The holiday tournaments are in the rearview mirror as conference races begin to heat up in January. But after looking at the big winners –– team and individually –– in yesterday’s holiday tournament story, here are a whole bunch of other holiday hoops thoughts …
➤ Everyone sees how good Stevenson is and realizes the Patriots are a state title favorite. But the next two weeks are going to be an absolute grind for coach Pat Ambrose and his team.
Stevenson is in West Virginia this weekend to face Jayson Tatum, the nation’s top-ranked junior, and Chaminade out of St. Louis, along with a date with Gonzaga Prep out of Washington, D.C. Stevenson then plays two tough league road games–– at Lake Zurich (11-2) Jan. 6 and at Lake Forest (14-0) on Jan. 15. And then two days later the Patriots travel to Springfield, Mass., to face national power Findlay Prep.
➤ The number of Marcus LoVett doubters dwindle by the day. The Morgan Park star was MVP of the Carbondale Holiday Tournament, averaging 26 points a game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3-to-1 while hitting 12 of 26 from beyond the arc. This coming after scoring 33 against Larkin, 26 against Bogan and 29 against Simeon.
➤ Simeon went and took care of business at Pontiac. But the crop of teams Simeon faced there wasn’t the ideal, or typical, measuring stick coach Robert Smith’s team receives in its three days in Pontiac. But what a home-away-from-home Pontiac has been to the Simeon program. Since 1996 Simeon has played in the championship game 15 times, winning 12 of them.
➤ Lake Zurich has been going to Pekin for a number of years (19) and has its share of championships –– consolation championships. The Bears, who have three consolation titles at Pekin since 2001, made their first trip to the championship game, beating Plainfield East. While I’m no Lake Zurich basketball historian –– the program does have three regional titles in the last 20 years –– this has to rank among the biggest regular-season wins in school history.
➤ A team that we now just expect to be good each year is even better than I thought after watching it play at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament: Maine South. There isn’t a lot of depth or wiggle room for coach Tony Lavorato this year, but the trio of point guard Caleb deMarigny, junior Jon Arenas and 6-7 senior George Sargeant is steady, consistent, experienced and productive.
➤ Lake Forest’s Noah Karras is a Division I talent committed to a Division III school (University of Chicago).
➤ You want an underrated holiday tournament? The Hinkle Holiday Classic at Jacobs. No, it’s not at the level of the elite tournaments like Proviso West or Pontiac, but it’s overlooked a bit, nonetheless. Plus, there were some fantastic games and finishes in the final couple days of the tournament this year, including Larkin’s three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to beat Barrington in the championship.
➤ When you lose a backcourt as strong as Kendale McCullum and Derrick Streety –– the Larkin guard duo last year that led it to 23 wins and a conference title –– you would expect a significant drop. While having a player like sophomore Christian Negron helps in reloading, coach Deryn Carter has done a really nice job this year in leading the Royals to a 12-4 record and holiday tournament championship.
➤ Speaking of Negron, the progression is coming along. There is still plenty of work to do but his length, activity and improved understanding of the game makes him a top five prospect in the Class of 2017 and one high-major programs will be on.
➤ Simeon and Morgan Park weren’t the only Public League schools to win a holiday tournament. Von Steuben captured the Luther North Holiday Tournament behind tournament MVP Rafael Cruz, an up-and-coming 6-1 sophomore point guard.
➤ No one really noticed but St. Charles East blew through the DeKalb Holiday Tournament and is sitting at a pretty nifty 12-1 on the year.
➤ A fun and exciting high school player to watch is Adam Pischke of Marian Central in Woodstock. The 5-10 junior guard can really put pressure on an opposing defense and is capable of putting a whole lot of points on the board as he averaged 25 points a game in five games at Jacobs.
➤ You want an underrated backcourt to watch over the next couple of years? Carmel’s Chris Duff and Sharief Bailey. Thepair of juniors impressed at Jacobs. Duff, who set the Hinkle Holiday Tournament scoring record (139 points in five games), and Bailey, a talented 5-10 point guard, averaged 27.8 and 16.2 points a game, respectively. These two can play.
➤ Kudos to you, Jordan Bradshaw, with one heck of a shooting performance in Hinsdale Central’s game with Proviso East. Albeit in a losing effort, the senior point guard hit 6 three-pointers, was 12 of 17 from the field and scored 33 in the loss to Proviso East. Bradshaw is a rock solid Division III prospect.
➤ Speaking of Hinsdale Central, there is your favorite this year in the East Aurora Sectional –– at least right now in the first week of January.
➤ Benet Academy’s win over Curie in the second round at Pontiac was a thing of beauty, a clinic really. The team with less speed and athleticism, the one without a likely Division I prospect and less talent, executed a game plan perfectly while showcasing ball movement, spacing, discipline and toughness.
