April 1, 2022 

Takeaways from the 2022 McDonalds All-American game

Some of the best high school players dazzle in exhibition

CHICAGO — It had been two years since the McDonald’s All-American game took place but, as COVID-19 protocols slowly dissipate, normalcy could be felt throughout Wintrust Arena on March 29. Some of the best prospects in women’s basketball congregated to showcase their talents in Chicago, as Team East beat Team West 95-75.

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Even in a low-stakes exhibition game, the competition was fierce between the two sides. Duke recruit Ashlon Jackson certainly didn’t come to get cardio in throughout this past week.

“Everyone was coming here to win,” said Jackson. “We’re all competitors…it’s the best of the best.”

The amount of talent featured in this game was apparent. Here are some takeaways from the game.

Talaysia Cooper could take South Carolina up a level

As crazy as that declaration sounds, the dribbling clinic Cooper put on during the exhibition was incredible. The 6’1″ guard out of Turbeville, S.C. put up 15 points and connected on three of her four three-point attempts. She had the crowd at Wintrust buzzing after crossing up those trying to stay in front of her. Cooper moved to the rim with ease and possesses a knack for finishing off the glass that most college guards in the country don’t have.

South Carolina, who is 33-2 entering this year’s Final Four, already has one of the strongest rosters in the country. To add a ball-handler like Cooper, who could get anywhere on the floor last night, is an embarrassment of riches.

“It was a good challenge defensively,” said Gabriela Jaquez, who is UCLA recruit. “I just tried my best to stay in front of her and use my body to not let her get past me. She did a couple times. She is a great player.”

UCLA has two backcourt studs coming in this fall

While Cooper stole the show from a theatrics standpoint, Kiki Rice and Jaquez made a statement of their own. The UCLA backcourt duo combined for 34 points while Rice dished out five assists and Jaquez pulled down nine rebounds (they were also named co-MVPs of the game).

Rice, who is ESPN’s No. 2 overall ranked prospect in the 2022 class, had a couple of plays in transition where she weaved and beat the defense on the other end. Her feel as a facilitator is unique for someone her age. On a team that ranked in the 55th percentile on assisted shot rate, UCLA is going to benefit from having someone like Rice running the offense.

As for Jaquez, her touch from beyond the arc and ability to relocate is going to get her real minutes with the Bruins next season. She knocked down two of her five attempts from three-point range and, despite a relatively low release point, looked like she is going to give teams headaches as a sharpshooter for the next four years.

“I think you saw the versatility on display,” said Rice. “Gabriela can score at all three levels and I was just super impressed with how she was all over the court. She’s never not in the play and engaged offensively and defensively. It just makes me more excited to play with her the next four years.”

Ayanna Patterson’s defense should make UConn excited

Patterson, who is the No. 4 recruit in the nation according to ESPN’s rankings, didn’t put up the stats you would expect from someone as highly-regarded as she is (two points, two rebounds, one assist and two steals). However, her stat line doesn’t tell the full story.

Her energy throughout the game set her apart from the rest of the group. In a no-lose game like this, she could have let the guards that switched onto her drive by her on the defensive end. She didn’t have any of it. She suffocated anyone who tried to get to the rim and clearly has a natural feel for how to utilize certain defensive angles to her advantage.

Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd are going to love playing with Patterson in transition. She’s quick for someone who is 6’2″ and has a ton of upside as a rim runner at the next level. Patterson is going to need to work on her jump shot to be able to reach her ceiling but UConn has something here.

Written by James Kay

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