MCA, Rucker Park And Gunnin' For That #1 Spot In The NBA

As I was trying to decide what to write for The Sports Fan Journal to usher in the 2012-13 NBA season, I couldn't help but harken back to a piece I wrote over at my original home base entitled "You Ugly as Shit, Donte."

The post is about the documentary "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot," chronicling a few of the high school players chosen for the inaugural Elite 24 game in New York's historic Rucker Park. The reason it stuck out in my mind this year is because it was produced by Adam Yauch, best known as MCA from the Beastie Boys, who passed away earlier this year from cancer. Being an avid basketball and Beastie Boys fan — hell, my pen name comes from my favorite Beastie Boys song — I figured I'd take a look back at the players profiled in "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot" and the ones who didn't get much airtime but participated in the game.

Remarkably, 14 of the 24 players from that game in 2006 are in the NBA, a few of them household names. So let's take a look at these players that were "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot" back in high school to see where they stack up in the NBA.

Cole Aldrich, Houston Rockets
Aldrich, dubbed "Cole Play" by the game's MC Bobbito Garcia, was not really featured much in the film, and honestly he hasn't done a whole lot in the NBA in his two seasons in Oklahoma City. Aldrich was a very good player at Kansas and provides good size as a backup big in the NBA, but he's appeared in just 44 NBA games over two seasons. Now Aldrich will have a chance to make an impression with a change of scenery, as the 7-footer was shipped to Houston as part of the blockbuster James Harden trade.

Jerryd Bayless, Memphis Grizzlies
Bayless was one of the young men who got the spotlight treatment in the film, providing a little bit of a different story coming from Arizona. Bayless discussed how hard it is to get exposure playing in a state like Arizona and was excited to show what he was made of in Rucker Park. Mission accomplished, as Bayless, dubbed "Pay Up," was named co-MVP of the wining blue squad.

In his short time in the NBA, Bayless has been a bit of a nomad, spending two seasons in Portland, a little time in New Orleans and then playing the majority of the past two seasons in Toronto. He certainly is a steady player, providing Memphis with a solid backup point guard for Mike Conley, but honestly I've never been overly impressed with his game. Yes, he's a decent shooter from deep, but he is a low-percentage shooter overall and not all that dynamic. Still, a solid backup point guard for sure, and a guy capable of starting if need be.

Michael Beasley, Phoenix Suns
Beasley, aka "Be Easy," was the star of the film, taking home co-MVP honors and dominating the field in victory, and he was entertaining as hell. Beasley was without question the most dominant college player of the bunch. Let us not forget how Beasley put Manhattan, Kansas on the map and quite literally built the program at Kansas State.

His NBA career, however, has not been nearly as smooth. Drafted second overall by the Miami Heat, Beasley sort of flamed out due mainly to off-the-court issues. His numbers were actually not all that bad, shooting a decent percentage, but his size prevented him from being the rebounding monster he was in college and his defense has always been suspect. Thus, Beasley was sent to Minnesota, where he provided good energy and scoring for the Timberwolves, but he certainly has not lived up to his high billing. I thought he'd be a star. He'll get another chance to fulfill that potential now as a Sun.

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
I will always have a soft spot for Tyreke Evans since he's from nearby Chester, Pa., and he was the top recruit coming out of high school. In the film, we saw what Reke, aka "Reke Havic," had to deal with growing up on the rough streets of Chester, and got to know his brother Pooh, who led Chester High to a state title while defeating Kobe Bryant's Lower Merion team in the process.

Then we saw how Evans, the top recruit in the nation, took Memphis by storm as one of John Calipari's one-and-done players. From there, Evans won Rookie of the Year in 2010, becoming only the fourth player in the NBA history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists a game as rookie, joining NBA royalty Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Unfortunately for Evans, that's been the highlight of his NBA career to date. Stuck on a dysfunctional team that keeps flirting with relocation, Evans hasn't developed the way he was projected to, and his game is difficult to fit into a team concept. He's neither really a point guard or a shooting guard. While he's still a big talent, Evans needs to prove he can add to and enhance his game.

Donte Greene, Sacramento Kings
Donte Greene is another guy featured in the film, with his compelling story of being raised by his grandparents and desperate to make the league for his brother. Mission accomplished, as Greene was a fine player at Syracuse and now teamed with Evans in the circus that is Sacramento. Greene is one of those tweeners that can give you good minutes and is a nice bench player, but nothing more. Oh, and he is part of the film's finest moment, when Michael Beasley catches the ball with Greene guarding him, stops for a second and says, "You ugly as shit, Donte," then goes by Greene and converts on a reverse layup. Hilarious.

J.J. Hickson, Portland Trail Blazers
It's kind of odd, but Hickson wasn't one of the players featured in the film, despite the fact he wound up being named co-MVP of the losing white team. J.J. was supposed to be the young star to team up with LeBron in Cleveland, but it hasn't panned out that way. He never really got a ton of run in Cleveland despite the high hopes for him in the three seasons he was there. Then he had a cup of coffee last season with Sacramento, where he played abysmal basketball, before being shipped to Portland and showing signs of life. This could be a make or break year for Hickson as far as being a legit starter in the NBA.

