By Joe Henricksen

The Holiday Hoops 411

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When you think about it, anything that goes on for 35 years, 50 years or 70-plus years, it's gotta be good.

The Super Bowl is going on year 47. My parents just completed 51 years of marriage. The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona has been going on for centuries.

And then there are the holiday basketball tournaments in Illinois.

In the case of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, it's here for the 82nd time. Centralia is starting its seventh decade of holiday hoops. Proviso West is on year 52. Carbondale will tip off its 49th year of tournament play and Pekin is right behind with 48. The McDipper began at Rich South in 1973.

Decade after decade, teams, fans, college coaches and media members trek all across the state to get a glimpse of high school teams and players. The goal is to be a better basketball team when Jan. 1 rolls around as a result of holiday tournament play. But winning the darn thing, going 4-0 or 5-0, isn't that the goal of any legitimate contender?

The City/Suburban Hoops Report provides a rundown of the best that the holiday tournaments have to offer in 2012.

BEST TOURNAMENT TO ATTEND
Year after year others try, but it's impossible to top the experience at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The format, tradition, small-town feel and hospitality set it apart, but the basketball brings various styles and different parts of the state together in a terrific atmosphere. Yes, Simeon is the overwhelming favorite, but there is a lot of balance between 2-10 in this 16-team field.

MOST TOURNAMENT TALENT
From a pure volume standpoint, the Proviso West Holiday Tournament is unmatched. Proviso West has the most teams and players worth watching. Although there are only five Top 25 ranked teams among the 32 in the field, three are in the top six and there is an endless list of teams knocking on the Top 25 door.

And the players? How about this list of high-major talent: senior guards Billy Garrett, Jr. and Kyle Davis of Morgan Park; Purdue-bound Kendall Stephens of St. Charles East; SMU recruit Sterling Brown of Proviso East; junior big man Sean O'Mara of Benet Academy; and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson of Stevenson.

UNDERRATED TOURNAMENT
The State Farm Holiday Classic in Bloomington-Normal has a nice feel to it. Plus, it brings a blend of Chicago and statewide pop. High-scoring North Chicago and upstart T.F. North are both off to hot starts, but Normal U-High, Rock Island and Champaign Centennial are all threats to advance deep into March in Class 3A.

WORTH A LOOK
Both the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Hinsdale South Holiday Tournament will offer up some quality matchups without the fanfare that Proviso and Pontiac receive. When you can have potential quarterfinal games at Hinsdale South featuring the likes of Lake Forest-Metea Valley, St. Patrick-Providence and Brother Rice-Schaumburg, there's some value. And a top five of Niles Notre Dame, St. Viator, Niles North, Loyola and Naperville Central at Wheeling isn't too shabby, either.

BIGGEST TOURNAMENT FAVORITE
If anyone knocks off 3A power Washington at the Pekin Holiday Tournament, the Hoops Report will be shocked. This team is well coached, has a star in Alec Peters, balance, chemistry and maturity. Add in a rather down crop of teams at Pekin this year and Washington is an overwhelming favorite.

BEST POTENTIAL TITLE GAME
A whole lot of basketball has to be played -- 61 games over six days, in fact -- but if it all shakes out the most highly-anticipated championship game will be played at Proviso West. Morgan Park, unbeaten and ranked No. 3, is the favorite in the lower bracket. Unbeaten Homewood-Flossmoor and defending tournament champion Proviso East are ranked No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, are the teams to beat in the opposite bracket. If Morgan Park meets either one, it's going to be a fun one.

MOST INTRIGUING INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP
Potential matchup of intrigue is probably a better way to describe a Keita Bates-Diop-Michael Finke duel. Normal U-High and Champaign Centennial are in opposite brackets at the State Farm Holiday Classic, but it would create a bit of a stir if these two somehow found their way on the same court in Bloomington. Bates-Diop, the local kid who spurned Illinois for Ohio State, taking on the local hero Finke, who chose to stay home and play for Illinois.

