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HOUSTON — Chants of, “We want Bronny,” came from young fans in the crowd at the Toyota Center with five minutes left in the McDonald’s All-American Game on Tuesday night. It was a 1-point margin in an All-Star game that felt like a state championship, each player giving it their all.
Grant Rice, the West Team’s head coach, whispered something to Bronny James on the bench. James smiled, nodded and checked back in 30 seconds later. James put on a show, hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers for 15 points with 4 assists. It wasn’t enough, though, as the East Team edged the West Team, 109-106, in one of the most competitive McDonald’s games in recent memory.
“We all said, going into the game, that we were going to compete and play,” Duke commit Jared McCain told Yahoo Sports. “That was fun. It was a battle.”
For James, he had a little something extra to prove. As a top-40 recruit coming into the game and only 24 players selected for one of the highest honors in high school basketball, some thought he only received the honor because of his dad, LeBron James. Bronny entered the week — three practices sessions, a scrimmage and the All-Star game — with the glaring pressure of if he belonged with this group.
Several other top players in the class laced up their shoes for the 8:30 a.m. practices that usually matter more than the actual game. Close to 100 NBA scouts and executives line the baseline each year taking in the two-hour practices over the course of three days. Many scouts were tuned into the West practice and trying to get a feel for James as an NBA prospect.
“He plays the right way and has a 3-point game that translates,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “With all the scrutiny he faces, he seems like a good kid and someone players like playing with.”
James competed hard in each drill, made good stops on defense where he excels as an on-ball defender and never looked out of place or like a player who didn’t belong on the court. Teammate Ron Holland was one of the best players on the court and James never backed down from guarding Holland in drills. Holland, a Texas commit, hit tough shots in the corner with James closing out and after Holland’s made basket, James would just smile, shake his head and give a quick pat to Holland walking back to the baseline. He never got discouraged or showed negative emotions.
“His game is unbelievable,” Oregon commit Mookie Cook said of James. “I’ve gotten to see it since eighth grade, seventh grade and I’ve thought since then that he’s always been super great and has got the talent. I don’t know what people are talking about, I feel like he’s been good.”
James fully participated in all the practices, scrimmage and even put on a bit of show in the Powerade Jam Fest the night before the game.
Things did fall a little short in some areas, causing a bit of eye rolls with scouts and executives at the event. James and one of the top guards in the class, D.J. Wagner, did not wear Adidas shoes, the main sponsor of the event. Both James and Wagner signed Nike shoe deals last fall (but do not have a signature shoe themselves) and were the only boys players not in head-to-toe Adidas gear, despite several other players being tied to Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. In all the social content promoting the game earlier this week, both James and Wagner had their backs to the camera, to avoid any sight of them wearing Adidas. James was also the only player, on both the girls and boys side, to opt out of his media day availability which was only a eight-minute session controlled by a moderator.
“It’s understandable, being LeBron’s son, that there’s extra caution and people that want to protect the narrative,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “But this [demands and exceptions from his team] is not going to be acceptable as his career progresses.”
James is the highest-ranked prospect in his class who is still uncommitted. His recruitment has been kept under wraps, and he’s taken only one known visit to Ohio State in the fall. USC and Oregon are also thought to be in the mix and committed players from each program weighed in on recruiting James to join them next season.
“I’m definitely trying to recruit him,” USC commit and West Team teammate Isaiah Collier said. “He’s a great shooter. I feel like he’s one of the best all-around players in the country. So, he’s a great player and knows how to play the game and he’s not going to overdo anything. I’m just telling him he can stay home, that’s all I’ve got say.”
Oregon commit Kwame Evans also gave a little insight to where the Ducks stand, telling Yahoo Sports in January, “[Bronny] told me he likes Oregon, and I want him to visit there. Everyone that’s coming in is unselfish. We all cut, move and don’t hold the ball too long, so it’s going to benefit him. Bronny can be more of a playmaker and a shot creator, and I think we would play really well together.”
With James’ high school season over, there is plenty of time to focus on his next chapter and where he wants to continue his basketball career.
The G League Ignite is also rumored to be an option with the team’s home base in Las Vegas, a 45-minute flight from where James and his family live in Los Angeles. He still has plenty of time to make a decision with players not reporting to campus for summer workouts until June.
James capped off his high school career with a brilliant performance. His dad and the rest of his family proudly watched while sitting courtside and could be seen smiling and cheering him on throughout the game.
James, despite being under a microscope and scrutinized his whole career, silenced critics Tuesday night and showed why he belong on the court alongside some of the best players in his class and that he is more than just his famous last name.