The Tosh, by gosh: How York’s boys basketball holiday tournament became one of the best around

The Jack Tosh Holiday Classic trophy is displayed in a case near the York High School gymnasium in Elmhurst where the Jack Tosh boys basketball holiday tournament became one of the biggest and best in the state. (John Starks/
York High School gymnasium in Elmhurst where the Jack Tosh boys basketball holiday tournament became one of the biggest and best in the state. (John Starks/
York High School gymnasium in Elmhurst where the Jack Tosh boys basketball holiday tournament became one of the biggest and best in the state. (John Starks/

A decade ago the additions of Metamora and Downers Grove North to York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic would not have merited much reaction beyond a few curious shoulder shrugs from even the most ardent high school basketball fans.

Metamora and Downers Grove North would have been regarded as “football schools.” And “The Tosh” was a struggling middle-aged hoops tournament that had seen better days since its inception in 1975 by York athletic director Jack Tosh.

But thanks to the vision of York tournament director and former head coach Vince Doran and the school’s administration, the Tosh is now a 32-team monster where five days in Elmhurst in late December are a destination rather than a way station for teams until they find something better. Metamora is coming a few hours away from outside of Peoria looking to defend its Class 3A championship. Downers Grove North is coming from a few minutes away looking to return to Champaign after finishing fourth in Class 4A last season.

Fans can move easily and quickly between the two adjacent gyms being used for just $5 a day. Those who can’t make it to the tournament can watch every game broadcast by York Student Media from Tuesday’s 8:30 a.m. opener between St. Laurence and Andrew to Saturday’s 6 p.m. championship game. And in the constant quest to improve the tournament every year the Tosh will incorporate a 35-second shot clock this year.

“It’s phenomenal,” said coach Kevin Katovich of defending tourney champion Rolling Meadows. “With the amount of talent there, you can walk into any gym and every team has players. For the championship game last year, the gym was packed and it was a great game. Kids from schools that lost come back to watch the championship game.”

A unique addition and perspective

Metamora, a community of around 4,000 about 16 miles northeast of downtown Peoria, is the first team from outside the Chicago area to participate in the Tosh. The Redbirds are looking to make a third consecutive trip to Champaign — they lost a double-overtime 3A title-game heartbreaker in 2022 — and added 6-foot-8 Iowa recruit Cooper Koch after he transferred from Peoria Notre Dame.

“Metamora is such a great addition for a plethora of reasons,” Doran said of the team that will open against newcomer Hansberry from Chicago at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“We’re looking forward to it and I think it will be a blast,” said Metamora coach Danny Grieves, who is retiring after this season. “We have a great following. Our cheerleaders will come up the second or third day and we travel well. It was a sea of red the last two years down there at state.”

Last year Metamora really traveled to a tournament in Gulfport, Mississippi, where Grieves coached for 14 years before the 1976 Peoria High graduate returned to his central Illinois roots in 2011. Grieves believed that trip was a good challenge for his team, after playing at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington-Normal, and he jumped when he saw the opportunity to come up to York for the next two years because it fit the bill of a great atmosphere with people who know basketball.

Grieves understands the rich history of basketball in the state since he believes the Peoria High team his senior year was better than the one that won a Class AA title a year later. He was also a coach in Peoria at Notre Dame and now-shuttered Woodruff before going to Mississippi. Grieves, who won a state title in Gulfport, said the holiday tournaments matter in Mississippi but don’t have the same depth as Illinois.

“They are (important) but a lot smaller,” Grieves said. “Gulfport was eight teams and they would usually bring teams in from Florida and Texas as well. They don’t pack them in with 16- and 32-team tourneys because there aren’t enough teams and there aren’t enough schools.”

Even people at Metamora were skeptical that Grieves could build a program capable of competing in events such as the Tosh and the prestigious Kevin Brown Tournament of Champions at Thanksgiving in nearby Washington. The school’s football hardware of three state-title and seven runner-up trophies outnumbered the six boys basketball regional plaques in 83 years when he arrived.

Now Grieves has another Champaign-caliber team with Koch, whose dad, J.R., was a starter at Iowa and played professionally in the U.S. and overseas, Winona State-bound guard Tyler Mason and 6-5 junior Division I prospect Matthew Zobrist. And he wouldn’t bring a team like this to just any tournament.

“Everything we’ve heard about the Jack Tosh Tournament was top-shelf,” Grieves said. “We’re pretty excited.”

Downers moves up

Downers Grove North coach Jim Thomas recalled going with his dad to tournament games at East Aurora where they had to buy tickets before the event in its historic gym. Thomas also got his team in there for its holiday tournament to get the experience of playing on the same floor where it was assigned for a sectional.

But Thomas said the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the tournament and he needed to find a new home. It came down to the Tosh or the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, which started in 2015 and has gained significant traction under the direction of former Proviso West tourney director Joe Spagnolo. Thomas ultimately left it up to his returning seniors.

