arguably the No. 1 player in the nation regardless of class, could be accompanied by Belleville East's Malcolm Hill or Morgan Park's Billy Garrett Jr. or Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton or Kendrick Nunn, Parker's teammate at Simeon. Hill is committed to Illinois.
Illinois' only chance to land a spot on the McDonald's All-America 24-member team fell far short this year. Simeon's Steve Taylor ranks No. 52.
"Taylor is a talented player but not a McDonald's All-American," said longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, who is a member of the selection committee. "This year was a down year for talent. But next year is a different matter."
This marks the first time in the 35-year history of the McDonald's game that the same city will host in back-to-back years. Chicago was chosen to host for the second year in a row because the game drew a record crowd of 23,000 to the United Center last year. And McDonald's headquarters is based in the Chicago area. But it won't three-peat in 2013.
Gibbons has questioned the politics of the selection process for the McDonald's All-America game for many years. "The selection process is flawed. There are too many people on the committee. Some people don't see all the players," he said.
The selection process consumes six weeks, from an original list of 100 candidates to 50 to 40, then the final 24.
The selection committee, which also includes longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com, usually picks about 22 of the players. Then Morgan Wootten, head of the selection committee, and the McDonald's sponsors or game administrators, including founder Bob Geoghan, have some leeway to choose one or two players based on position or local interest. But they normally rank among the top 30-40 players.
"Some changes have been made to help the game but most have been to appease friends or coaches or to help ticket sales," one committee member said. "That's how occasionally a player rated in the 50 to 75 range is selected."
At a recent meeting, the conversation got heated at times when some members of the selection committee pointed to problems with the process and the fact that too many people on the committee don't see all of the players, thus skewing the voting.
In fact, the issues among committee members became so heated among certain factions that Wootten announced he was going to resign, then was talked into remaining as head of the committee.
I remember my first trip to cover a national high school all-star basketball game in 1978. It was the fifth McDonald's Capital Classic in Landover, Maryland, the prelude to the first McDonald's All-America Game, and Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre had been selected as one of 12 players from across the country to participate in the elite event.
The players, McDonald's officials and the media were housed in a Sheraton hotel near the Maryland campus in College Park, Maryland. The team worked out at nearby DeMatha High School, the nationally recognized program directed by legendary coach Morgan Wootten, head of the McDonald's selection committee.
Recruiting wasn't as ballyhooed in those days and the Internet hadn't been invented yet. But there was Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, one of the smoothest operators in the business, holding court in Room 330. The players were housed on the ninth floor. Driesell lived only 10 minutes from the hotel.
Driesell, who built a reputation by recruiting Moses Malone, Tom McMillan and Albert King, passed up the NCAA finals in St. Louis to attend the McDonald's event.
But he wasn't the only coach who was walking the halls or camping out in the lobby, hoping to be noticed by the player they happened to be recruiting. DePaul assistant Joey Meyer was there, too. So were Kentucky's Joe B. Hall, Michigan's Johnny Orr, Colorado's Terry Truax, Marquette's Hank Raymonds, Louisville's Denny Crum and Michigan State's Jud Heathcote.
Meyer and Truax were zeroing in on Aguirre. It was only a few days before the national signing date and everybody was making their last pitch to impress the recruits. Truax met Aguirre's plane at the airport. But Meyer, confident that DePaul had an edge all along, kept a low profile.
Recruiting hasn't changed over the last 30 years.
"This is the most distasteful time of the season," Truax said. "Honestly, I'd rather be somewhere I could do more good. But you have to show up. A kid knows if you're there and he knows if you're not there. And you have to keep doing your homework because some schools with the big reputations and the pizzazz might come in at the last minute and steal a kid from you."
"You've got to baby-sit," Meyer said. "Recruiting is like playing a game. You measure your success by wins and losses. You spend so much time on a kid. If you lose him, it's the same kind of disappointment that you feel if you lose in overtime. You always second-guess yourself, wondering if you made a mistake, if you should have come in sooner or done something different."
The object of most of the recruiters' attention was guard Dwight Anderson. He was so good that he played in Sonny Vaccaro's Dapper Dan all-star game in Pittsburgh on Friday night, then was flown in a private plane to Washington D.C. for the Capitol Classic the next night.
Anderson wanted to go to Kentucky. Coach Joe B. Hall was in his shadow wherever he went. He played for two years at Kentucky, then transferred to USC. He was selected in the first round of the NBA draft but played for only one season.
Wootten said Aguirre reminded him of one of his former stars, Adrian Dantley...big hands, big legs, such big shoulders, so strong. As it turned out, Aguirre was the only one of the 12 who went on to have a significant career in college and the NBA.
"He's awesome," Washington State coach George Raveling said. "I think a lot of people overlooked him. And they regret it now."
The coach of one of the other players said: "Aguirre is the best player here. Nobody on the floor is more intense than he is. He's so big and strong. Nobody can handle him."
Remember the others? Dwight Anderson, Cornelius Thompson, Clarence Tillman, Carlton "Scooter" McCray, Leonel Marquetti, Jerry Eaves, Rudy Woods, Guy Morgan, Vince Taylor, Tony Guy, Devin Durrant.
Aguirre, who scored 17 points for the winning West team in the 1978 McDonald's All-America Game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, wasn't named one of the 35 greatest McDonald's All-Americans. But four other Chicago area products were--St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas, Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers, Farragut's Kevin Garnett and Simeon's Derrick Rose.
King's Efrem Winters was MVP of the 1982 game at Rosemont, the only other time the event was held in the Chicago area. Garnett was MVP of the
1995 game in St. Louis. And Thornwood's Eddy Curry was MVP of the 2001 game at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.