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A new era for local holiday basketball tournaments

Fans have flocked back to high school sporting events this season. Which local holiday tournament will attract the most attention this season is yet to be determined.

Bogan celebrates winning the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in 2019.
Bogan celebrates winning the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in 2019.
Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Holiday basketball tournaments are back for the first time in two years. The local landscape is technically the same. Proviso West, Hinsdale Central, York, Big Dipper, Wheeling and Jacobs are the major events.

The pecking order is unclear. Fans have flocked back to high school sporting events this season. Which local holiday tournament will attract the most attention this season is yet to be determined.

Proviso West, which is celebrating its 60th year, used to be the unquestioned top dog. It was the king of holiday tournaments in all of Illinois and an event that even attracted casual sports fans in certain years.

Those times are gone. Proviso West has struggled recently. Cyrus McGinnis, the former head of basketball for CPS, is now in charge. The tournament had two major pickups this year, adding Kenwood and Young.

Fenwick, Proviso East, Morton and Zion-Benton all return. Those are traditionally strong programs, but only Proviso East is ranked this season. McGinnis has picked up several other Public League teams (Lincoln Park, Morgan Park, Farragut, Bogan) and added two teams from Indiana (Gary Bowman and Hammond Central).

It’s unlikely that such a large group of Public League teams in one tournament will be a major draw. But a Young vs. Kenwood title game could be the best championship game in the state.

“This is a very talented pool of teams that will bring some exciting basketball each and every day of the tournament,” McGinnis said.

Hinsdale Central has gone in a completely different direction. The tournament doesn’t have a single Public League team. The field at Hinsdale Central is strong but there isn’t an elite team in the tournament. St. Rita, Oak Forest, Marian Catholic and DePaul Prep are all ranked.

Hinsdale Central’s tournament has been around since 2015 but it hasn’t had a breakout moment yet and has struggled to draw major crowds.

While Proviso West has lost momentum and Hinsdale Central hasn’t found any, the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York was gaining steam before COVID hit. It’s possible that three major tournaments all in the western suburbs is just overkill.

This could be a banner year for York. It’s the best field in tournament history. Top-ranked Glenbard West, Bolingbrook, Lake Forest, Lemont, Lyons, St. Ignatius, Rolling Meadows, Leo and Riverside-Brookfield are all excellent teams.

York is a 32-team tournament and there are usually two games happening at once in two different gyms. That gives it a different feel. It works overall, but doesn’t lend itself to major breakout moments as much as the traditional Proviso West and Pontiac spotlights do.

The Big Dipper’s field is nowhere near the past glory years. But the tournament has a passionate fanbase and has always drawn well.

Rich’s recently renovated gym hosts the Big Dipper. There are 10 Public League teams in the field. Hillcrest, Hyde Park and Thornton are the favorites. All three teams have been ranked this season. The Big Dipper has a strong south suburban identity and its solid fan base and reasonable ticket prices have helped the tournament survive recent mismanagement.

Pontiac, the oldest basketball tournament in the world, is celebrating its 90th year. The field is loaded with ranked teams. Over the past year it has surpassed Proviso West to become the king of Illinois holiday tournaments.

Holiday Tournament Pairings

York and Big Dipper pairings will be revealed later this week.

Hinsdale Central

Dec. 22

Stevenson vs. Morton, 9:30 a.m.

Oak Forest vs. Maine South, 11 a.m.

Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Willowbrook, 12:30

St. Rita vs. Lincoln-Way Central, 2

Marian Catholic vs. Richards, 3:45

Oswego East vs. Rockford Auburn, 5:15

Hinsdale Central vs. St. Charles East, 7

DePaul Prep vs. Glenbard East, 8:30

Pontiac

Dec. 28

Lockport vs. West Aurora, 9 a.m.

New Trier vs. Peoria Manual, 10:30 a.m.

Simeon vs. Plainfield North, 1

Warren vs. Oak Park, 2:30

Danville vs. St. Charles North, 4

Curie vs. Bloomington, 6

Benet vs. Pontiac, 7:30

Bloom vs. Joliet West, 9

Proviso West

Dec. 27

Proviso West vs. Lincoln Park, 9:30 a.m.

Morgan Park vs. Clark, 11 a.m.

Hammond Central, Ind. vs. Fenwick, 12:30

TF North vs. Kenwood, noon

Farragut vs. Gary Bowman, Ind., 4

Proviso East vs. Bogan, 5:30

Zion-Benton vs. Morton, 7

Young vs. Crete-Monee, 8:30

Wheeling

Dec. 27

Deerfield vs. St. Viator, 9 a.m.

Glenbrook North vs. Hampshire, 10:30 a.m.

Notre Dame vs. Mather, 12:15

Niles North vs. Prospect, 2

Buffalo Grove vs. Glenbard North, 3:45

Glenbrook South vs. Waukegan, 5:30

Wheeling vs. Libertyville, 7:15

Fremd vs. Maine West, 8:45