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Three storylines to watch in the McDonald’s All-American game

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South Carolina commit Ashlyn Watkins won the McDonald's All-American dunk contest. (Courtesy of McDonald's)

Every year, the McDonald’s All American games honors basketball’s best and brightest from around the nation. High school seniors are selected based on their on- and off-court contributions to play in the East versus West showdown.

Since the first girls’ game in 2002, over 450 players have taken the McDonald’s stage before heading off to college, including stars like Nneka Ogwumike, Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore and A’ja Wilson.

After two years without in-person games due to the pandemic, this year’s all-star classes will battle it out in Chicago on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2. With 24 top recruits and rumors of a heated Sunday night scrimmage, the East and West Teams are likely to deliver a game to remember.

Here are three storylines to watch for on Tuesday night.

1. UConn-bound duo to go head-to-head

Geno Auriemma has struck gold on the recruiting trail once again. The incoming frontcourt duo of wing Ayanna Patterson (Homestead High School; Fort Wayne, Ind.) and post Isuneh “Ice” Brady (Cathedral Catholic High School; San Diego, Calif), both top-five recruits in the Class of 2022 per ESPN, play with a powerful combination of creativity and physicality. While the Huskies will benefit from this dynamic duo for the next few years, on Tuesday, Patterson and Brady will play in the same game for the first time ever. The catch? They’ll be on opposite teams.

“It’s funny,” Brady said during media day. “My [future] teammate, Ayanna Patterson, we haven’t played together yet, so I’m excited to get to play against her.”

The Huskies, who on Monday secured their 14th straight Final Four berth in a thrilling 91-87 double-overtime victory over NC State, have a track record of giving talented freshmen the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Patterson and Brady have the potential to play key roles as soon as they put their UConn jerseys on.

Indya Nivar is bound for Stanford. (Courtesy of McDonald's)

2. Stanford’s next great guard

Defending national champion Stanford has long been known for excellent guard play. Upperclassmen Lexie Hull and Haley Jones are two of the biggest names in college basketball, and coach Tara VanDerveer, the winningest coach in the sport, has developed nine AP All-American guards during her tenure.

Five-star recruit Indya Nivar (Apex Friendship; Apex, N.C. ) — who chose Stanford, in part, because it allowed her the freedom to mold her engineering major in a way that would best prepare her for medical school — has a high ceiling and an even higher basketball IQ.

“[Stanford fans] can expect a dynamic guard that does everything on the court,” Nivar said. “On both sides of the ball. And expect me to do anything I can that would allow my team to win.”

The 2022 McDAAG Girls Skills Contest participant is smooth in transition and explosive off the bounce.

3. The Candace Parker Effect

Candace Parker, one of the Games’ most notable alums, made waves in her 2004 performance. The then-17-year-old, 6-foot-4 Tennessee commit joined Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and J.R. Smith in the McDAAG Dunk Contest as the first female participate in the contest — and won. Nearly two decades later, only two other girls have claimed the prize: Stanford’s Fran Belibi in 2019 and, on Monday evening, South Carolina-bound Ashlyn Watkins (Cardinal Newman School; Columbia, S.C.).

During media day, the 24 All-Americans listed a variety of trailblazers whose style of play influenced their games. No name came up more frequently than Parker’s.

For her final dunk of the first round, which would determine whether or not she’d advance to the finals, Watkins threw on a sky-blue jersey: Candace Parker, Chicago Sky. The crowd in the Wintrust Arena, home of the 2021 WNBA Champions, went wild.

Watkins’ dunk earned high marks — enough to move onto the final round with Dillon Mitchell (Texas) and Nick Smith Jr. (Arkansas). And after two more dominant slams, she wowed the judges and secured the win.

When asked if she plans on dunking in the game itself, Watkins laughed.

“Hopefully,” she said.

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also writes about college basketball for Blue Ribbon Sports and covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.