By Joe Henricksen
The busiest week of the high school basketball season has concluded, with the focus now turning to conference races as the calendar turns to 2012. While there is a whole lot to discuss, the City/Suburban Hoops Report offers up quick look back at what the holiday tournaments around Illinois provided fans.
Simeon isn't invincible
Make no mistake about it, beating Simeon this year will remain a monumental task for any future opponent from the state of Illinois. But what the Pontiac Holiday Tournament showed, specifically the semifinal bout with Peoria Manual which the Wolverines won 48-47, is that this is still high school basketball with teen-aged kids playing and that Simeon isn't unbeatable.
Would the Hoops Report still put money on Simeon rolling through its in-state schedule and winning another state championship? You bet. The Wolverines are pretty close to becoming that unbeatable team as the point guard position solidifies itself over time.
Simeon and ...
Simeon clearly remains the No. 1 team in Illinois. Proviso East, which won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament for the first time since 1991, has established itself as the No. 2 team. And despite the fact a few boot-kicked Whitney Young out of existence following an early-season loss to Orr, the Dolphins are clearly one of the few legitimate contenders to Simeon's dominance.
Then there is Warren and Curie, two teams that met in a classic double overtime game in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament semifinals. Those are the top five teams -- in the eyes of the Hoops Report as we head into January -- in the Chicago area.
After that there are a bunch of teams that fall into the category of contenders just outside that small group of upper echelon of teams, teams such as Bloom, New Trier, Seton Academy, De La Salle and a handful of others.
When looking outside the Chicago area, there are three outstanding teams in Class 3A when talking about Peoria Manual, Springfield Lanphier and Washington.
Despite a perfect 14-0 record, this isn't a big, bad, world-beating type of team. However, coach Jasper Williams is blessed with the all-important mix of chemistry and intangibles with a team that, as a group, is better than its individual parts. The Blazing Trojans knocked off Crete-Monee in the title game of the McDipper as senior point guard Donald Moore continues to show his value.
• Plainfield East
Plainfield East coach Branden Adkins, a 1991 Pekin High graduate, returned home and showed off a little as his team captured the Pekin Holiday Tournament title in impressive fashion. Well, it's time to start taking this team serious after returning home with its perfect record intact. While guard Deontre Brown and big man Brian Bennett lead the Bengals, this is a balanced team with four different players leading them in scoring in the four tournament wins.
• St. Ignatius
If there was a midseason Coach of the Year Award given, it would have to go to Rich Kehoe at St. Ignatius. The Wolfpack upset both Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York and improve their overall record to a shocking 11-1. The combination of solid guard play and the impact big man Peter Ryckbosch has provided has Kehoe's club surprising everyone.
• Naperville Central
There is no team that came out of nowhere to win a quality tournament more than Naperville Central capturing the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. The Redhawks upset previously unbeaten St. Viator in the quarterfinals, beat Libertyville by 16 in the semis and edged Stevenson 48-46 in the title game. Coach Pete Kramer is relying heavily on three sophomores, highly-regarded 6-7 Nick Czarnowski, 6-4 Austin Pauga and guard Ryan Antony. Pauga and Czarnowski averaged 17 and 14 points a game, respectively, in the four tournament wins.
Hoops Report's Holiday Tournament MVP
• Anthony Beane, Normal
He's among the Hoops Report's top 10 prospects in the Class of 2012, but Beane isn't talked about much or even ranked very high by some (He's not even among the top 30 players in the class in one state player ranking). The highly athletic 6-2 point guard was absolutely terrific when the Hoops Report took in Normal's semifinal win over Normal U-High at the State Farm Classic. Beane is explosive, competitive and, while his shooting mechanics aren't the best, he is knocking down shots. Beane knocked down seven 3-pointers and averaged over 30 points a game in leading Normal to the State Farm Classic title with scoring outbursts of 37, 30, 27 and 27.
