Jalen Smith didn’t grow up watching the McDonald’s All American Game. The interest in the annual all-star game featuring the nation’s top players — and the dream to play in it — came only recently for the Maryland signee.
It started three years ago, when the forward was finishing his freshman year at Mount Saint Joseph and Australian Ben Simmons was the game’s marquee player in Chicago. Future Terp Diamond Stone was also on one of the teams.
“Once I saw some of those guys, I started thinking, ‘Maybe that could be me someday,’ ” Smith recalled Tuesday. “After that, I strived to get it.”
Smith, whom longtime Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey has called “one of the hardest-working players I’ve ever had,” was among the 24 players named to the 2018 game that is scheduled for March 28 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta.
Immanuel Quickley, a guard from John Carroll, was also named. It is believed to be the first time in nearly a quarter century that two Baltimore players were selected, following Steve Wojciechowski of Cardinal Gibbons and Norman Nolan of Dunbar in 1994.
“I’m very excited,” Quickley said. “It’s very gratifying that all the hard work has paid off. I’m very thankful to God for that.”
Quickley said he first thought about becoming a McDonald’s All American between his sophomore and junior years at John Carroll “when I started getting some national recognition.” Now that he’s been selected, “it’s pretty cool being picked,” he said.
Quickley said his favorite memory of the McDonald’s game came two years ago, when good friend Markelle Fultz made the team and later became the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, taken by the Philadelphia76ers, the same team that had picked Simmons.
Smith and Quickley are the first All Americans from Baltimore since Lake Clifton's Josh Selby in 2010.
“It means a lot [representing Baltimore],” said Smith, the first future Terp to receive the honor since Diamond Stone in 2015. “Baltimore breeds a lot of great players who continued on to the next level. I just happened to be one of those guys.”
Quickley, who signed with Kentucky, was The Baltimore Sun’s Player of the Year as a sophomore. Smith followed last year as a junior. While Quickley has recently fallen out of the top 10 among the nation’s recruits to No. 12, according to ESPN, the 6-9, 195-pound Smith — known widely as “Sticks” for his frame — made a huge jump last summer from the high 30s to No. 15 overall.
Asked what it took to get that type of ranking, Smith said: “Endless hours of hard work, training in the gym, working on my game. [The work] wouldn’t have meant anything if I didn’t get this [recognition]. Now that I have, I’m grateful.”
In a text message to The Sun on Tuesday, Clatchey wrote: “Very excited for him and his family! Quite an honor and he’s certainly deserving! We’ve had a lot of really good players with MSJ basketball, but Jalen is the 1st to be named McDonald’s all American. I coached the game in Miami in 2009, Jalen is on for a great experience on and off the court.”
Smith, the Terps’ third such honoree in five years, is the centerpiece of a 2018 recruiting class at Maryland that is ranked No. 12 in the country by 247Sports.com. It will likely move up to No. 2 if the Terps are also able to sign Moses Brown, a 7-1 center from New York who is ranked two spots below Smith on ESPN. The Terps have long been considered among the favorites to land Brown, but he has yet to commit.
“I haven’t talked to him recently, but we are trying to get him there,” Smith said.
Quickley will join one of his future Kentucky teammates, Keldon Johnson, in Atlanta.
“I know I’m going to work hard in the game and in the practices,” Quickley said. “I don’t like to lose.”