➤ While Uplift was ranked extremely high in the preseason and went just 1-2 at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, everyone forgets we’re talking about a school with an enrollment of 346 students. Uplift may not be a true Public League title contender, but it’s all going to prepare them very well for Class 2A this March.
➤ Many will write off Morton after a 0-3 run at Proviso West, but don’t be misguided. Morton played all three games without its heart and soul –– and only player with size –– in Harvard recruit Weisner Perez, who was out with an ankle injury. Even without their all-everything, the Mustangs took Kenwood to overtime, lost to Hinsdale Central by five and to Uplift by three.
➤ The overall talent level may have been a bit down at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament this year in comparison to past years, but Pontiac remains a very special place for three days between Christmas and New Year’s.
➤ Keep an eye on 6-8, 255-pound sophomore Cameron Krutwig of Jacobs. He’s big and is still rounding into shape after coming off a broken foot. But Krutwig is pretty polished for a young big man when you look at his footwork, savvy, touch and feel in and around the lane. He’s a prospect to keep an eye on in the Class of 2017.
➤ St. Joseph has emerged as arguably the best Class 3A team in Illinois. Glynn Watson is Glynn Watson at point guard, a reliable and impactful lead guard. Jordan Ash put up some nice numbers in four games at Proviso West. And big man Nick Rakocevic (18.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg in four games at Proviso West) is playing well. But the Chargers are going to have to become a little less careless with the ball going forward. St. Joe’s turned the ball over 62 times in four tournament games, while forcing only 46 turnovers. It’s a small window in tournament play, but by comparison, Stevenson turned the ball over just 32 times.
➤ Um, the above word to the wise can also be applied to St. Rita as well. Take care of that ball, Mustangs.
➤ A couple of Downers Grove South sophomores continue to progress nicely and caught my eye again: shooter Denis Alibegovic and 6-5 T.J. Clifford, who averaged 14.3 and 13.5 points a game at York, respectively.
➤ And another sophomore to keep an eye on: Joliet West’s Trevian Bell. I like this kid’s upside as the 6-5 Bell is gaining confidence and more versatility.
➤ And another: Naperville North’s Mitch Lewis.
➤ I feel for any coach who takes over for one of the state’s best coaches after a long run of quality talent and success and is left with a whole lot less talent. Thus, I feel for you Ryan Webber, who took over for Chuck Ramsey at Warren a few years ago.
➤ It was nice to see the Pontiac boys basketball team –– the team I always refer to as “my little Chaminade” –– get a win and play all three days in its own tournament.
➤ After reaching the semifinals at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York, DePaul Prep hit a big bump with a thrashing at the hands of Riverside-Brookfield in the semifinals and a double OT loss to Lyons Twp. But coach Tom Kleinschmidt’s balanced team can look at the big picture, which means the Rams can be a viable threat in March in a very winnable Vernon Hills Sectional. That’s especially true if the promising sophomore tandem of Michael Johnson and Dylan Henderson continues to progress.
➤ Although Lake Park was listed as a “contender” in last week’s contender or pretender story, few people have taken notice. This isn’t some juggernaut, even with a tournament title at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. But it’s a team with a 14-2 record and doesn’t beat itself. That comes with experience, guard play and just enough perimeter shooting. Quiz time for all you average (or even avid) high school basketball fans out there who don’t follow the DuPage Valley or Wheeling Hardwood Classic: Name one Lake Park player. … Waiting. … Waiting …
➤ Niles West was two and out at Pontiac, but junior Evan Hines can really play.
➤ After a 7-0 start and being awarded the No. 3 seed at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, it was a tough couple of weeks for Plainfield North in what was a bit of a measuring stick for a team that jumped out of the gate quickly.A last-second loss to Plainfield East was followed by a 1-2 record at Pontiac. Trevor Stumpe, a Wofford recruit, averaged 27.5 points a game in those four games.
➤ Although he was plagued by foul trouble in a championship game matchup with Lake Forest at York, Riverside-Brookfield’s Sam Johnson has really played himself up in the eyes of small college basketball programs. There will be plenty more watching the 6-7 Johnson, who has improved greatly since even this past summer.
➤ Still not a fan of 32-team holiday tournaments. But with the set up at York –– two regular gymnasiums and a very balanced field –– it’s much more tolerable than what took place at Proviso West when it went to 32 teams. The problem at York is geography. There are still too many potential matchups between teams that play one another in the regular season. And no one wants that.
➤ When everyone gets so worked up about “upsets” and “bad losses” in high school basketball, just remember it happens everywhere at every level. Big Ten teams this year have lost to the following: NJIT, Eastern Michigan, St. Francis, Texas Southern, EWU, North Florida, Incarnate Word, Central Michigan and Saint Peters.
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