Curie’s Cliff Alexander, Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Marian Catholic’s Tyler Ulis all have stated strong cases to become Illinois’ Mr. Basketball in 2014.
All three can add McDonald’s All-American to their resumes.
The Kansas-bound Alexander and the Duke-bound Okafor are the two top-ranked big men in the country, while the 5-foot-9 Ulis, a Kentucky recruit, will be the shortest player on either team in the McDonald’s Games on April 2 at the United Center.
“To be able to be in the same limelight as some other guys who have been in the McDonald's game is something I'm very proud of,” Okafor said. “Me and Tyler always talked about playing together.
“I used to try to get him to play (AAU) with the Fire, and he tried to get me to Meanstreets. When we were freshmen and sophomores, I was trying to get him to Whitney Young and he was trying to get me to Marian Catholic.”
It’s the sixth time three Illinois players were selected (1979, '88, '91, '98 and '02) and first since Proviso East’s Dee Brown, Julian’s Sean Dockery and Providence’s Michael Thompson represented the state in 2002.
If the much-anticipated showdown between the 6-9 Alexander and the 6-10 Okafor does not materialize in the city or state tournaments, it will take place in the McDonald’s game.
Okafor and Ulis will play for the West team, while Alexander and Okafor’s future point guard, Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minn., headline the East squad.
“I thought it was regional,” Okafor said. “It will be fun. We both congratulated one another. We look forward to representing Chicago in a positive light and putting on a good show.”
Ulis made a name for himself nationally by outplaying Jones this summer, and Kentucky offered him not long after.
“I've always dreamed of this,” Ulis said. “My mom has been talking about this game since I was 2 years old. Especially at my size, I'm not a typical guard to make this game. I think I'm the smallest ever to make it.”
The state will not be represented in the girls game despite the record-setting play of Mount Carmel’s Tyra Buss.
The 2013 Illinois Ms. Basketball is averaging better than 45 points a game and is on pace to break the single-season state record of 1,285 she set last season. An Indiana recruit, Buss is Illinois’ career scoring leader with more than 4,000 points.
“I'm disappointed not making the team, but I felt very honored to be nominated for the game,” Buss said. “Some people ... haven't seen me play or don't think I play against good teams. I'm just going to keep working hard and try to prove everybody wrong, that I should have been on that team.”
Illinois recruit Chatrice White, a 6-3 center from Shelby High in Nebraska will play in the girls game for the West team.
--Freelancer Bob Narang contributed to this report.
2014 McDonald's All-Americans
Cliff Alexander, Curie, 6-9, F, Kansas
James Blackmon Jr., Marion (Ind.), 6-2, G, Indiana