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March 25, 2008Milwaukee, Wis. -- After two practices, the West boys all-stars have established themselves as the early favorites going into Wednesday's McDonald's All-American game. There is still Tuesday's practice and scrimmage that could change the early forecast, but if Monday night's Powerade Jam Fest is any indication, the West all-stars might be well on their way to victory.
"We're pretty much unbeatable," remarked Jrue Holiday (Campbell Hall, North Hollywood, Calif.) after he teamed up with the West's Nneka Ogwumike (Cy-Fair, Houston, Texas) to win the team ball competition. Asked if he's guaranteeing victory in Wednesday's games, Holiday remarked, "Yes, pretty much."
The team ball competition consists of one boys and girls player teaming up to gauge their shooting accuracy from various spots on the floor. Ogwumike has been shooting well in practices and she wanted to participate because she had her reservations about entering the dunk contest. She stated a few of the girls had wanted to enter the dunk contest, but they really didn't want to go out there and not convert. Ogwumike wanted a partner for the team ball competition, so she signed Holiday up (he wasn't present) because she had heard he wanted to participate.
"We really didn't know each other before the event, but I signed us both up," the Cy-Fair standout and EA SPORTS National Player of the Year candidate remarked. "I don't think I would have been much competition for Demar DeRozan in the dunk contest," she jokingly added.
Holiday, also a national player of the year candidate, told the media he thought his team ball partner would have done okay in the dunk contest, but it's highly doubtful any player of either gender had anything in their repertoire to match what DeRozan brought to the table. The Compton (Calif.) High standout wing was the heavy favorite going into Monday night's slam dunk contest and he ended the event by giving the fans a glimpse of what he could do. DeRozan won the contest on his last dunk which he called, "Tap the Baby."
On his final dunk during the relatively lackluster contest, DeRozan bounced the ball off the floor to himself, tapped the ball on the backcourt softly with his left hand and then switched the ball over to his right hand and threw it down with authority. It took a few seconds for the crowd to appreciate how good the dunk was, but most of the boys players realized it was special and mobbed DeRozan.
"I call it 'Tap the Baby' because you tap a baby soft when your holding it," DeRozan said. "I was waiting for someone to push me to bring out something crazier (a better dunk). I wish we had a few more dunks, because I had more goodies in my bag."
The dunk contest, judged by a special panel that included 1991 McDonalds All-American Calvin Rayford from Washington High School in Milwaukee and none other than all-time NBA great and dunker Julius Erving, was somewhat lackluster and didn't make DeRozan pull out his complete arsenal because too many of the participants missed high degree dunks. Instead of going for dunks they could convert and score points with, the contestants knew they had to do something spectacular against one of the best high school dunkers in recent memory.
"In my years of high school, one of the best dunkers I ever went up against was Michael Beasley," DeRozan told StudentSportsBasketball.com. "I was in the ninth grade, but I beat him because he missed a few dunks."
One of the better dunks of the night came on the first dunk of contest by Elliot Williams (St. George's, Memphis, Tn.). He slammed home a nice 360 degree dunk, but the crowd simply wasn't warmed up and is quite frankly a little spoiled in competitions such as this one. Williams was one of the only players who participated on an East team that had any success on Monday night as the runner-up's in the team ball competition were two Californians, Nicki Speed (Marlborough, Los Angeles) and Malcolm Lee (J.W. North, Riverside, Calif.).
Over the years the highlight of events such as this one often turns out to be the three-point contest and Monday Night at U.S. Cellular Arena was no different. Although a Californian didn't win the girls contest, the two players that ended up in the finals will be heading to a California college in the fall.
Five-foot-8 guard Ashley Corral (Prairie, Vancouver, Wash.) set the pace by scoring 16 points in the first round of a contest where ach shooter gets a point for making a three-pointer and two points for nailing the fifth and final "money ball" of each of the five racks. Corral advanced to the finals against Briana Gilbreath (Cinco Ranch, Katy, Texas) after her fellow USC recruit outlasted Samantha Prahalis (Commack, Dix Hills, N.Y.) in a shoot off. Prahalis, an Ohio State recruit, scored 11 points, but Gilbreath nailed the money ball on the fourth rack to propel her to a 12-point round.
In the final, Corral nailed her final money ball and finished with 15 points to outlast Gilbreath, who had her chances but came up short on the final rack after hitting the two-point ball on her fourth rack.
"I would have rather lost to her (Gilbreath) than anyone else," Corral explained. "If I was going to lose, it might as well lose to a teammate. I've only known her since last summer. We played in a few of the same events together and then we started talking about going to USC together."
Rounding out the West and California dominance at Monday's Jam Fest was guard Larry Drew (Taft, Woodland Hills, Calif.). He took home the boys three-point title by besting forward Luke Babbitt (Galena, Reno Nev.) in the finals. Babbitt showed a good stroke in the opening round, finishing with 19 points. Willie Warren (North Crowley, Ft. Worth, Texas) had a chance to force a shoot off or advance to the finals, but he missed his final money ball and finished with 17 points.
Drew, the L.A. City Section Player of the Year headed to North Carolina, caught fire on his last rack to finish with 18 points. Babbit went first in the finals and finished with 14 points. The University of Nevada recruit probably needed his final money ball to hold off Drew because he scored all six points on his first rack of the finals. He had a cold spell and entered his final rack with 13 points, but he got back on track and when he nailed his second to last ball he clinched the victory.
"I had no idea how much points I had going into the last rack," Drew said afterwards. "I knew I had made one entire rack and missed one. I knew I must have been getting close because I heard the crowd. That's when I knew I got it (by the crowd's reaction)."
"Were going to be on them (the East) tonight at the hotel," DeRozan added about the West's dominance on Monday night. "We're going to try and do that (dominate) in the game, too. The California guys (Holiday, Drew, Lee, Brandon Jennings) we've been playing together since we were nobodies. This has been a dream come true."
"We've known each other since the fifth or sixth grade. This week (the event) is like a family reunion," Holiday added.
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