Scouting Fox area boys basketball holiday tournaments

The 58th Plano Christmas Classic will feature no shortage of high-voltage competition.

Burlington Central and Kaneland are both headed to the Reaper-hosted tournament where highly touted, headline-grabbing teams such as Peoria Notre Dame (No. 1 seed) and Yorkville Christian (No. 2 seed) will be in attendance.

Central, which was off to a 7-2 start that included a 5-0 Fox Valley Conference-starting ledger, is the No. 3 seed and opens play Dec. 27 at 9 a.m. against Coal City.

Gavin Sarvis, in limited duty due to injury, leads the Rockets in scoring at 15 points per game, while also averaging 4.3 steals. Nick Carpenter averages 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, while Zac Schmidt is at 10.4 ppg and 4.5 rebounds. Coach Brett Porto also has been high on the play of Drew Scharnowski.

Kaneland coach Erine Colombe said Yorkville Christian, Peoria Notre Dame and Central are probably the early favorites. "The field is strong and it will be a test for us," he said.

Kaneland is led by sophomores Troyer Carlson and Parker Violett.

"We have been impressed with how resilient the team has been," Colombe said. "We have lost a few players to injury early on and also to COVID protocols. The guys who have stepped into bigger roles have done a great job of competing."

The Knights open up action at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 27 against No. 8 seed Streator.

The tournament also features Hinckley-Big Rock, Morris, Lisle, Sandwich, Northridge Prep, host Plano, Longwood, Mendota and Newark.

At DeKalb:

Huntley, Geneva and Dundee-Crown are part of the long-standing Chuck Dayton Holiday Classic at DeKalb where the Red Raiders drew the No. 2 seed. Naperville Central has the top seed, while the host Barbs are three, Geneva four and Rockton Hononegah five.

Ben Ahmer averaged 15 points for the Red Raiders and is above 40% from 3. Aiden Wieczorek and Adam Guazzo have also contributed to the team's 8-2 start.

"I continue to be impressed by our group's overall competitiveness and willingness to play together," Huntley coach Will Benson said. "It's a fun group to coach."

D-C coach Lance Huber pegs the likes of those top four seeds Naperville Central, Huntley, DeKalb and Geneva as favorites going in.

"When you are coaching I think every game is tough," Huber explained. "I think we got a tough draw. We open with Plainfield East, which is very talented, and win or lose our next opponent will be a difficult matchup in Naperville Central or Rockford Guilford. The tournament will be a nice test to see where we stand and will give us an opportunity to see many different types of teams."

Gabe Rivera, Kennon Cook, Zach Ryza and Hunter Guyon have been leading the way for D-C of late.

"The thing that has impressed me so far is how our team has been accepting their roles and trying to excel in those particular roles," Huber said. "They have been receptive to constructive criticism and are working to improve each day. As with any team, there are some good days and bad days, and there will be more of those ahead, but we are hoping to have more good than bad."

At Pontiac:

St. Charles North heads to one of the more well-known tournaments in the state, the Pontiac Holiday tournament where Chicago Curie, Chicago Simeon, New Trier and Bloom Township are the top four seeds. "The entire 16-team field is tough," North Stars coach Tom Poulin said.

North has been on a roll with DuKane Conference wins against Wheaton North, Geneva and St. Charles East. Ned Hayes, Justin Hughes and Jude Love have been notables lately. North is shooting close to 40% from 3 for the season.

"I have been impressed by our commitment to improving defensively," Poulin said. "It has been our focus since the Thanksgiving tourney ended and we are defending much better as of late."

West Aurora is also part of the Pontiac field.

At Bloomington-Normal:

Aurora Christian will head south to the State Farm Classic in the Bloomington-Normal area. "This will be one of the toughest fields we have since in our six years there," Eagles coach Dan Beebe noted. Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin is the No. 1 seed, while St. Joe Ogden is No. 2. Aurora Christian is the No. 4 seed. Drew Meyers leads the Eagles at 14 ppg. "What impressed me about our team is the ability to play hard and play together," Beebe said.

At IC Catholic Prep/Westmont:

St. Edward, Aurora Central Catholic and Westminster Christian are part of the field at the IC Catholic Prep/Westmont co-hosted tournament. Robert Wilson leads the Green Wave in scoring at 16.5 ppg and also is shooting a robust 46% from 3 (36-for-77). Kaden Dawson, a 6-6 sophomore, and junior Ben Zielinski are at 10 points a game, while Jacob Breier is at 7 points and leads the team in assists and steals. "The thing that impresses me the most this year is the kids are learning how to win and accept their roles," said coach Andy Zielinski, whose team started 8-2. "We have had two quality wins against Genoa-Kingston and Bishop McNamara so far and are hoping to keep getting better."

