Cleveland LeBron James was content simply to be a high school All-Star Wednesday night.
The 18-year-old high school senior, an almost-certain No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA draft, scored 27 points in leading the East to a 122-107 victory over the West in the 26th annual McDonald's All-American high school basketball game.
"I'm not even thinking about the next All-Star game," he said with a smile, when asked if he were already preparing for the NBA. "I'm just trying to have fun with my teammates and enjoy this latest victory."
James -- who didn't hit a shot outside five feet -- added seven rebounds and seven assists. He received a standing ovation as he received the MVP trophy from former UCLA coach John Wooden.
Many of the record crowd of 18,728 at Gund Arena came from James' hometown of Akron, Ohio, about 40 miles away. James led St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School to three state championships in his four years -- along the way becoming the only three-time winner of the state's Mr. Basketball award.
It was a fitting send-off.
Asked if he had decided what he would do next, James said, "I really don't know. God will lead me in the best direction, and I will follow his footsteps. Who knows where I may be? I just take one step by one step because you're not promised tomorrow."
In the opening minute, James -- who won the event's slam-dunk contest 48 hours earlier -- threw down a high-flying dunk that brought a roar from the crowd.
His passing brought bigger cheers -- including two alley-oop passes that led to dunks by East teammate Charlie Villanueva. One was a no-look backdoor lob pass. James also had a behind-the-back pass to a teammate for a layup and tossed a one-handed pass for another dunk.
"LeBron's definitely ready to go pro," said Villanueva, who has verbally committed to Illinois but is also considering jumping to the NBA. "He's an unselfish player. He loves to pass the ball. He loves to get his teammates involved -- and I like that about him."
By halftime James had 10 points, five assists and three rebounds in 11 minutes as the East built a 60-51 lead in a game that featured almost no defense. At times, James didn't even come all the way down the floor to guard his man, hanging back awaiting an outlet pass that he could turn into another highlight.
"He has such a big effect on the game," said the West's J.R. Giddens, a Kansas University signee. "He's not only a scorer, but he's a passer. ... Some of the players that guard him have so much respect for him. It seems like they never played 'D' before because they're, like, 'Hey, that's LeBron!"'
James led a fast break and then tossed a looping pass to Michael Jones, a Maryland signee, for a dunk that gave the East a 100-83 lead. On three successive possessions in the final minutes, James scored baskets -- once on a reverse double-pump dunk, another on a layup and a third on a one-handed dunk off a pass from Wake Forest-bound Chris Paul.
Not everything he did on offense was flawless. He never did make a shot from the perimeter, finishing 12-for-24 and 0-for-5 from behind the three-point line.
Then again, he faced as much attention on the floor as he did in the stands, with several defenders accepting the challenge of trying to shut him down.
Seven players hit double figures for the East, with Villanueva adding 17 points and James Lang (another possible early entrant to the NBA) finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Paul added 10 assists.
|J-W Staff ReportsCleveland -- Kansas University signee J.R. Giddens came off the bench to score 16 points in the West's 122-107 loss to the East in the McDonald's All-American high school game Wednesday night at Gund Arena.Giddens hit six of 10 field goals and three of six three-point tries. He was 1-for-1 on free throws and hauled in seven rebounds to go with two assists and a turnover in 20 minutes.Another Kansas signee, David Padgett, was invited but did not play.He still is rehabilitating a knee injury that prematurely ended his senior season.|
Shannon Brown, headed for Michigan State, led the West with 23 points. Kris Humphries (Duke) and Giddens each added 16 points.
James flagged down a long pass from Villanueva midway through the second half and was loudly booed when he simply jumped and dropped the ball over the rim.
"He's been hyped up so much I think he has the right game and the right attitude to go pro right now," said East teammate Andrew Lavender, who is headed to Oklahoma. "He's the best (high school) player in the nation. He's probably better than everybody in college, too."
James was playing his first game since his freshman season with the No. 32 instead of his customary 23. Michael Jordan's jersey was retired by the McDonald's game after he scored 30 points in the 1981 contest.
The marketing possibilities already crossed James' mind.
"I might have two sets of jerseys -- one night I might wear 23, and the next night I might wear 32," he said with a laugh.
The attendance broke the McDonald's record set three years ago at FleetCenter in Boston.