Anyone who travels from holiday tournament to holiday tournament and spends endless hours in high school gyms during those final days of December, knows it’s a bit of a whirlwind. You’re completely engulfed in basketball for five days. You tend to forget what day it is and where you’re headed next.
But as you take it all in there are always specifics that stand out every single holiday tournament season. When the dust settled, here is what did it for the City/Suburban Hoops Report:
Anyone questioning, quibbling or debating what team is the best in Illinois right now, stop, go slap some sense into yourself. This isn’t to say Simeon won’t lose over the next two-plus months. But if you watched Simeon play at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, there should be no doubt in your mind that coach Robert Smith’s team is the top team in the state as we head into January.
There is a star in Talen Horton-Tucker, a significant presence inside with Messiah Jones, depth and complementary players who all seem to have bought in while having something to play for as unsigned prospects and overlooked. Those are the reasons Simeon has yet to lose to an in-state opponent and dominated in doing so.
Simeon has an average victory margin of 24 points a game against in-state opponents, including a 19-point win over top five Curie, beating state-ranked Danville and a solid St. Charles North by 25, Bogan by 20 and Morgan Park by 13.
■ Talen Horton-Tucker
Talen Horton-Tucker was pretty spectacular in Pontiac in leading Simeon to a tournament title. The Iowa State recruit averaged 21.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game in the four wins. But his overall presence certainly stood out. For the star of the highest-profile team in the state, however, I continue to contend that THT remains undervalued and clearly overlooked nationally.
I begin to think about what he will become down the road. You can’t help but get excited about his potential. Remember, this is already the rare skilled player who can dribble, pass, shoot and has a natural feel for the game. His passing instincts are overlooked, his perimeter shot comes out of his hand so cleanly and soft, and he’s more athletic off the floor than he’s given credit for.
Plus, he remains one of the younger kids in his class. Just wait until a college strength and conditioning program gets a hold of that body.
Take a look at what former Simeon star Zach Norvell is doing as a redshirt freshman at Gonzaga this year, averaging 13.2 points a game in 23 minutes. Horton-Tucker is even better than Norvell.
■ Lincoln Park
There was actually a lot to be learned at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament, including St. Rita’s revival. But another huge takeaway is what surging Lincoln Park did to a few teams that were expected to contend for a tournament title.
Fresh off beating Whitney Young the week before Christmas, Lincoln Park reached the semis at Hinsdale Central and finished third, giving Bolingbrook all it could handle in the semifinal loss and beating three teams –– Marian Catholic, St. Charles East and DePaul Prep –– who have all been ranked at some point this season. This Lincoln Park team is better than a couple of the more traditional Public League powers we’ve talked a lot about this season.
There are several terrific tandems in high school basketball. But I’m not sure there is a more overlooked one than Lincoln Park’s Chris Roberts and Terrence Shannon. Roberts, a 5-11 jet-quick guard who scored 40 points in the win over Young, averaged 15.8 points a game in tournament play.
But it was the 6-5 Shannon (who could have very easily been included in the next category below) who went from an unknown to all-area potential. The long, agile Shannon was terrific, putting up 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds a game while knocking down 11 of 23 from the three-point line.
■ Max Christie
The Rolling Meadows freshman was already among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top five prospects in the Class of 2021 heading into the holidays. But the smooth 6-4 guard ramped it up at the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York, where in four games he averaged 18.2 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. He grabbed everyone’s attention with his play.
Christie, who will make freshmen mistakes and has a long ways to go physically –– as expected from any freshman with upside –– simply has a natural way about him on the court. He also found his way to the free-throw line, where made 82 percent (23 or 28) in four games.
■ St. Rita
The rise of St. Rita was highlighted in the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s Three-Pointer column. But just to reiterate: Coach Gary DeCesare’s team was 4-7 heading into the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament and won the thing, beating Westinghouse, Maine South, DePaul Prep and Bolingbrook along the way.
No one expected the Drew Peterson-led Wildcats to navigate themselves through the Wheeling Hardwood Classic bracket, yet there they were in overtime with unbeaten Niles North in the championship game. Libertyville has now won seven of its last nine with two wins over Waukegan.
■ Jack Tosh title teams
It’s not shocking that either of these teams made it to the final day at York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament. Nonetheless, both Conant and Brother Rice entered the holidays with modest records –– Conant at 6-4 and Brother Rice at 6-5. But both had played competitive schedules and put together four wins to reach the championship, where Conant outlasted Rice in double overtime.
■ Leo and Fred Cleveland
Everyone was anticipating a Romeoville-Morgan Park championship game at the Big Dipper. Leo and Fred Cleveland changed that. The Lions upset Romeoville in the semifinals and reached the title game, losing to Morgan Park. Cleveland, a 5-6 junior point guard, averaged 23 points and 5.2 assists per game at the Dipper while also shooting 46 percent from the three-point line (13 of 28).
Holiday to forget
■ East Suburban Catholic Conference
For all the well-deserved praise the East Suburban Catholic Conference received prior to the holidays –– the top five teams in the league sported a combined record of 41-5 and an impressive 39-4 non-conference record when you included the top six –– holiday tournament play was rough on the ESCC.
St. Viator and Notre Dame lost in the first round at Wheeling. Marian Catholic fell in the opening round at Hinsdale Central. Benet went 1-2 at Pontiac. St. Patrick headed to York 8-1 and came out 9-4. Overall, the top seven teams in the ESCC went a combined 14-13 in holiday tournament play.
Fortunately, Marist and Carmel played well and held their own down south at Centralia. Marist finished third, losing to Champaign Central in the semifinals, and Carmel went just 2-2 but lost to Evanston and Alton by a combined five points.
All-Holiday Tournament Team
■ Talent Horton Tucker, Simeon
■ Adam Miller, Morgan Park
The MVP of the Big Dipper led the Mustangs to a tournament title with a 23-point performance in a championship game win over Leo. The 6-3 sophomore and the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020, averaged 21.5 points and six rebounds a game while shooting the heck out of the basketball. Miller was 20 of 31 from the three-point line.
■ Ryan Davis, Conant
The City/Suburban Hoops Report’s weekly Three-Pointer column highlighted the inclusion of Davis in any player of the year conversation. The Vermont-bound big man averaged 24.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and four assists per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and added four three-pointers in the five wins at York.
■ E.J. Liddell, Belleville West
The Hoops Report’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2019 continues to produce and lead his team to wins. In helping lead his team to a title at Centralia, the 6-7 junior averaged 21.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game while adding 11 assists and blocking 16 shots in the four wins.
■ Drew Peterson, Libertyville
The uncommitted senior scored and distributed in leading the Wildcats to the championship game of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic. Peterson averaged 21.2 points and nearly five assists a game as Libertyville’s underdog run ended in an overtime loss to Niles North in the title game.
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