Five holiday tourneys involving Illini recruits
One of the best parts of the high school basketball season is nearly here.
The holiday tournaments.
Plenty will commence across Illinois, the rest of the Midwest and the rest of the country starting this week and continuing on for the next two weeks.
Which will feature plenty of Illinois basketball recruits and targets to focus in on.
Here's a quick glance at four in-state tournaments and one out-of-state tournament (think warm weather, beaches and oceans) where you can catch a glimpse of future Illini who are already signed, committed or targeted by John Groce's staff.
Simeon wing D.J. Williams, a Class of 2015 commit for Illinois, and the Wolverines will aim for their fourth straight title at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.
The tournament, entering into its 83rd year, has been a staple of central Illinois in the days after Christmas.
Simeon coach Robert Smith and his Wolverines have found a second home at the 16-team tournament, and will open the tournament at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 26 against Waukegan (Ill.) High School.
Otherwise known as Jereme Richmond's alma mater.
A win by Simeon would put the Wolverines into the quarterfinals against either Danville or Peoria Manual.
The real game everyone wants to see at Pontiac is a championship between Simeon and Chicago Curie.
The possibility exists for Williams to go against Cliff Alexander's team at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 28 in the championship if both schools make it through unscathed. Based on the seeds, they should.
Curie is the top seed and Simeon is the second seed.
What else is there to like about Pontiac, besides its history?
The fact the tournament isn't broken down to where every team gets a guarantee of four games.
Who really wants to watch a 15th-place game besides parents and relatives of players? Pontiac keeps it old-school.
Lose your first two games and you'll spend the rest of the tournament watching from the stands.
Though it can't boast the longevity Pontiac can, Proviso West might provide the best high school tournament in the state.
The 53rd edition features 32 teams for the second straight year.
For a total of 61 games.
Spread across a 10-day period.
The tournament starts this Saturday with three first-round games before five more first-round games on Monday, Dec. 23 and then the final eight first-round games spread out all during the day of Thursday, Dec. 26.
All the basketball culminates at 4 p.m. on New Year's Eve when the championship game takes place.
Stevenson and its Class of 2015 point guard, Jalen Brunson, will tip off its stay at the tournament with an 8 p.m. game on Dec. 23 against Chicago Urban Prep West.
That's the player and team, if you're an Illinois fan, that you want to follow.
Brunson is an Illinois target, and it was at this tournament last year where more attention was put on the son of former NBA guard Rick Brunson from college coaches, fans and media.
All 32 teams are from Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, so you're bound to see a future Division I player if you only stick around for one day of the extravaganza.
State Farm Holiday Classic
Technically this tournament in Bloomington-Normal, entering its 35th year, has the same number of teams as the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
But it is split up into a small-school and large-school bracket.
On both the boys' side and girls' side.
Fans can check out Michael Finke in this one.
He and his Centennial teammates will open against Chicago North Lawndale (rematch of 2009 Class 3A state semifinal game) at 1 p.m. on Dec. 26 at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan.
A win allows Finke and the Chargers to sleep in a bit the following day before a 9 p.m. quarterfinal game against either North Chicago or Springfield at Normal West High School on Dec. 27.
A loss, however, a 9:30 a.m. consolation quarterfinal game on Dec. 27 at Normal West High School.
The tournament is set to conclude with a 5:15 p.m. tip of the title game on Dec. 30 at the Shirk Center.
The tournament always has a good draw of players spread throughout the different locales (Shirk Center, Normal West, U.S. Cellular Coliseum and Normal Community High School), but it is somewhat challenging to keep all the pairings and times straight.
Regardless, quality basketball will take part in the center of the state, and Finke should draw a curious crowd to all of Centennial's games.
If you're from Illinois and this is one tournament you haven't heard of, don't fret.
It's not a new tournament in the Land of Lincoln.
Leron Black and his Memphis (Tenn.) White Station teammates will head to Honolulu.
Off the mainland. Like in Hawaii.
Black and the Spartans open up play in the 16-team Iolani Prep Classic tonight against Fuxin New Star out of China.
Like the country.
Another Illinois recruiting target, Chicago St. Rita guard Charles Matthews, and his Mustangs are also enjoying the sights — and playing some basketball — in Hawaii this week.
The Mustangs start the tournament Wednesday evening against Kailua (Hawaii) High School.
Matthews, a Class of 2015 top-10 prospect, is still nursing an ankle injury that has held him out of the Mustangs' first four games.
Other top players expected to showcase their talents in Hawaii, aside from Black and Matthews, include UCLA recruit Kevon Looney from Milwaukee Hamilton High School, Florida recruit Chris Chiozza from White Station, Northwestern signee Vic Law from St. Rita and Penn State recruit Shep Garner from Philadelphia Roman Catholic High School.
Pekin Holiday Tournament
This was the tournament to check out last year when it came to Larry Austin Jr.
The combo guard from Springfield Lanphier, who was still on Illinois' radar at this time in 2012, won MVP honors as he helped his Lions to the tournament title.
Austin, now a Tennessee signee, and Lanphier are back.
With the top seed. Looking to dethrone the Lions in the three-day, 16-team tournament played at two gyms (Hawkins and Custer/Stoudt) are two teams who Illinois coaches will keep tabs on.
Plainfield East and its standout junior guard, Aaron Jordan, are the No. 3 seed in the tournament and open against East Moline (Ill.) United Township High School at 8 p.m. on Dec. 26.
Evanston and its talented freshman Nojel Eastern received the fourth seed and will start the tournament at 2:15 p.m. on Dec. 26 against Washington (Ill.) High School.
The tournament does a good job of getting teams from north of Interstate 80 down to Pekin but having enough local schools there to help draw in a decent crowd.