Aurora Central Catholic has received strong play of late from Sam Carroll and Edrick Contreras.

"They continue to play hard and are learning a completely new style of basketball," Chargers coach Tim Swanson said. "Even amidst a society that wants instant results, they continue to work without the instant outcome."

Westminster Christian is paced by Justin Glanzer and Nathaniel Ephrem, while Justin McGinnis also has been a key contributor. "My team plays with heart and integrity," Warriors coach Jake Fritze said. "Their desire to grow in playing with character exceeds their desire to win, which is rare."

At Wheeling:

Hampshire heads up to the Wheeling Hardwood Classic where Whip-Purs coach Mike Featherly said Glenbrook South is probably the favorite with Glenbrook North, Deerfield, Fremd and Niles North also in the mix. "It's a loaded field," he said.

The Whips are led by Adam Ugochukwu and Nick Louis, who has provided strong 3-point shooting through the first part of the season. "What has impressed me with our team is the work ethic the players bring every day," Featherly said. "They continue to fight every game and understand that improvement is a process that doesn't come overnight."

At East Aurora:

Marmion is part of the East Aurora tournament field where coach Joe Piekarz noted Downers Grove North, the host Tomcats, Joliet Catholic and Neuqua Valley will be tough. Jabe Haith, Collin Wainscott and Trendell Whiting lead the Cadets on both ends of the floor.

"The team has been making huge strides since the first month of the season," Piekarz noted. "We play an incredibly difficult schedule, and the guys have embraced that and improved every game."

At Marengo:

Harvest Christian Academy is at Marengo for the holidays. Coach Bryan Bradshaw said the host Indians and Rochelle are teams to keep an eye on there.

One key bright spot for Harvest has been the play of Ben Lothery, who scored 29 points and 26 points in a pair of recent games. "Ben is having a big year," Bradshaw said.

At Jacobs:

What has long been established as one of the area's marquee and most-looked-forward-to Christmas tournaments kicked off Saturday.

The five-day Jim Hinkle Holiday Classic hosted by H.D. Jacobs High School begins with a full slate of games starting at 3 p.m., in Algonquin. The 16-team tournament, broken into four four-team pools, is loaded with area talent.

In addition to the host Golden Eagles, the Hinkle Classic features Bartlett, Cary-Grove, Streamwood, South Elgin, Crystal Lake South and Larkin.

"We have a great group of programs and coaches," Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts said. "After a year hiatus, we are excited to have everyone back in our gyms for the five days. It's nice having all of the lower levels in one place over the holidays."

Roberts explained the Jacobs format is unique in that pool play leads into two days of bracket play. "We like it," he said. "You can prepare for your first three games and everyone is guaranteed five games."

In terms of the field? Loyola Academy and Larkin are new additions. Loyola is coached by Roberts' good friend Tom Livatino. "We have some high-level teams with Loyola, Larkin, Barrington and Bartlett. They are all very talented and off to strong starts," Roberts said.

Waubonsie Valley, several area coaches added, is among the top teams in the field as well.

Larkin, averaging 71 points a game, is led by Damari Wheeler-Thomas (21 ppg, 5 apg, 5 spg), Fernando Perez (19 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg) and Jakob Blakely (15 ppg). Crystal Lake South, which got off to a 4-0 Fox Valley Conference start, is paced by Isaiah Kirkeeng (17 ppg, 9 rpg), Arnav Jain (15.8 ppg) and Cooper LePage (13 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg). Mike Clark, Zack Bauer and sophomore Jake Hornok have had the hot hand for Cary-Grove of late. Richard Santiago (14 ppg) and Cris Calderon (12 ppg) pace Streamwood, while short-handed Jacobs, slowed by injuries, had Brett Schlicker hit for 20 points recently against Crystal Lake South.


Batavia heads to Elmhurst and is part of the massive 32-team and well-run Jack Tosh Holiday Classic ... Elgin is part of the Maine East tournament in Park Ridge ... St. Charles East opens play next week in the Hinsdale Holiday Classic hosted by Hinsdale Central.

Batavia's Trent Tousana, pictured driving to the basket against Geneva's Jimmy Rasmussen in the Bulldogs' win Friday, and his teammates head to York's Jack Tosh Classic while the Vikings will be joined by Huntley and Dundee-Crown - among others - at DeKalb's annual Chuck Dayton tournament. Sean King/for Shaw Local
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