Preps Talk

Breaking down the best Illinois holiday tournaments

Breaking down the best Illinois holiday tournaments

Since we're hitting late December it means that its time for holiday tournaments to get going. With a lot of talented teams and games happening under one roof, holiday tournaments are popular destinations for fans to see a lot of games during this time of year as we take a look at some of the best tournaments to see in Illinois.

The IHSA has also put together a great list of links for holiday tournaments at their website. You can also follow along with our holiday tournament coverage at CSNChicago.com along with our Twitter handle, @CSNPreps, and High School Lites every Friday night at 11 p.m. on CSN. 

Here's six holiday tournaments you should try to check out in the next few weeks. 

Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic

DATES: Dec. 27-Dec. 30

FAVORITE: Bolingbrook enters the field with a big reputation and a deep and athletic lineup as the Raiders are off to a great start. Senior Nana Akenton is getting All-Area buzz and Bolingbrook has plenty of weapons around him. 

DARK HORSE: Keep an eye out for the winner of the DePaul Prep/Crete-Monee game. Both of those teams can give Stevenson a game if the Patriots also advance and both DePaul and Crete-Monee have Division I talents in Perry Cowan and Dwayne Rose.

NOTES: Since California school Crespi Carmelite captured the title last year in the tournament's first year, the event is still looking to crown its first champion from Illinois. This is an impressive field for a second-year event.

Pontiac Holiday Tournament

DATES: Dec. 28 - Dec. 30

FAVORITE: Curie and Simeon enter this tournament on a collision course to play again in the championship. Since the Condors are the defending Pontiac champions who also won the Class 4A state championship, they're the favorites again here with its senior-laden perimeter. 

DARK HORSE: Benet was off to an unbeaten start before losses to St. Viator and Conant in the last week. The Redwings are always tough in tournament settings and should be a major challenge on Curie's side of the bracket.

NOTES: This team is ridiculously loaded as it includes a staggering five teams in the CSN Preps Power Rankings. That doesn't even include talented downstate programs like Bloomington and Peoria Manual as well as teams with recent losses like Benet and West Aurora.

Proviso West Holiday Tournament

DATES: Dec. 27- Dec. 30

FAVORITE: Morgan Park enters the field with the most talent as junior Ayo Dosunmu could be the best player in the field. Senior Melo Burrell is also having a solid start and the Mustangs have waves of bodies they can throw at people.

DARK HORSE: It seems silly to call Bogan a darkhorse but the Bengals have a chance to disrupt things in this bracket. With losses to Simeon and Morgan Park already, the Bengals have played a tough schedule as they won't be scared at all with a potential game with Fenwick in the second round.

NOTES: Another tremendous field at Proviso West as this has a ton of star power and great teams. Whitney Young, Uplift, St. Joseph, Hillcrest, and Downers North have all been ranked at some point this season as this should be a deep group competing for the title.

Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament at York

DATES: Dec. 26-Dec. 30

FAVORITE: In a field of 32 teams it's always hard to pick a favorite but Conant has the talent, experience and deep playoff run to be a popular pick. Senior guard Jimmy Sotos is arguably the best player in the field at York while the Cougars also have size with Ryan Davis and Michael Downing.

DARK HORSE: Downers South is sitting just outside the CSN Preps Power Rankings after a lofty preseason ranking but they've been on a recent hot stretch, including a solid win over previously beaten Downers North. 

NOTES: St. Patrick and De La Salle are the other ranked teams in this field while Naperville North, St. Ignatius, York and Wheaton North are all intriguing teams in this field. 

State Farm Holiday Tournament at Bloomington

DATES: Dec. 27-Dec. 30

FAVORITE: North Lawndale is one of the premier teams in the city and state this season as the Phoenix have already played a tough schedule that includes losses to Joliet West and Whitney Young. With talented seniors like Carlos Hines (Northern Arizona) and Martrell Barnes, North Lawndale will be tough to beat. 

DARK HORSE: We're not really sure how good Wheaton-Warrenville South is with a 10-0 start but we'll find out with this field. 

NOTES: The State Farm field also includes girls Large and Small School divisions as well as a boys Small School division. 

Wheeling Hardwood Classic

DATES: Dec. 27-Dec. 30

FAVORITE: Fremd sits unbeaten at 9-0 on the season as they're already earned quality wins over Conant and Notre Dame -- who sits in the bottom half of the Wheeling field.

DARK HORSE: They're one of the younger teams in the field but Waukegan (6-3) has a chance to be a major factor thanks to its overall talent. Senior Carson Newsome (Milwaukee) is joined by three talented sophomores to make for an intriguing team.

NOTES: Watch for Libertyville junior Drew Peterson in the top half of the bracket. High-major programs have recently been in to see Peterson and he's the type of talent who can help the Wildcats go on a big run.

67 Days to Kickoff: Kaneland

67 Days to Kickoff: Kaneland

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Kaneland

Head coach: Pat Ryan

Assistant coaches: Ryan Gierke, Mike Thorgesen, Drew Sterkel, John Pavlak, Matt Smith, Ryan Noel, Zach Martinelli, Isaiah Baerenklau, Alec Aurelio, Trevor McKeown and Mike Lotz

How they fared in 2018: 7-4 (3-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East Conference). Kaneland made the Class 6A state playoff field, defeated Von Steuben then lost to Cary-Grove in second round action. 