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Jennings, aka "Doo Be Doo," was another one of the stars of the documentary. You could see the love he has for his younger brother, and you could also see the flair with which he played the game. Jennings balled out, notching a double-double with 12 points and 15 assists to earn co-MVP of the white team. From there, we know Jennings decided against attending Arizona and went overseas to play professionally after graduating high school.

While his time overseas was a struggle, it proved prudent, as Jennings burst onto the scene as a rookie and made it a battle with Evans for Rookie of the Year. Jennings hasn't really grown into a top-tier point guard since, and his ball-handling is now shared with Monta Ellis, but Jennings is a legit starting point guard and one of my favorite players in the NBA. He definitely needs to improve his game and take another step, really across the board — better shooting and shot selection, more assists, more strength — but he's still one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the Association.

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
Jordan was conspicuously absent for the most part in the film, but everyone certainly knows the Texas A&M product now as the shot-blocking force next to Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. Jordan is in a perfect situation playing alongside Griffin and Chris Paul, converting on alley-oops, helping out on defense and knowing his role. Though Jordan needs to improve his rebounding and man defense, his shot-blocking and dunking provide highlights galore.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
"Kevlar" as he was named in the film, Love got his fair share of airtime as the cool West Coast kid. It was evident right from the get-go that Love wasn't lacking in confidence whatsoever no matter what people said about him, and the highlights of him getting the fast break started with his patented outlet passes were on full display.

Of course, we know Love went to UCLA and had a tremendous season, but there were hoards of people who questioned his athleticism and game in regard to the NBA. Well, Love has answered his critics and then some, becoming perhaps the best power forward in the entire NBA — a double-double machine, one of the best rebounders in the game and a guy with a true inside-outside game. Love can stroke it from three, do work in the post and clear the paint. He's without question the best NBA player of this entire bunch. Unfortunately, like his teammate Ricky Rubio, Love will begin the season on the injured list. But no doubt, he's a force to be reckoned with in the NBA.

Anthony Randolph, Denver Nuggets
Randolph was pretty much absent from the film, but he made a name for himself at LSU. His size and physical gifts have made him intriguing to fans and teams alike, but Randolph has been nothing but an enigma in this three NBA stops, now on his fourth team. In Golden State, Randolph had trouble getting off the bench. That was even more true in New York, and last season in Minnesota, Randolph didn't find the floor much playing behind Love and Derrick Williams. Maybe now on his fourth NBA stop, Randolph can find his niche and a role with the athletic and exciting Nuggets. Or maybe he'll just continue to make everyone scratch his or her head.

Samardo Samuels, Cleveland Cavaliers
Samuels was another afterthought in the movie, and honestly, he's pretty much been an afterthought since. While Samuels was a good player at Lousiville, he never quite stood out the way guys like Love and Beasley did. And in the NBA, he's been nothing but a bit piece in rebuilding Cleveland, a backup big who is destined to be nothing more it seems.

Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons
Singler, aka "The Wig, Wireless," got some face time in the documentary, but he wasn't overly compelling. Basically, Singler was uninteresting compared to his contemporaries. Of course, we know Singler became the best player on Duke during his four years, and now as a second-round pick for the Pistons, Singler is looking to prove he belongs in the NBA after delaying his NBA dreams for Europe last season. Given his offensive ability, I'd expect him to be a decent bench scorer if given the chance.

Nolan Smith, Portland Trail Blazers
Smith also flew under the radar in the film, like his Duke teammate. But Smith grew each and every season, becoming perhaps Duke's most important player his senior year. And that led him to the NBA, where he played sparingly as a rookie backup point guard. He'll continue that role this season, backing up rookie point guard Damian Lillard. He hasn't shown much yet in the NBA, but he was also a slow developer in Durham.

Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers
"Born Ready," New York's own, had a big part in the film, with his entire neighborhood backing him and the then-15-year-old holding his own against older ballers. After watching him, I honestly thought Stephenson was destined for stardom. But that's not how things happened. His recruiting curtailed as he got older, eventually ending up at Cincinnati. There, he was expected to be one of the best players in college basketball. When he was fully engaged, he was. But that was not often enough. And that has plagued him moving forward.

Stephenson is still a talent with a true NBA body and skills, but something's missing. He doesn't seem to be able to reign in his emotions or dedicate himself the way the superstars do, and that's why he's a bit part for the Pacers. If he can make the transition and get some maturity, he truly can be a big part of the Pacers. But given his checkered history, that's a big if.

Other notables:
Villanova's Corey Fisher, Georgetown's Austin Freeman, North Carolina's Dexter Strickland and Syracuse's Rick Jackson — who was just waived by the Golden State Warriors — also participated in the game.

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