(This is one of several City/Suburban Hoops Report holiday tournament previews)
PONTIAC HOLIDAY TOURNAMENT
Where: Pontiac High School
When: Dec. 26, 27, 28
➤ NEED TO KNOW: For pure holiday tournament atmosphere and hospitality, along with a different feel in comparison to any of the Chicago area tournaments -- and, oh, some terrific basketball -- Pontiac is the complete package and place to be after Christmas for high school basketball fans.
➤ BUZZ WORD: Starpower. When you have the four-time defending state champs and the nation's No. 2 ranked player in the country coming to town, there's going to be a buzz. The locals can only hope and keep their fingers crossed that Simeon and Curie's Cliff Alexander are playing in the final against one another.
➤ THE FAVORITE: Curie looked very impressive in knocking off national power Bishop Gorman out of Las Vegas in the Chicago Elite Classic. The top-seeded team at Pontiac has an absolute manchild inside with 6-9 Cliff Alexander, a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. Alexander's dominance and physical presence seems to grow by the week. Plus, both Joseph Stamps and Joshua Stamps have been consistent, double-figure scorers for coach Mike Oliver.
➤ TOP CONTENDER: Simeon is champ until someone knocks them off, even if the Wolverines do have five new starters. But this is a home away from home for the Simeon program. The Pontiac faithful have always had an appreciation for the powerhouse program, and Simeon's comfort level here is one no other top team experiences on the road.
➤ SLEEPERS: Everyone will be surprised if it's not Curie and Simeon in the final. However, the list of teams battling for third is lengthy, balanced and competitive. ... Although Oak Park-River Forest suffered its first loss of the season last weekend to Hinsdale Central, the Huskies are deep, athletic and talented. ... West Aurora, led by guard Jontrel Walker and emerging junior Roland Griffin, Peoria Manual and Bloom are next in line.
➤ CHANCE TO BREAK OUT: Plainfield North's Trevor Stumpe. The 6-4 junior has put up some whopping offensive numbers so far this season. He doesn't have to go for 42 or 32 as he has already in the first month, but anything close to that in this field of teams and on this stage at Pontiac will draw a whole lot more attention.
➤ STORYLINES TO FOLLOW: It's Curie's time. At least the Condors believe it is. A tournament title at Pontiac would be one major step for coach Mike Oliver and his program in its quest to win something -- anything -- big. ... Simeon has played in the championship four straight years, including three consecutive titles. A title here would make it four in a row and put them in position next year to tie Quincy and Peoria Manual for a record fifth straight title at Pontiac. ... How good is West Aurora? The Blackhawks and coach Gordie Kerkman always find out so much about their team in the three days at Pontiac.
➤ MATCHUP YOU HOPE MATERIALIZES: Uh, duh! Everyone is hoping for and anticipating a Curie-Simeon showdown in the final. A pair of city powers with big-named talent and state title aspirations meet in a central Illinois showcase.
➤ TOP 10 PROSPECTS: Cliff Alexander, 6-9, Sr., Curie; D.J. Williams, 6-7, Jr., Simeon; Zach Norvell, 6-4, So., Simeon; Edward Morrow, 6-6, Jr., Simeon; Donte Ingram, 6-5, Sr., Simeon; Denzel Smith, 6-6, Sr., Danville; Erick Locke, 6-0, Sr., Oak Park; Joshua Stamps, 6-4, Jr., Curie; Devin Gage, 5-11, So., Curie; Trevor Stumpe, 6-4, Jr., Plainfield North.
➤ UNDERRATED PLAYERS TO WATCH: It's easy to appreciate Bloom's undersized but rugged 4-man James Coleman. Just watch how he plays. ... Bloomington shooting guard Brady Rose can play. ... He's not the biggest name for OPRF -- and he's a Purdue football recruit -- but 6-5 Simmie Cobbs is a presence and highly-productive. ... Warren guard Eric Gillespie jumped out of the gate quickly this season and is one to watch in arguably the best first-round matchup at Pontiac when the Blue Devils square off with Plainfield North. ... When it comes to production, you won't find many who produce more in Pontiac than Peoria Manual's Delano Jones, a 6-4 warrior. ... Speaking of Peoria Manual, check out the son of former Manual and Illinois star Frank Williams, 6-1 freshman Da'Monte Williams.
➤ HOOPS REPORT PICK: Simeon