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O’Brien: Dunk contest a soaring success at Chicago Theatre

Gathering the best high school basketball players in the country for a slam dunk contest is a good idea. That’s been proven over the past several decades by the McDonald’s All-American Game’s annual dunk extravaganza.

But the event organizers took a risk when they moved the nationally-televised event from the University of Chicago’s Ratner Athletic Center, where it has been held the past few years, to the Chicago Theatre, which had never hosted a basketball event in its 95-year history.

Thanks to some imagination and daring from Kyle Guy, a 6-2 guard from Lawrence Central in Indianapolis, the gamble paid off.

Any local fans that attended the City-Suburban Showdown game three years ago between Benet and Young at The House of Hope, a church on the far South side, were probably a bit skeptical when the venue change was announced. That event, a matchup of big men Jahlil Okafor and Sean O’Mara, had an awkward setup and was poorly attended.

There wasn’t a big crowd at the Chicago Theatre on Monday, but the half court fit well enough in the venue. The basket was at center stage in front of a large picture of McDonald’s game alumni, including Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis.

The odd setup lacked the energy of the old gym setting, but that changed when Guy stepped in to the spotlight for his final dunk.

Guy had Kobe Simmons, a 6-6 guard from Alpharetta, Georgia, up in the balcony with a basketball. It took a second, but the crowd figured out the plan pretty quickly. Simmons threw the ball down on to the court, it bounced once and Guy attempted to dunk it.

They tried four times. Guy missed all four dunks. But the sheer childlike wonder of watching two kids basically goofing around (with adult permission) in a big, famous old theatre that once hosted Frank Sinatra was a spectacle that few in attendance are likely to ever forget.

Missed dunks aren’t eligible for scores, so Guy lost the contest. Frank Jackson, a Duke recruit from Lone Peak in Highland, Utah, walked away with the trophy.

“The stage they set up for us was amazing,” Jackson said. “You have the adrenaline pumping. I was just really happy to be here. I love Kyle, if he would have won it would have been great. There were some freakish athletes in that dunk contest and I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it.”

Jackson’s winning dunk was a 360-degree spin and slam. He performed it with power and attitude, winning over the panel of celebrity judges that included Kerry Wood, Ron Kittle and Dez Clark.

Wood changed his score from an eight to a nine on one of Guy’s earlier dunks. He was more impressed when he watched it in slow motion on one of the big replay screens.

“These guys are unbelievable,” Wood said. “It’s the details that are special, like the one we just saw. It’s unbelievable what they are doing out here.”