Amari Bailey is Chicago’s McDonald’s All-American
Bailey spent all four years of high school playing for Sierra Canyon and is signed to play for UCLA next season. Had he stayed in Illinois his mother, Johanna Leia said he would have attended Whitney Young.
After two years away because of the coronavirus pandemic, the McDonald’s All-American Games are back. And for the first time since 2017, they’ll be played in Chicago.
The girls’ game tips off at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Wintrust Arena, and the boys’ game will follow at 8 p.m.
For the 45th anniversary of the event, McDonald’s USA senior director of cultural engagement Elizabeth Campbell said it’s fitting the games will return to the city with the most history as the host.
New Trier’s Jeannie Boehm was the last player from the Chicago area to take part in the event in 2016. Before her, it was Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson in 2015.
Young’s DJ Steward (2020), Maine West’s Angela Dugalic (2020), Rolling Meadows’ Max Christie (2021) and Naperville North’s Greta Kampschroeder (2021) were selected for the games that weren’t played.
Recent Illinois players from outside the Chicago area who have taken part in the event are Rock Island’s Brea Beal (2019), who now plays for Dawn Staley at South Carolina, and Anaya Peoples (2019), who played at Schlarman Academy in Danville and now plays for Niele Ivey at Notre Dame.
This year, Amari Bailey is the closest Illinois will come to being represented in the event. The 6-4 combo guard grew up in Chicago but never played a minute of high school ball in the state. He spent all four years of high school playing for Sierra Canyon in California and is committed to UCLA. Had he stayed in Illinois, his mother, Johanna Leia, said he would have attended Young.
‘‘It means the world to be able to finish my high school career where I started playing basketball,’’ Bailey said. ‘‘Prior to my game a few weeks ago at Wintrust, I hadn’t been home in three years.’’
Last month, Bailey made his return to Chicago and scored 19 points to lead Sierra Canyon past eventual IHSA Class 4A champion Glenbard West. Kijani Wright, one of Bailey’s teammates at Sierra Canyon and a USC signee, also was selected for the game.
Bailey averaged 18.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists as a senior. He is difficult to stop in transition and is a highlight-reel candidate on fast-break opportunities.
‘‘All of his groundwork — his primary time, his knowledge and game experience — has been cultivated and nurtured [in Chicago],’’ Leia said. ‘‘It’s personal in that regard. It’s exciting for him to come back and leave with a bang where it all began.’’
Ayanna Patterson, who is committed to UConn, played about two hours away from Chicago at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She, along with South Carolina signee Ashlyn Watkins, competed in the dunk contest Monday.
Sky star Candace Parker became the first woman to win the dunk contest at the event when she beat J.R. Smith, Josh Smith and Rudy Gay 18 years ago.
Lauren Betts is the No. 1 recruit in the girls’ Class of 2022 and is signed to play at Stanford next season. She said playing at Wintrust, where Parker and the reigning WNBA champion Sky play their home games, will be memorable for the All-Americans.
‘‘Candace Parker is a huge inspiration for all the players here,’’ Betts said. ‘‘Getting to be in the position she was at during her high school years [at Naperville Central] is a huge honor for all of us. Personally, I’m really happy and excited to be here. I hope to build my basketball career and get to a place where Candace is right now.’’