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Hinsdale South
Sept. 6 @ Geneva
Sept. 13 vs Sycamore
Sept. 20 @ Sandwich
Sept. 27 @ Rochelle
Oct. 4 @ Plano
Oct. 11 vs Ottawa
Oct. 18 @ Morris
Oct. 25 vs La Salle-Peru

[MORE: 96 Days to Kickoff - Morris]

Biggest storyline: A drive on Interstate Eight. Can the Knights keep rolling in their new conference?

Names to watch this season: QB Joe Smith (Sr.), WR/KR Max Gagne (Sr.), OL/DL Sam Pryor (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Knights welcome back several returning starters but the loss of RB Jonathon Alstott (graduation) will need to be accounted for this fall. 

EDGY's Early Take: The Knights will look to make the IHSA playoffs for the 22nd time in the past 25 seasons, but the big storyline this year is the Interstate Eight Conference. Kaneland had a very successful run in the now-defunct Northern Illinois Big 12 East. Will the momentum continue? The Knights will welcome back 13 returning starters (eight offense, four defense). The offense may need to help out a less-experienced defense, especially early on this season. Kaneland is about as battle-tested as anyone coming from the Northern Illinois Big 12 East. Look for the the Knights to challenge for a conference title in 2019. 

College coaches flock to Illinois as state benefits from new June live evaluation period

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

College coaches flock to Illinois as state benefits from new June live evaluation period

College basketball's renovated recruiting calendar had a lot of people skeptical. 

The newly-appointed June live evaluation period would theoretically allow college coaches to evaluate high school prospects with their high school teams instead of their AAU teams. The period also limited the number of players who could even be seen.

Which left Illinois in a unique position entering the first June scholastic evaluation period of the modern recruiting era this past weekend.  

With only 29 total events in 20 different states -- plus select teams from surrounding states -- over two weekends, there weren't a lot of events for college coaches to choose from. The NCAA's hastily-appointed June period also imposed limitations bounded by its rulebook and association with the NFHS. 

However, the new rules didn't hinder anything for high school players from Illinois. With an astounding six of the 29 June-period events for the month, Illinois high school basketball players will be seen by more college coaches than any other state during this month's live evaluation period.   

Since the IHSA already allowed (and encouraged) summer basketball during the month of June, Illinois high school players are accustomed to being with their scholastic teams in shootouts, college team camps and summer leagues during the month. The infrastructure was also in place for well-run events -- some already going for decades -- to easily allow for college coaches to come in and watch competitive high school events.

Most-importantly, it generated dozens of scholarship offers for the state's high school players as Riverside-Brookfield, Zion-Benton and other schools hosted hundreds of Illinois high school games during the first of two live-period weekends this past weekend.   

Other states scrambled to put together camps or tournaments for college coaches to watch their high school players. For some, football or baseball is the focus for June while basketball isn't even an option during the summer in certain states.  

California, New York, Florida and Texas all chose not to host June basketball events for college coaches. North Carolina is among a group of states where public and private schools operate under different state associations. So only certain schools could participate in June events.

While other states like Georgia and the West Coast's Section 7 in Arizona also created positive reviews for quality June events, the well-known Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, along with the newly-created Illinois/Wisconsin Border Battle event at Zion-Benton, drove hundreds of Division I college coaches to Illinois.

And those college coaches saw some very competitive games at Riverside-Brookfield that gave them a unique evaluation perspective. 

Illinois high school teams have been playing together most of the month, the games were more crisp at certain times than other places as college coaches had good things to say about the level of play here compared to other events. The Riverside-Brookfield final day, in particular, drew positive reviews for the level of competition as teams went hard during bracket play.

Star senior talents like Whitney Young's D.J Steward and Tyler Beard helped entice high-major coaches to attend the event which led to junior talents like Fenwick's Bryce Hopkins and Notre Dame's Louis Lesmond earning high-major scholarship offers. Mid- and low-major coaches also descended on Illinois from all over the country as senior standouts picked up waves of scholarship offers. 

College coaches at all levels also got to evaluate and get early looks at younger players in the state -- some of them rising freshmen who just joined the team this month. Some freshmen and sophomores created strong future impressions for later recruiting classes as college coaches follow up with them in the future.

All of these same players will still have an opportunity to play in front of college coaches next weekend when Ridgewood and Rockford both host additional Illinois high school events. More offers should be handed out by then as certain colleges will make Illinois players a priority to watch the rest of the summer.  

June also gives Illinois players a head start for the July evaluation period since college coaches can see who is worth keeping an eye on while also adding new recruitable players to their lists.

Overall, Illinois benefits from the new NCAA June period more than any other state this summer. The opening weekend was attended by hundreds of college coaches and was a huge success. Only nine total events will be played during the second weekend as Illinois should get many more coaches inside the state in the coming days.