McDonald’s All-Americans revel in opportunity to play on WNBA champion Sky’s court

In the end, the East had five players score in double digits, beating the West team 95-75.

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East’s Ashlyn Watkins (5) controls the ball past West’s Isuneh Brady (25).

East’s Ashlyn Watkins (5) controls the ball past West’s Isuneh Brady (25).

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Ashlyn Watkins stood at the corner baseline at Wintrust Arena, staring up at the rim she was about to dunk on Monday. On her chest was the number 3. Across her shoulder blades: “PARKER.” 

Watkins, a senior from Columbia, South Carolina, who will play for coach Dawn Staley at South Carolina next season, got Sky star Candace Parker’s jersey about a month ago and began planning the dunk after her coach suggested she put it on for the McDonald’s All-American Slam Dunk Contest. 

Eighteen years after Parker became the first woman to win the contest, Watkins became the third — wearing Parker’s Sky jersey. And she also did it on the court that five months earlier was covered in blue and gold confetti after the Sky won their first WNBA title. 

The thrills continued Tuesday, with the East team beating the West 95-75 in the 45th annual girls McDonald’s All-American Game. 

The significance of playing on the reigning WNBA champions’ court was top of mind for players. 

“This whole experience has been an honor,” said Stanford signee Lauren Betts of Centennial, Colorado, the top-ranked player in the 2022 class. “It was a really cool experience walking in and getting to play on the court that just had a huge impact on the women’s game.”

Added Duke signee Ashlon Jackson of Sour Lake, Texas: “I’m still in awe. This feeling is unbeatable, and to know [the Sky just won a WNBA championship here] makes it even better.”

The East team, coached by East Bladen (North Carolina) High School coach Patty Evers, had an ease to its game as it had been together for years. By the half, it had jumped out to a 15-point lead. Five East players finished in double digits. Co-MVPs Kiki Rice (East) of Washington, D.C., and Gabriela Jaquez (West) of Carmarillo, California, finished with 17 points apiece. Rice added four rebounds and five assists and Jaquez had nine rebounds and two assists. Both are headed to UCLA next season, along with Amari Bailey of Chatsworth, California, originally from Chicago. 

“She’s excited for us to get [to campus],” Jaquez said of UCLA coach Cori Close. 

Said Rice: “[Winning co-MVP] is just another reason to raise the expectations for us [next year].” 

Jaquez described the festivities as a dream she has had since she was a young girl. Rice said the equity between the boys and girls was most important to her. 

“We were really taken care of,” she said. “Some of these events in general in AAU . . . there’s not always equality between what the guys get and girls get. You could tell we were all given the same treatment.”

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