The Proviso West Holiday Tournament is an elite showcase whose deep history and tradition allows the next generation of players to bolster their reputations.
Justin Smith stated his case.
The lanky 6-4 Stevenson sophomore forward put on a clinic with his smooth shot and explosive game off the dribble. For teams already having to contend with the powerful 1-2 punch of Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw, Smith constitutes an embarassment of riches.
Smith drilled three 3-pointers and finished nearly perfect from the field, scoring 15 points as the No. 1 Patriots deployed three separate runs to blow out No. 11 Kenwood 66-37 in a semifinal Friday night in Hillside.
Stevenson (10-0), the defending tournament champion, advanced to Saturday’s title game against the winner of Friday night’s Catholic League showdown between No. 2 St. Rita and No. 5 St. Joseph.
Kenwood (9-2) is the Public League program on the rise. The Broncos appeared ready to validate their own credentials during a back-and-forth first half that featured four ties and three lead changes.
The Broncos repeatedly failed to locate Smith on the left baseline and he burned them.
“We were looking for our shots, and I happened to be open, so I just kept shooting,” Smith said. “They just kept going in and that sparked a run for us.”
Smith finished 5-for-6 from the floor. His 3-point barrage powered Stevenson to a 30-22 lead at the break. Stevenson scored the final seven points of the first half and the first eight points of the third quarter that turned the game into a rout.
“You just have to be in the right spot, and keep your eyes open and Jalen or Connor are going to find you,” Smith said.
With teams directing so much of their defensive focus to contain Brunson and Cashaw, Smith is the beneficiary.
“He’s a very versatile player, and he did a great job,” Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose said of Smith.
Six of Stevenson’s nine first-half field goals were 3-pointers. Star point guard Brunson (16 points, seven assists, six rebounds) converted his own and ended the second-quarter burst with a drive and kick to the right baseline that Matt Johnson drilled for a three.
Rice recruit Cashaw took charge in the third quarter. The senior forward scored the first six points of the second half on a succession of power drives and pull-up jumpers. He scored 10 of his 14 points in the quarter.
Kenwood guard Steve Johnson finally ended the drought with a floater more than three minutes into the second half. Kenwood struggled shooting and handling the ball, suffering 18 turnovers and shooting just 36 percent (15-for-42) from the field.
Guard Rahamanh Katumbusi was the only Kenwood player to reach double figures with 11 points. Junior forward Nick Robinson was shut out until he scored on a breakaway dunk in the final minute of the third quarter. Kenwood also missed nine of its 11 free-throw attempts.
Stevenson held a 21-3 advantage on points off turnovers.