By Roy & Harv Schmidt
Now that the Illinois High School Association has totally ruined America's Original March Madness (otherwise known as the state tournament) with the introduction of the four class system, there are no more significant in-season events than holiday tournaments. In fact, we believe they have become more important than ever, both from an evaluation and a recruiting standpoint.
Several other respected recruiting analysts have long told us that when it comes to regular season high school basketball, very little matters until the time holiday tournaments come around. We agreed with all of them then and we agree even more now.
Simply put, history has shown us that the overall quality of play is much poorer in the first month of the season leading up to the holiday tournaments. There are a number of factors that contribute to this. For one, many players have not yet hit their stride. This often tends to change right around the time that holiday tournaments begin. Also, while we would love to be able to say that every team and every individual plays hard all the time, any realist knows that is not the case. For whatever reason, many of them tend to play considerably harder and with a greater purpose come holiday tournament time. It may be that they believe that more is on the line, or perhaps they play to the level of competition.
Ah, the competition! That is something that is critical to us from an evaluation standpoint. The bottom line is that as editors and publishers of our own scouting service, we want to be able to evaluate players in environments which offer them the highest degree of competition. There is no question that all of the premier holiday tournaments in the state of Illinois offer that opportunity. Whether it be the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament, the Elgin Holiday Tournament, the State Farm Insurance Holiday Classic, the Pekin Holiday Tournament, the Centralia Holiday Tournament, or the Collinsville Holiday Tournament, all of them are capable of providing any true basketball junkie with either three or four days of basketball heaven at the end of the year.
While we are saying how important holiday tournaments are to scouts and talent evaluators, just imagine how valuable they are and what they mean to college coaches from a recruiting standpoint. In fact, with the exception of the July evaluation period, we will go as far as to say that holiday tournament time is the most crucial time of the year for any college recruiter.
Those who wish to dispute this need to do nothing more than examine the schedules of several college basketball programs who recruit the state of Illinois on a regular basis, something that we took the time to do before writing this blog. What do DePaul, Illinois State, Loyola, Marquette, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame all have in common? After December 22, none of them have a game scheduled until December 29. The majority of the top holiday tournaments in Illinois run from December 26-29. Northwestern, meanwhile, does not play a single game whatsoever between December 20 and January 2.
There are certainly a number of factors as to why these teams have scheduled this way, but one big reason is because all of them want to be able to see as many recruits as possible during the time of the holiday tournaments. And the period from December 26-29 makes it convenient for them to do so. Although division one college coaches cannot be in the gym on December 26, they still have three full days from December 27-29 to see a high number of potential recruits either under one roof or at locations within sufficient driving distance from one another. While all of the aforementioned programs as well as countless others will undoubtedly spend at least one day at Proviso West, many of them are certain to hit any of the other top holiday tournaments in Illinois as well.
Now that the state tournament has become totally watered down due to the expansion to four classes and many of the traditional rivalries that we have been used to seeing in March are now gone thanks to the efforts of the IHSA, the holiday tournaments are the best there is when it comes to high school basketball in Illinois. This is primarily because they are virtually the one thing (maybe the only thing) that has been able to continue in its original form and therefore remains unblemished. Unlike the state tournament, we can only hope that is something that never changes.