Over the past three years, fans attending the Capital Classic all-star game could expect a star-studded event that had become the highlight of the area's high school basketball calendar. The teams included players considered to be at the top of the nation's college recruiting class, as well as elite players who were headed straight to the NBA -- including LeBron James in 2003. The crowd included celebrities, and the players met legend Michael Jordan before tip-off.
This year's event will be different. The rosters for today's featured game include no McDonald's All-Americans, and the game will be held some 20 miles outside the city at George Mason University's Patriot Center. Jordan's Nike subsidiary, which had sponsored the game for three years, moved its event to New York's Madison Square Garden; Converse will supply shoes and uniforms at the Capital Classic.
Point guard Jarrett Jack, from Fort Washington, shows his stuff at the 2002 Capital Classic. Jack went on to star at Georgia Tech.
(John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
___32nd Annual Capital Classic___ • Where: Patriot Center.
• When: Tonight, preliminary game at 6, feature game at 8.
• Tickets: $15 for students, $25-$100 general public.
_____Players to Watch_____ Regional Game
F Mike Freeman, Hayfield
• His game: Played at three high schools in as many states in his career and opted out of his commitment to Southern California after Henry Bibby was fired as coach. At 6 feet 8, Freeman has the ability to be a dominant inside force and has good ball-handling skills. But he has been dogged by questions about his consistency and desire.
• His stats: 14.9 points per game.
• College: Undecided, but probably will go to a prep school next year.
G Nick Olivero, W.T. Woodson
• His game: Stands just 5 feet 10, but is one of the top three-point shooters in the Northern Region. Made over 50 percent of his shots from behind the arc and finished 12 games with at least three three-pointers.
• His stats: 16.5 points per game; 60 three-pointers on the season.
• College: Undecided; might play football.
G-F Devin Sweetney, Riverdale Baptist
• His game: Smart player who shoots well for someone 6 feet 6, but is an even better finisher. Cousin of New York Knicks forward and former All-Met Player of the Year Michael Sweetney. Took advantage of limited shots, while sharing the floor with younger standouts Mike Beasley and Nolan Smith.
• His stats: 13.1 points per game; 19 three-pointers on the season.
• College: St. Francis (Pa.).
G-F Mamadi Diane, DeMatha
• His game: Might be the most fundamentally sound player in tonight's game, and he can play four positions. Diane looks smooth with or without the ball, and is as likely to pull up for a 15-foot jumper as he is to drive the lane and scale defenders for a dunk.
• His stats: 13 points per game.
• College: Virginia.
F Uche Echefu, Montrose Christian
• His game: In only his fourth year of organized basketball, Echefu has developed into one of the nation's top unsigned recruits. His chiseled frame and smart footwork make him tough to stop in the low post, but he loves shooting from the top of the key, as well.
• His stats: 17.6 points per game; 84 percent from the free throw line.
• College: Undecided, but has more than a dozen offers.
G Marcus Ginyard, O'Connell
• His game: A four-year starter with incredible raw skills, thanks in large part to his mother, a personal trainer. Ginyard developed a nice jump shot this season, but is most effective in the open court, where he can outrun and out-leap defenders.
• His stats: 21.2 points per game, second in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
• College: North Carolina.
F Marc Egerson, 6-6, Berean Institute (Pa.), Philadelphia
• His Game: Egerson, a two-time player of the year in Delaware, prides himself on playing tough, physical defense. He likes to attack the rim on offense to create high percentage shots and put-back opportunities. He isn't afraid, however, to shoot mid-range jump shots.
• His Stats: 20 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals per game.
• College: Georgetown.
F Joe Krabbenhoft, 6-7, Roosevelt H.S., Sioux Falls, S.D.
• His Game: Krabbenhoft can play any position on the floor except center. A three-time all-state selection, he's primarily a swingman who can score from the outside. His size also makes him a threat inside, especially on the glass. He can run the floor well and likes to create scoring opportunities for his teammates in transition.
• His Stats: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists.
• College: Wisconsin.
G Jamont Gordon, 6-4, Oak Hill Academy (Va.) , Mouth of Wilson, Va.
• His Game: Gordon is a pure point guard who likes to penetrate and either get to the rim or pass to his teammates. He has a quick first step and can get creative in the lane. Gordon's left-handed jump shot is accurate, and he will pull shoot off the dribble. He is quick on defense and likes a fast-paced game.
• His Stats: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals.
• College: Mississippi State.
-- Alan Goldenbach
Some fear the Capital Classic, Washington's elite national all-star game for the past 30 years, may be relegated to second-tier status as long as it lacks sponsorship from a major corporation.
"There's no question [tonight's Capital Classic] will be toned down," said Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten. "Nike commands a lot of the top players, and [the Capital Classic] isn't their game anymore. It's going to be like it was before Jordan was involved."
Said Sonny Vaccaro, a well-known athletic shoe promoter who organizes the Reebok Roundball Classic in Chicago: "There's still a place for it. But it sounds like it's in trouble."
For years, playing in the Capital Classic was a top priority for the nation's best high school seniors. The event was founded in 1974 by area sports marketing firm Sports America, and its alumni include Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill and Jordan himself. But in the late 1990s, as top shoe companies such as Adidas and Nike began to push top players from AAU teams they sponsored to certain all-star games, the Classic's allure faded.
The game returned to prominence three years ago when Jordan, then an executive with the Washington Wizards, and Nike made a deal with Sports America to become title sponsors. The shoe giant changed the format -- scrapping the U.S. vs. capital area all-star game -- but brought in stars such as James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. Nearly all of the top players in the Jordan game came up through programs or teams sponsored by Nike.
"This is the game I've looked forward to playing in my whole life," said Mamadi Diane, an All-Met from DeMatha who will play for the Capital All-Stars tonight. "When it was Jordan, most of the players were McDonald's All-Americans. Now, the caliber of players isn't as great as it was in the past. I'm excited, but not as excited as if it was still Jordan's game. That name just brings a whole lot to it, not taking anything away from Converse."
While sponsored by Jordan Brand, the Capital Classic played to celebrity-filled crowds at MCI Center in 2002 and 2003. But Jordan left the Wizards in May 2003 and the game was moved to Comcast Center for 2004. Jordan Brand's contract as title sponsor expired after last year's Capital Classic, and the company announced its New York game on Feb. 9 of this year.
"People knew that [Nike] was leaving the second Jordan left the Wizards," said a person close to the game and Nike who asked not to be identified because he did not want to hurt his relationship with the shoe giant. "When all that stuff happened, we knew that was it."
A Jordan Brand spokesman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Jordan's exit left Sports America President Bob Geoghan with a difficult decision: continue a successful relationship with Jordan Brand and run the game in New York, or continue to organize the Capital Classic in D.C. -- without Nike's sponsorship.
Geoghan chose to go with Nike, but told a reporter he would not "let the Capital Classic die." Those close to Geoghan -- who declined to comment for this story through a spokesman -- say he didn't want to let down the local players and fans by simply canceling the game. So he arranged in March for Corrigan Sports Enterprises of Baltimore to organize this year's Capital Classic.
Corrigan Sports principal Lee Corrigan, whose company also organizes the Charm City Challenge all-star game in Baltimore, had little time to find a venue, piece together rosters and promote the event -- a challenge made more difficult without the deep pockets of a major title sponsor.