Hoops Report's All-Holiday Tournament Team
• Anthony Beane, Normal
• Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young
Playing on a huge national stage in Myrtle Beach, the 6-10 sophomore was dominant in a pair of games. In an opening-round victory over Lexington (SC), Okafor scored 36 points (14 of 16 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line) and added 14 rebounds. In a semifinal loss to Lone Peak (UT), Okafor was 12 of 19 from the field, scored 28 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. In four games, Okafor averaged 21.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game.
• Keith Carter, Proviso East
Once again with Carter, it was about the senior point guard's presence and ability to do whatever it is coach Donnie Boyce and his team asks of him. The Proviso West Tournament MVP led the Pirates to their first title since 1991. He scored 18 in a win over Benet Academy, 23 in beating Rockford Auburn and Fred Van Vleet and 15 in the title game victory over New Trier
• Steve Taylor, Simeon
Overlooked in Simeon's run to the Pontiac title was the consistent performance turned in by the 6-7 senior. Taylor was Simeon's leading scorer and was efficient in doing so, averaging 15.3 points a game while shooting 24 of 36 from the field. He also averaged 7 rebounds a game in the four victories.
• Keenan Minor, Cahokia
Although he's not even the biggest name on the Cahokia roster, Minor led his team to a Centralia Holiday Tournament title and earned tournament MVP honors along the way. Minor hit a 24-foot, game-winning three-pointer to beat O'Fallon in the title game and was a stat sheet stuffer in four wins. The 6-0 junior guard averaged 19 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3.5 steals a game while knocking down 8 three-pointers in the tournament.
Class of 2012 Stock Riser
• Keke White, Peoria Manual
An up-and-down July on the AAU circuit may prove to pay dividends for Loyola, which nabbed White, the tough and competitive 6-0 point guard, this past fall. While his recruiting stock dropped a bit following July, White showed why he is just what the doctor ordered for coach Porter Moser and the Ramblers with his play at Pontiac.
White put up numbers -- he averaged 21 points in the four games at Pontiac, along with averaging 3 assists and 2 steals a game -- and made big plays, including a clutch three-pointer against Simeon in the final minute to cut the deficit to one. White may not be the ultra-athlete, the purest point guard or the best shooter, but he's shown time and time again that he will make plays, harass you defensively, take care of the ball and bring a competitive spirit to the floor.
Class of 2013 Stock Riser
• Alec Peters, Washington
The fact Peters has just five Division I offers at this point absolutely blows the Hoops Report's mind. Kudos to you UIC, Illinois State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Albany and South Dakota State. The 6-7 junior, who is among the Hoops Report's top 20 prospects in the Class of 2013, averaged 24 points and 8 rebounds in four Tournament of Champions games over Thanksgiving.
Peters was soon diagnosed with a ruptured spleen and mononucleosis. He spent time in the hospital, lost weight, strength and conditioning while missing four games. He returned to help lead Washington to an upset win over the No. 1 team in Class 3A, Springfield Lanphier, and a Pekin Holiday Tournament title game appearance. In four games, fresh off battling illness and fighting weakness, Peters averaged 15 points, 6.5 rebounds and shot 8 of 18 from beyond the arc. Peters, who when healthy is a strong, crafty, high motor forward who can really shoot it, should (and will eventually) have a multitude of mid-major offers.
Class of 2014 Stock Riser
• Sean O'Mara, Benet Academy
The big 6-8 sophomore was already on everyone's radar, including college coaches at all levels. But in the eyes of the Hoops Report, who checked in on O'Mara on three different occasions in December, the big fella is certainly on track to be a high-major player. He's going to be a true back-to-the-basket player with legitimate size who is already pretty fundamentally sound, considering his size, position and age. In back-to-back games against St. Joseph and Proviso East, O'Mara combined to score 43 points, pull down 21 rebounds and block 4 shots.
Class of 2015 Stock Riser
• Jalen Brunson, Stevenson
When you consider the 5-11 freshman guard was the Hoops Report's No. 1 freshman and the No. 14 overall prospect in the state regardless of class earlier this fall, it's difficult to imagine Brunson's stock rising since then. However, the word is getting out: the kid can really play. He is as cerebral of a freshman the Hoops Report has seen since Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer. The extremely talented and smooth point guard already combines playmaking and scoring ability with his high basketball I.Q.
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