Remember John Madden's Turkey Leg Award?
Madden, the legendary football broadcaster, began a tradition in 1989, awarding the "Turkey Leg Award" -- an actual cooked turkey leg -- to the Thanksgiving Day game's most valuable player. The player/recipient would take a celebratory bite in the post-game interview, a tradition that ran through 2001.
While there probably isn't a high school player in the state who was old enough to remember this time-honored tradition, it's exactly what I thought of while watching Dominique Matthews of St. Rita on Sunday. Get that 6-3 senior a turkey leg.
With Thanksgiving tournament play all wrapped up by Saturday, the Team Rose Classic at Curie closed out the first week of prep basketball action on Sunday. And it was Matthews, St. Rita's combo guard, who was deserving of that John Madden Turkey Leg Award.
Although it came in a losing effort -- a 79-76 overtime loss to Curie in the marquee matchup of the event -- Matthews shined. When you consider the circumstances, which included Northwestern recruit Vic Law in foul trouble, star brother Charles Matthews and Division I prospects Armani Chaney and Myles Carter on the bench in street clothes, it's a wonder Dominique Matthews didn't have a hernia while carrying the Mustangs.
Matthews, one of the top uncommitted senior prospects in Illinois, put up 39 points. More impressively, he made big plays, big shots and knocked down endless free throws. The biggest moment came in the closing seconds of regulation when Matthews, calm and cool, stopped 22 feet from the basket and drained a game-tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
There has been both low-major and mid-major Division I interest in Matthews, but he opted to play out his senior year and wait for the April signing period. If one game is any indication, Matthews, who is a guard with size and has a knack for scoring in a variety of ways, is going to be just fine and gain of plenty of new college options between now and March.
Here is a lengthy rundown of this, that and everything else from Thanksgiving week. Here are the City/Suburban Hoops Report's Thanksgiving leftovers ...
➥ Looking for your upstart Chicago Public League team? How about Uplift? The Titans have talent and went 5-0 in the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament. There aren't any big names (Raise your hand if you've heard of seniors Augustin Tronou and Quintin Olagbegi or juniors Jereme Roscoe and Jamaya Wyatt?) but Uplift has a surplus of speed, athleticism, balance and talented players. Move over Foreman, Von Steuben and Lincoln Park, it might be Uplift's time in the Red-North.
➥ Are there any more superlatives left for Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis? Playing in the championship game of the Thanksgiving tournament against fellow Chicago Heights rival Bloom, the 5-8 point guard poured in 35 points. Here is some food for thought: Aside from Simeon's Derrick Rose and Crane's Sherron Collins, name a clearly better point guard prospect out of Illinois in the last 25 years?
➥ Speaking of little guards, here is a name to remember: Eric Gillespie. The 5-9 senior from Warren will be a catalyst this year for the Blue Devils. Right around a year ago Gillespie played a total of 12 minutes for the Blue Devils in the entire Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Now the jet-quick scoring point guard is averaging over 20 points a game in the season's first five games. He was MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, including games of 37 and 26 points. Gillespie, who had 11 points and 9 assists in the tournament finale, has emerged as a potential Division II/NAIA prospect.
➥ The chase for the West Suburban Silver, with Hinsdale Central, York and Oak Park-River Forest the headliners, is going to be a fun and competitive one to watch over the next three months. The Hoops Report caught both OPRF and Hinsdale Central this past week and walked away impressed. [See HOOPS REPORT SLEEPERS for more on these two teams and others.]
➥ It didn't take long for a team to emerge as the best team in the Mid-Suburban League. Fremd, which was highlighted as one of the Hoops Report's sleepers in this blog this past weekend, swept through the field at the Chuck Mitchell Thanksgiving Tournament at Fenton. The Vikings have quality seniors and something a majority of prep teams don't: legitimate size that's both skilled and physical.
➥ Don't you be forgetting about Proviso East just yet. Yes, stars Sterling Brown and Paris Lee have moved on to SMU and Illinois State, respectively, but that's a statement the Pirates made, saying "we've reloaded." This guard-dominated team showed it's more than capable of making its third straight trip to Peoria. Coach Donnie Boyce's club, led by senior Jevon Carter, was impressive in the Tournament of Champions in Washington, Ill., knocking off highly-ranked North Chicago in the title game.
➥ Stagg's Max Strus, a 6-4 senior guard, remains one of the best-kept secrets and overlooked talents in the Chicago area. A Hoops Report favorite, the multi-dimensional Strus was the tournament MVP as Stagg won its own tournament for the third straight year.
➥ The 2012 Cliff Alexander version is nothing like the Cliff Alexander 2013 model. We're talking an absolutely dominating presence on both ends of the floor and on virtually every possession. He's bigger, slimmer, leaner, nastier, more confident and even more athletic. He's a player you fear (unless you have a Jahlil Okafor to match up against him).
➥ Speaking of Cliff Alexander and Jahlil Okafor, it will be a shame if these two don't ever match up against one another this season. Keep your fingers crossed for either a Chicago Public League playoff matchup or sectional showdown between these two (or both) in the second half of the season.
➥ With the quality depth in the Chicago Catholic League this year -- the Catholic League North is going to be a beast to deal with all season -- the inaugural Catholic League Tournament could be something to really look forward to in the second half of the season.
➥ With the schedule Benet Academy has in front of it in the next three months, it may be inevitable that the Redwings have a few losses. Aside from Whitney Young, Simeon and St. Rita, there isn't a team that will face a tougher slate. But coach Gene Heidkamp's group has a chance to be a terrific basketball team as the season plays out. Everyone is talking about Marian Catholic and St. Viator in the East Suburban Catholic, but don't forget about the defending league champs.
➥ The best player and best prospect in the Southwest Prairie? Without question it's 6-4 junior Aaron Jordan of Plainfield East, who sports multiple high-major offers. However, what a first week it was for a couple of other juniors in this typically wide-open offensive league. Plainfield North's Trevor Stumpe and Oswego's Zach West put up monster numbers. Stumpe scored 122 points in four games, including games of 44 and 36. West, meanwhile, had three straight games of 30-plus and poured in 111 points in four games.
➥ The always-tough North Suburban Lake just got stronger over Thanksgiving. That's because Libertyville, behind senior guard Jack Lipp and 6-9 junior big man Joe Borcia, went 4-0. Stevenson is still the team to beat and Zion-Benton is talented enough to make a push, but Libertyville joins Lake Forest, Warren and Lake Zurich in the dangerous department.
➥ The Lincoln Thanksgiving Tournament featured big-named seniors like Illinois recruit Michael Finke of Champaign Centennial and Drake signee C.J. Rivers of Cahokia, but two lesser-known prospects -- Lincoln 6-6 junior Gavin Block and Danville 6-5 senior Denzell Smith -- opened eyes.
In helping Lincoln to a 5-0 record, the versatile Block averaged 16.4 points, 8 rebounds, 2.8 assists a game while shooting 10 of 21 from beyond the arc. Smith was dominant against Cahokia with a 40-point, 17-rebound performance. In four games he averaged over 24 points and 8 rebounds a game. Both the 6-9 Finke (21.3 ppg, 8 rpg), who led Centennial to a 4-1 record, and Rivers (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4 apg) were solid.
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