“In the end it was their decision,” said Thomas, whose team opens against Highland Park at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. “I was working with Vinnie (Doran) and ‘Spags’ and gave the info to our seniors who were returning. They went with the Tosh.

“Like a lot of kids, they were paying to go over there after our own stuff to watch their buddies they play AAU with. You’ve got the two gyms and they’ve got a good vibe going on over there.”

One of the big pluses for Thomas in a tournament that now features six of the 14 teams from the West Suburban Conference was the guarantee of not playing anyone else on his schedule before the third round.

Football is still a big deal for the Trojans, who finished second in Class 7A this fall and won a state title in 2004. Now the excitement is carrying over to basketball with Princeton-bound Jack Stanton leading a team trying to repeat the magic of last year’s 32-5 season with a fourth-place finish in Champaign. They could meet Rolling Meadows in the quarterfinals.

“One of the big things with our team is finding a place to see where we’re at at this time of year,” Thomas said. “We’re still trying to mix in young guys and football guys and in the end we’re going to get tested here. With the allure of the entire tournament you find out if you can string two, three, four or five days together. It will be a good evaluation for us.”

Finding a home

Some coaches might view having players such as Max and Cam Christie hounded for autographs as a distraction. Katovich sees it as part of the attraction of bringing teams to York that featured Max, now in his second year with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Cam, a freshman at Minnesota.

“There is so much buzz around it now,” Katovich said, “and it’s all due to Vince and the York people.”

Katovich was taking Rolling Meadows to Elgin when cracks in the foundation during the 2000s saw concerned coaches of high-profile programs departing the once-prestigious tournament that eventually disbanded. He said he talked with then-Highland Park coach Paul Harris about starting their own tourney when they made the jump to the event Doran started when he was coaching at Hinsdale South.

He’s glad he followed Doran to York. Especially since little things such as stats and broadcasts from every game are part of what adds up to significant value.

“They’re never behind schedule and things run perfectly smooth,” Katovich said. “When you walk in people are there to greet you and they are there afterward if you need anything. For $5 a day — there are AAU tournaments in the summer that cost more than that. I can’t think of a more first-class run tournament.”

Katovich doesn’t have any Christies anymore, but his junior-dominated team led by 6-7 Ian Miletic and Jack Duffer enters the tourney with only one loss and a 34-game winning streak in the Mid-Suburban East. The Mustangs’ 10 a.m. opener is a meeting of the last two tourney champs and 2022 4A champion Glenbard West.

“Even when you lose, it doesn't feel like a loss because you know you lost to a good team,” Katovich said. “Now you go to the other side and it’s, ‘Oh, we’ve got to play this team and they’re really good.

“Our kids absolutely love it. Every team has got a kid you want to see play.”

Worth the waiting list

The Tosh once seemed to be more of a stepping stone for rising programs. Schaumburg had left for Proviso West and Thornwood for the State Farm Classic when they met in the historic 2001 AA title game won by the Saxons. Glenbrook North had also departed for Proviso West when Jon Scheyer, now the Duke coach, was captivating capacity crowds.

Now, Katovich said he has fellow coaches asking him if he can put in a good word for their team about getting into the Tosh. It’s not easy. Doran said the average turnover is two to three teams a year.

“There are always teams out there that want to get in and we’re pretty selective with the mix of teams,” Doran said. “One thing we’ve done a nice job of along with (York athletic director) Rob Wagner is being pretty selective and finding the right mix. A driver for us is the coach of the program. I love all our coaches and I’m friends with all of them and that really makes the tourney go.”

As a result there are teams such as Palatine that haven’t gone anywhere else since coming to York in 1982 when Tosh was still the school’s athletic director. Wagner, the stats crew led by Mark Tomczak and the student media crew that does a big preview show, which featured interviews with NBA alums Max Christie and Max Strus (Stagg) last year and Northwestern coach Chris Collins (Glenbrook North) this year, adds to the interest.

Ultimately it comes down to seeing high-level players and teams like perennial tourney contender and state threat Bolingbrook, Glenbrook South, Lyons or St. Patrick. If you’re an Illinois fan, at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday you can see future 6-10 Illini Jason Jakstys of Yorkville go up against St. Ignatius junior Phoenix Gill, the son of 1989 Flying Illini star and 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. York’s A.J. Levine (Penn), St. Laurence’s Josh Pickett (Denver), Palatine’s Connor May (Washington University in St. Louis) and Naperville North’s Luke Williams, a Purdue football recruit, are just a few other individual attractions.

“It’s a destination spot and we have a lot of momentum going in the right direction,” Doran said. “It’s a positive for the community, the school and high school basketball.

“For $5 with the staggered start times you can watch legitimately 16 endings of a high school game in a day. If you’re a high school hoops junkie, it’s nirvana.”

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