Previewing the Pontiac holiday tournament

It’s been two decades since Joliet played in the championship game at Pontiac. If they get there this year they will likely get a shot at the No. 1 team in the state on one of the biggest stages.

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Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears (2) floats in the lane as he shoots against Kenwood.

Joliet West’s Jeremiah Fears (2) floats in the lane as he shoots against Kenwood.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Pontiac Holiday Tournament

When: Dec. 28-30

Team to beat: Simeon

The No. 1 team in the state has looked and played like it. The Wolverines are rich in talent but also seem to have the intangibles of a championship team. There is difference-making size with 6-9 Miles Rubin and 6-9 Wesley Rubin to go with steady guard play featuring Jalen Griffith, who is doing a wonderful job of knowing when to push tempo and play in the halfcourt with the Rubin twins.

Top challenger: Joliet West

It’s been two decades since Joliet played in the championship game at Pontiac. If they get there this year they will likely get a shot at the No. 1 team in the state on one of the biggest stages.

The Fears brothers –– Jeremy, the Michigan State recruit, and super sophomore Jeremiah –– are ready for a run. And the supporting cast of Justus McNair, Jayden Martin and 6-8 Matthew Moore have done their job.

Darkhorses: Benet, New Trier and Curie.

Don’t underestimate Benet, fresh off a terrific showing in a pre-Christmas tournament in Arizona where it went 3-0. Coach Gene Heidkamp’s team is unbeaten at 13-0 and the No. 3 seed. The disciplined and always-prepared Redwings lean on the senior perimeter trio of Brayden Fagbami, Brady Kunka and Niko Abusara.

Curie has been a fixture playing in the biggest games on the final day at Pontiac, including last year’s run to second place. This veteran group has yet to play like the experienced team they are yet this season. But following a win over Oswego East, the arrow appears to be pointing in the right direction.

Last year’s third-place finisher, New Trier, led by 6-3 senior shooter Jake Fiegen, is tough and gritty. The Trevians own a win over Rolling Meadows and have won eight consecutive games.

Five players to watch: Miles and Wesley Rubin, Simeon; Jeremy and Jeremiah Fears, Joliet West; Carlos Harris, Curie.

Underrated player to watch: Brayden Fagbemi, Benet

Benet has a recent Division I commitment in Niko Abusara. But the importance of Fagbemi and all he can do at the point guard position for one of the state’s better teams shouldn’t go unnoticed. Fagbemi, who is headed to Division III Johns Hopkins, is one of the most improved players in the class from a year ago.

Storyline to follow: Robert Smith’s final trip to Pontiac

There is a true, genuine appreciation for Simeon by Pontiac fans and the tournament itself. Simeon, which has been a dominant force at Pontiac with 15 titles, has stayed loyal to Pontiac, thanks to coach Robert Smith. This will be Smith’s final stop in Pontiac. All eyes will be on the coaching icon who is stepping down following this season. Expect some type of appreciative send-off.

Title game pick: Simeon over Joliet West

Pontiac bracket

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