The most wonderful time of the year is here.
Holiday high school basketball tournaments.
Here's a look at five Illinois holiday tournaments where you can see either Illinois recruits, commits (hello Michael Finke) or targets.
— Go there. At least once. You won't regret it. The 82nd annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament will feature Illinois recruits Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate of Chicago Simeon, along with sophomore forward D.J. Williams, a Class of 2015 target. Not only is Simeon at the 16-team tournament in Central Illinois (the Wolverines open at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 27 against East Moline United Township (Ill.) High School), but so is Chicago Curie and junior big man Cliff Alexander, one of the top five players in the Class of 2014. Curie and Alexander begin the tournament as a precursor to Simeon, tipping off against Plainfield North (Ill.) High School at 6 p.m. on Dec. 27. Those two Chicago Public League schools could square off in a 2:30 p.m. semifinal on Saturday, Dec. 29 if the teams win their first two games.
— The preeminent Southern Illinois tournament happens in Centralia, but this Meto East staple for the past 29 years will have Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill from Belleville East (Ill.) High School. Hill and his 8-0 Lancers are the 16-team tournament's top seed. But you'll have to get up early on Dec. 27 to see Hill in person. Belleville East plays the first game of the tournament at 9 a.m. against Riverview Gardens (Mo.) High School.
— While Illinois fans are trying to figure out Springfield Lanphier junior Larry Austin Jr. (He's a point guard! No, he's a shooting guard! Can he handle? Can he score?), they can make their own evaluations by traveling to Pekin, just a short jaunt from Carver Arena in downtown Peoria where Austin led the Lanphiers to the Class 3A state semifinals last year. Lanphier opens its holiday stay at the 48th annual 16-team tournament at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 27 against Limestone.
— Champaign Centennial's Michael Finke will lead his 9-2 Chargers into the 34th annual State Farm Classic, held at four different sites in Bloomington-Normal area. (Illinois Wesleyan University's Shirk Center, Bloomington's U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Normal Community High School and Normal West High School). Finke and Centennial tip off the 16-team large school tournament at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 26 against Plainfield South (Ill.) High School at Normal West.
5. Proviso West
— Yes, Illinois needs a point guard in the Class of 2014. Yes, scholarships are scarce (all right, non-existent right now for that potential recruit). And with Finke filling the need of a post player who can step out and shoot, other colleges will go hard at Benet Academy junior forward Sean O'Mara, who has a scholarship offer from Illinois. Even if O'Mara doesn't wind up at Illinois, his Redwings are one of 32 teams (that's right, 32) at the tournament that started in 1961 and has featured some of the state's top players (Dee Brown, Kevin Garnett, Michael Finley, Kiwane Garris and many, many more). Benet tips off at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday against Chicago Urban Prep West. Other players to watch include St. Charles East senior and Purdue commit Kendall Stephens, Class of 2015 prospects Glyn Watson and Jordah Ash of Westchester St. Joseph and Proviso East senior and Southern Methodist commit Sterling Brown, among others.