Sunday, December 31, 2006

Plenty of big holiday winners

POINT #1 .... As previously mentioned, there were two teams in particular that had the most to prove this holiday basketball season. Lincoln Park and T.F. North both answered the bell. Lincoln Park can now use the Big Dipper Tournament title at Rich South as a springboard to the second half. There is no question that, on paper, Lincoln Park is one of the five or six most talented teams in the state. Now, by getting past Big Dipper nemesis Thornton, and the claiming the title, coach Tom Livatino's club can focus on winning a city title.

T.F. North may not have won the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, but the third-place finish they brought back to Calumet City proved a lot of critics and doubters wrong. The Meteors may not always look pretty in their style, but the 12-1 record they have heading into January is a statement that this is not the T.F. North team of the past two years. Senior Demond Watt was a monster at Proviso West. If Watt, who has had problems elevating his play on a consistent basis, continues to play at the level he did at Proviso, this is truly a different team. I look for T.F. North and Thornwood, which won the State Farm Holiday Classic in Bloomington, to be near the top of the rugged SICA East and separate themselves from the likes of Bloom and Thornton.

POINT #2 .... There are very few times when the college coaches, no matter what level they are at in Division I, beat the talent evaluators and recruiting services to the punch on a player. That is, in a way, what has happened when it comes to Iman Shumpert of Oak Park-River Forest. The 6-3 junior guard's feverish recruiting attention from numerous college coaches was expected. However, the high-major Division I interest didn't really equate to where Shumpert has been rated by the experts.

After seeing Shumpert's progression from this past summer to what he displayed at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, the Hoops Report has now elevated Shumpert to No. 6 among all junior prospects. It wasn't always about the production with Shumpert while at Pontiac, but just what he offers as a talented prospect. He's so long and possesses great length, which along with his great natural instincts, he utilizes defensively by getting in the passing lanes and with his man-to-man defense. He's a solid shooter, although he needs to be a little more consistent with his shot, and he features a mid-range game that is becoming more and more of a lost art among high school players. Shumpert's stock is soaring and look for it to continue to soar between now and next summer's AAU play.

POINT #3 .... After spending a week traveling the state, going from gym to gym, tournament to tournament, the Pontiac Holiday Tournament remains my favorite stop along the holiday tournament road. There is just no place that provides as much as Pontiac. For more on the Hoops Report's thoughts on the holiday tournaments, you can find it in the printable copy of the Hoops Report due out in early January (subscription information can be found below). If I had to rank the top spots to visit it would look like this: 1) Pontiac Holiday Tournament 2) Proviso West Holiday Tournament 3) Pekin Holiday Tournament 4) State Farm Classic in Bloomington 5) Big Dipper Tournament at Rich South

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