By Mitch Stephens
MILWAUKEE – IT WAS MEDIA Day on Tuesday, a chance to get to know the McDonald's All-Americans up close and personal like.
We had about 75 minutes at lunch to swap stories and deli sandwiches with as many of the 48 best boys and girls players in the country.
Here’s some of what we learned:
* Intimidating 6-foot-10, 235-pound West center Greg Monroe (Helen Cox, Harvey La.) is actually the team clown. At least that’s according to teammate Brandon Jennings (Oak Hill Academy, Mouth of Wilson, Va.).
“He’s a big goof ball,” he said. “He’s always clowning.”
* As deceptive as Jennings is with the ball, he may be equally clever without it.
“I’m a goof ball?” Monroe said. “Who told you that? Brandon? He’s the goofy one. He’s the one always mixing it up and having fun.”
* Thankfully, star power - Monroe and Jennings are generally regarded as the top two recruits in the country - and silliness aren’t mutually exclusive.
* East guard Sylven Landesberg (Holy Cross, Flushing, N.Y.) has something on Monroe. He dropped 44 points against Monroe’s Helen Cox squad in a 74-56 victory and isn’t particularly bashful about it.
* West guard Willie Warren (North Crowley, Fort Worth, Texas) and East forward JaMychal Green (St. Jude Educational Institute, Montgomery, Ala.) are remarkably shy around strangers.
* Likewise, West forward Brooklyn Pope (Dunbar, Fort Worth, Texas) and East guard Alicia Manning (Etowah, Woodstock, Ga.) let their game, pen and brush do most of the talking. Manning is a poet and an artist. Pope won a pair of Fort Worth poetry contests the last two years.
* West guard Ashley Corral is a Van Gogh even without the ball. She’s had paintings accepted in state art shows.
* East guard Elliot Williams (St. George’s Independent School, Collierville Tenn.) and East Center Chelsey Lee (Parkway Academy Miramar, Fla.) are also cerebral sorts. Williams loves chess. Lee will graduate sixth in her class.
* East guard Amber Gray (Lakota West, West Chester, Ohio) is neither quiet or cerebral. She’s a live wire. A day after she offered a dance lesson to rapper Ne-Yo at the Jam Fest, she offered a bit of loud advice to teammates during a sloppy morning scrimmage. Later still she was laughing, slapping hands and bringing the team together. “She’s a real spark,” East teammate Elena Delle Donne said. “She gets us going.”
* West guard Nikki Speed (Marlborough, Los Angeles) is remarkably more dynamic off the court than on it, which is saying something. She was smack dab in the middle of her team’s lock-arms-rock-to-and-fro-and-get-fired-up-before-tip-off routine, leading the cheers. “Who are we?” Speed constantly screamed. “Westside!” was the loud response.
* Speed has some pipes. Earlier this year she won a Steve Harvey Hoodie Award for Best Choir.
* East 7-foot post Tyler Zeller (Washington, Ind.) is also musically inclined. He plays the piano.
* Zeller was only 5-10 as an eighth grader, which we deduced, is partly why he began at the keyboard.
* Many others began playing round ball at a ripe age. East guard William Buford (Libbey, Toledo, Ohio) handled the rock (age three) before he skipped them. East forward Alyssia Brewer (Sapulpa, Okla.) dropped rainbows (age 4) before she dropped teeth.
* West guards Briana Gilbreath (Cinco Ranch, Katy, Texas) and Iman Shumpert (Oak Park River Forest, Ill.) love kids and don’t take their skills or health for granted. Each volunteer free time to children, needy or not.
* East guard Shekinna Stricklen (Morrilton, Ark.) and West guard Destini Hughes (Kennedale, Texas) aim high. Stricklen models herself after Candace Parker and will try to help replace her next year at Tennessee. Hughes wishes she could fly. Not an airplane. She’d like to fly like Superman.
* The only way to ground high-flying slam dunk champion and West guard DeMar DeRozan (Compton, Calif.) is to land him on the “other” hardwood. He digs bowling, though he boasts no Earl Anthony posters at home.
* East guard Samantha Prahalis (Commack, N.Y.) doesn’t wear saggy socks or sport floppy hair but has been compared to “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
* West center Ashley Gayle (Bishop Gorman, Las Vegas) will never be confused for a gym rat. Though diligent in practice, her true loves are snowboarding, swimming and shopping.
* East center Chav Shegog (Brooke Point, Stafford Va.) likes to “hang loose” but give back at the same time. She grew up in Honolulu and raised money for local Ronald McDonald House Charities by collecting pop tabs.
* West co-coach Tom Diener would be a popular TV color commentator. He’s insightful, funny and on-point.
* West guard Tiffany Hayes (Winter Haven, Fla.) would love to get on TV’s “MasterChef.” She not only likes to mix it up around the hoop but the kitchen as well.
* East forward Al-Farouq Aminu (Norcross, Ga.) is a descendant of Nigerian Kings, which makes him an African prince.
* West forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (Cy-Fair, Cypress Texas) was born a competitor. Her last name means “Warrior.”
* East guard Kemba Walker (Rice, New York, N.Y.) can’t wait to compete on “Dancing with the Stars.”
* West guard Malcolm Lee (North, Riverside, Calif.) wants to be the next Denzel Washington. He’s going to the right college UCLA, located smack dab in the heart of Tinsel Town.
* Heart and perspective are the key and largely unnoticed cogs for vastly versatile East forward Elena Delle Donne (Ursuline Academy, Wilmington, Del.). She is inspired every day by her older sister Lizzie, who was born deaf and blind and has cerebral palsy and autism. “I look up to Lizzie more than anyone in life,” Elena said.
We learned later by reading this – what we consider the most touching prep story of the year by Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant – that Lizzie’s feelings are mutual. She doesn’t even know her sister, considered one of the most dominating high school players ever, regardless of gender, even plays basketball. “No idea,” said the girls’ mom Joan. “She loves Elena for Elena, and not Elena the basketball player. That’s beautiful.”
* Mostly, regardless of 3-point range, leaping ability or future earnings, we learned that kids are still kids. When asked a thoughtful question or offered a genuine exchange, the responses were reciprocated accordingly with candor and sincerity. We were particularly taken by the eyes, the focus and clarity, traits either learned from numerous past interviews or innate charm and charisma.
Either way, Media Day was just that. A jewel of a day for the media.
Thanks to the McDonald’s media relations staff for organizing the interviews and supplying informational McNuggets. E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.