BEST 9 A.M. MATCHUP
The dreaded 9 a.m. game. No one wants to get up and go to it. And no one wants to play it, especially an opening-round game the day after Christmas. But the Hillcrest-Maine South matchup at Proviso West at 9 a.m. on Dec. 26 is far from your typical wake-up call tournament game. Maine South, 9-0 on the season, is off to its best start in 33 years. Hillcrest is 7-2 and playing well.

"With their style of play and fighting through their screes, we're going to have some sore ribs," says Hillcrest coach Don Houston of facing Maine South. "Add in that it's that 9 a.m. game the day after Christmas? That's a tough game and is going to be a big challenge."

Yes, the Hillcrest basketball team has to get up at 6 a.m., get to the school for a shoot-around by 6:30 a.m., get on a bus, drive to Hillside and be ready for a root canal -- I mean a game against Maine South -- by 9 a.m. the day after Christmas. Yes, Maine South, does too.

BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK
OK, Jahlil Okafor, the too-good-to-be-true giant at Whitney Young, will be out of the state during the holidays with his Dolphins. Simeon's Jabari Parker is, well, not quite there yet. He's still rounding into shape and is the shell of the player he was and will be in the not-to-distant future.

With that being said, the best bang for the buck when it comes to getting out and watching an individual player? Come on! You're reading the Hoops Report! Of COURSE it's going to be Tyler Ulis, the ultra-smooth playmaking guard. Remember this gem of a blog last year at this very time? Forget what he is or what he isn't. Just enjoy his overall game and how he plays within himself and with his teammates while still dominating.

TRYING TO MAKE ONE LAST IMPRESSION
With Simeon's Jabari Parker committing to Duke, the Class of 2013 now has 32 players signed or committed to Division I programs from the state of Illinois. There is plenty of Division I type talent remaining, though a lot of the leftovers will be headed the junior college or prep school route. But the Hoops Report provides a short list of a few players still trying to make one last big impression over the holidays when Division I college coaches are scurrying from one tournament to the next.

• Brad Zaumseil, Barrington
In the last game he played, the 6-0 point guard with a little gitty-up poured in 27 points. He's received interest from Gardner-Webb, Princeton and Wofford. Despite one of the best darn hospitality rooms in the hoilday hoops junket, the Jacobs Holiday Tournament isn't always a destination for college coaches. But Zaumseil hopes to solidify the interest for those coaches who make the trip.

• Jovan Mooring, Hillcrest
Big-bodied scoring guard who the Hoops Report has labeled the prep version of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson. Mooring resembles the old school Detroit Piston, who shot it and scored in bunches, in more ways than one. The 6-1 Mooring is putting up 19 points a game for the Hawks and will have an opportunity to shine at the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

• Miles Simelton, Oswego
A Hoops Report favorite over the past year, Simelton opened eyes with his play in July and then had a signature moment already this season with a gut-check performance in an overtime win over Proviso East. Simelton is an explosive guard who can put points on the board. Oswego opens up with Lincoln Park in the opening game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

• Maurius Hill, Homewood-Flossmoor
It's impossible not to appreciate all that Hill brings to the table. He's the type of undersized 4-man you win with rather than the 6-8 stiff so many low-Division I schools take a flyer on. Hill's tenaciousness, rebounding and intangibles are a big reason why H-F is unbeaten. And it's why more Division I schools should be paying attention.

• Preston Wells, Peoria Richwoods
Maybe the Pekin Holiday Tournament will be an avenue for this overlooked point guard to get more interest. Wells will get to the basket on you and is improving his perimeter jumper. Albany in New York offered and there is plenty of Division II and NAIA schools heavily involved.

For a complete preview of every holiday tournament, go to cshoopsreport.com, After 17 years of a print publication, the City/Suburban Hoops Report is now online.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Henricksen published on December 21, 2012 6:17 AM.

Providence's Miles Boykin turning heads in 2015 was the previous entry in this blog.

Whitney Young the real deal is the next entry in this blog.

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