From Aurora Central Catholic to West Aurora basically every local boys basketball team got something out of the holiday tournament season.
Some gains were minimal: Aurora Central escaped East Aurora with a 1-3 record, 3.9 seconds and an Oak Lawn 3-pointer in overtime from a fifth-place finish. Yet as Chargers coach Nathan Drye said, the Chargers simply got better.
Until 6-7 Sean Anger returns this month from a broken collarbone suffered during football season, the Chargers will make do shooting 3-pointers. Freshmen Brett Czerak and Mac Cowen, ACC's leading scorers in their 73-71 overtime loss to Oak Lawn, had Drye feeling positive.
"I think we're starting to play better," he said. "The kids are figuring it out. We didn't necessarily get over the hump, but we had a good chance to win two of those games (Oak Lawn and Prosser, a 79-71 outcome)."
Other teams' gains were more profound. At East Aurora, Geneva dispatched Upstate Eight Valley heavy Neuqua Valley, then withstood the host school's last gasp before kicking it in to win the Vikings' first Christmas tournament since 2008. Forward Nate Navigato was named the tournament most valuable player and guard Chris Parrilli also was a first-team selection for a squad that has size, guard play, defense and confidence.
Aurora Christian entered Plano as the tournament's No. 12 seed. The Eagles beat No. 5 Genoa-Kingston and No. 13 Newark before getting bumped by top-seeded and eventual champion Ottawa.
Despite the side affects of the death of an older brother and critical status of a sister of senior guard Johnathan Harrell as they drove home after watching him play, Aurora Christian captured third-place with a 63-56 win over No. 2 seed Burlington Central. Now for the Eagles to carry that over to their first game of 2014, Friday at Marmion.
At the vaunted Pontiac Tournament, both St. Charles North and West Aurora flirted with upsets against teams that eventually finished first and second.
Veteran Daily Herald correspondent Kevin McGavin called No. 1 seed Curie's 74-73 overtime win over West Aurora one of the top games he's covered. Although the Blackhawks got edged by Oak Park 75-72 in the third-place game, all-tournament voters felt strongly enough about West Aurora to put guard Jontrell Walker onto the first team and junior forward Roland Griffin on the second team. Carleton Williams, the 6-foot-8 sophomore, gained great experience scoring double-figures against the likes of Curie's Cliff Alexander.
St. Charles North was right there with the No. 2 seed at Pontiac, falling 82-74 in three overtimes to Simeon. Alec Goetz scored 36 in that one, a career high that helped the senior guard also reap first-team honors.
Moving forward, a nice thing for North Stars coach Tom Poulin is he had three different players lead his team in three games at Pontiac. Jake Ludwig scored 20 in a win over Bloomington, Goetz notched his astropoints against Simeon (hitting eight 3-pointers) and then junior swingman Jack Callaghan scored 17 against Bloom.
For most teams the holiday tournaments are about assessing and moving forward. At DeKalb, Marmion went 3-0 until losing to tourney runner-up Belvidere and then West Chicago to finish in fourth place.
Last weekend the Cadets lost to Notre Dame, traditionally a strong East Suburban Catholic Conference squad, then beat Buffalo Grove by 16 points. After denting Notre Dame for 25 points, Jake Esp's 22 against Buffalo Grove led four in double figures for Marmion, while the Cadets nearly doubled Buffalo Grove's rebounding total.
That's called moving in the right direction, a thought mirrored by Kaneland coach Brian Johnson.
"The Plano Tournament allowed us to see the improvements that need to be made for the second half of the season," he said. "Even though we lost our first game of the tournament to Newark, we were able to go away with a 3-1 record."
One of Johnson's high points at Plano was seeing 6-3 senior Tyler Carlson come into his own. Back in a normal game (though playing at the United Center is not normal), were it not for Geneva's Navigato hitting a game-winning 3-pointer in the waning moments of a 54-51 Vikings win over Kaneland, Carlson may have been the hero after racking up his third straight double-double.
"That game against Geneva, I saw a team that is maturing and realizing the effort that needs to be made to be competitive on a daily basis," Johnson said.
Batavia didn't match last season's third-place finish at the Elgin Holiday Tournament, but like Kaneland the Bulldogs went 3-1 overall. Batavia's sole loss came to Elgin runner-up Phillips, by a 7-point margin, before the Bulldogs squashed Walther Christian and Rockford East to finish fifth.
Still, all-tourney selections Micah Coffey and Chasen Peez look for another bump in execution after falling to South Elgin once out of the holidays. Good news in that game, though, was the first double-digit game by forward Tucker Knox.
Finally, at one of the area's top tournaments, St. Charles East coach Patrick Woods got out of Proviso West what he sought: competition.
"We were challenged every game," he said. "It's a great tournament."
Great enough that despite St. Charles East reaching the consolation championship and senior guard Dom Adduci averaging 19.2 points with a career high of 36 in an 88-77 win over Libertyville, no Saint made the exclusive all-tourney team.
Although St. Charles East lost to Evanston last Saturday after the tournament, Woods hopes the rebounding of players like A.J. Washington and Mick Vyzral continues Friday when St. Charles East hosts its "Brawlers and Ballers" event -- a doubleheader of wrestling against Neuqua Valley and boys basketball against Elgin.
"Offensively we've been great," Woods said. "In the games we've won recently we've won the rebounding battle, so hopefully that'll continue."