By Joe Henricksen
A holiday list from the City/Suburban Hoops Report of those who should be most thankful in the Illinois high school basketball world this Thanksgiving. As we sit around the table with the turkey and stuffing, we all have plenty to be thankful for. Here is the high school basketball version of giving thanks.
• Illinois Prep Basketball Fans
There's not a sport in Illinois high school athletics as special or with as much history and tradition as boys basketball. There is so much to be thankful for, including great individual talent, a genuine interest in the sport and traditions like holiday tournaments and March Madness. Imagine loving high school basketball and having to move to South Dakota, Idaho or Nebraska?
• Morgan Park
As the Irvin family sits down for its Thanksgiving feast, coach Nick Irvin should offer up some thanks for being a Class 3A school this coming March. It's a golden ticket to the school securing its first hardware since 2001 and potential first state championship since 1976.
• Pontiac Holiday Tournament
This great, venerable, tradition-rich tournament that ranks among the top one or two holiday events every year should be thankful for Simeon. This program brings instant credibility to Pontiac every year and is a major draw. The tournament should be thankful Simeon is true to its word and hasn't left for bigger venues, greener pastures and larger dollar amounts. Simeon will bring the state's top team and a bonafide superstar in Jabari Parker to Pontiac this December.
• West Aurora
As the years go by and the coaching career of legendary Gordie Kerkman gets closer to its end, every basketball player and fan on the West Side of Aurora should say, "Thank you, coach Kerkman." Since the 1976-77 season when Kerkman led his first West Aurora team to a 22-win season, there have been few coaches that have been as successful or as classy as Kerkman.
• St. Joseph
Did you read the West Aurora "give thanks" above? Ditto for St. Joseph and its thankfulness for Gene Pingatore. He's an absolute institution, coaching at the school in Westchester for 40 years and counting.
• All Of Those Four-Class Lovers
Yes, you are in the minority. But all of you that wanted to diminish the sport, try to fix something that wasn't broke, win slightly unwarranted plaques and trophies and throw a dagger in my heart, you got your way. Be thankful for those four classes.
The Hoops Report understands and believes coach Don Houston is terrific and a great fit in Country Club Hills. And, yes, Juice Brown was so important in leading Houston's team last year to the school's first-ever state title and is back for another run at it this winter. But can the Hillcrest fans and basketball program give a thank you "shout out" this Thanksgiving to former coach Tom Cappel, who put this program on the map? Cappel put together a signature program in the south suburbs with a particular system that is still thriving today. After all, he won 13 regional titles, four sectionals, reached the Elite Eight twice and averaged 22 wins a season over 23 years.
This basketball program was in need of a player that provided a presence with the ball in his hands, a player with a calming effect on the game and who can run the point. Presto! Transfer Michael Orris, a talented junior guard, arrives this fall. The Warriors can be thankful and dream big.
• Benet Academy
The Redwings can give thanks to the arrival of Gene Heidkamp as head coach. This once proud basketball program that was once a powerhouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s toiled in obscurity throughout the past two decades. Heidkamp has pumped life into Benet basketball once again, winning a sectional title last year and a preseason top 10 team this season.
• Benet Academy coach Gene Heidkamp
The 2010 City/Suburban Hoops Report Coach of the Year can be thankful for having a point guard like David Sobolewski who can handle such a large and integral role for one of the state's top teams. Heidkamp, one of the best-kept secrets in high school coaching, is forced to lean heavily on the savvy Sobolewski.
• Glenbard East
The school and program can be thankful for the hiring of Scott Miller in 1999. The ultimate rebuilding project began when Miller took over. This is a program that in the previous 19 years had suffered through 14 losing seasons, including 13 seasons of fewer than 10 wins and an abysmal 57-144 record in the nine years prior to Miller's arrival. The culture has changed, with Glenbard East posting five 19-plus win seasons and four regional championships in the last six years. Plus, it didn't hurt Miller has a Northern Illinois-bound son running the point guard position.
• Anthony Davis
The state's top player and one of the nation's elite can thank club basketball this Thanksgiving. If there was ever the perfect scenario and example of a player benefitting so greatly from AAU basketball, Anthony Davis is the posterchild. An absolute unknown with his high school team as a junior -- and in a city like Chicago -- to becoming a household name and coveted by college programs across the country before he even heads back to school for his senior year.
• Chicago Perspectives
Is there any question where this one is going? Would anyone reading this have ever even heard of Chicago Perspectives without the talented Anthony Davis?
• Southwest Prairie Conference
Basketball fans in the communities of Southwest Prairie Conference schools need to give thanks for the arrival of .... basketball. For years it was known as an area with great farmland and some solid football. Among a group of schools and towns that had little to no basketball tradition or talent, the Oswego and Plainfield schools have suddenly churned out success and individual players in recent years. And the present and future is bright with more talent in the pipeline.
• Illinois coach Bruce Weber
If there was ever a time to be thankful for Illinois prep basketball talent, this would be it for the coach of the major state university basketball program. Weber landed the foursome of Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, Orr's Mycheal Henry, De La Salle's Mike Shaw and St. Ignatius' Nnanna Egwu -- all from Chicago Public League and Chicago Catholic League schools. Go ahead and thank that assistant coach sitting on the bench to your left while you're at it.
• De La Salle
If there was one constant rumor heard throughout the last four years that never came to fruition, it was the banter of Mike Shaw transferring out of the South Side private school. But with the vultures out since the day he entered high school, Shaw showed his integrity, character and loyalty by staying with coach Tom White and the Meteors. Give thanks, De La Salle.
• Joe Henricksen
The editor and publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report should give thanks to having a wife that puts up with the basketball ridiculousness she encounters -- and enjoys it!