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Competing at Chicago Theatre wows McDonald's All-Americans

Kobi Simmons leaned back and glanced at the rim for a few seconds.

Standing on the makeshift half-court setup at the Chicago Theatre on Sunday, Simmons stared at the background collage of NBA stars, including Chicagoans Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis, and pondered his plan for Monday's Powerade Jam Fest. Simmons said he will be participating in the dunk contest.

"I started thinking of this a week ago, but I'll see what I have to bring Monday night," said Simmons, an Arizona commitment from Alpharetta, Ga. "My mind is going crazy, knowing that no one plays here, so it makes it more special."

The Chicago Theatre will host a basketball event for the first time. The 48 McDonald's All-Americans — 24 boys and 24 girls — received a tour of the historic landmark in preparation for Monday's dunk and 3-point contests and the new Legends & Stars Shootout.

Nancy Mulkey, a 6-foot-9 Oklahoma signee from Cypress, Texas, was the first player to enter the grand ballroom. Some players admitted shock over seeing a basketball court set up at center stage of a theater.

The Chicago Theatre opened in 1921, and aside from a mixed martial arts card in 2010, the 3,500-seat theater has not hosted a sporting event.

New Trier center Jeannie Boehm, the only local player selected for either McDonald's All-American game, said the experience will be memorable.

"I've been to the Chicago Theatre a few times for a show when I was younger," said Boehm, a Harvard recruit. "It took my breath away when I walked in, especially knowing the history of the Chicago Theatre. It's shocking. I saw pictures, but nothing compares to walking in here and seeing the lights."

Some players hoisted 3-pointers and practiced on the court, and after the short workout, each player signed a customized wall, where the likes of Frank Sinatra, B.B. King and Liza Minnelli have scribbled their signatures.

"I did a high school play, so I have an appreciation (for theater)," said Bam Adebayo, a Kentucky signee from Pine Town, N.C. "This is so unique and something I will cherish for a long time. I'm going to sign my name real big, like John Hancock."

Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

McDonald's All-American games

Jam Fest: 7 p.m. Monday at Chicago Theatre (ESPN2).

Girls game: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at United Center (ESPNU).

Boys game: 8 p.m. Wednesday at United Center (ESPN).

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