Instead of playing in a tournament over the holidays, the Grayslake North boys basketball team will be in tournament-mode over the Martin Luther King long weekend.
The Teamworks Invite in downstate Illinois gives teams such as Grayslake North a chance to not only compete for a championship but to enjoy a team bonding experience via an extended road trip.
The tournament also gives host school Washington a chance to show off its resiliency.
The town of Washington, outside of Peoria, was devastated by a massive tornado in November. Much of the town was destroyed and has been in clean-up mode ever since.
The high school, where the tournament will also feature Peoria Notre Dame, Alton and Illinois Valley Central, was unscathed.
"Our kids knew (back in November) that we were going to be playing in that tournament at Washington, and we actually played them in a summer game, so they were very concerned when they heard about the tornado," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "They had that connection to Washington."
Grunloh also has a very personal connection to Washington.
His cousin, Kevin Brown, is the head boys varsity basketball coach at Washington High School. Todd and Kevin were thrilled to be able to schedule into the same tournament.
"I remember I was watching the (Chicago) Bears game when I heard about the tornado and I was so worried about Kevin and his family," said Grunloh, a central Illinois native who coached under Brown at Bloomington Central Catholic for one year when he was still in college. "Thankfully, Kevin's house was OK and everyone in his family was OK.
"His wife is the State Farm agent in Washington and she's talked about how bad it all was. It was just really bad."
Washington was immediately inundated with all kinds of help and donations. But Grunloh made sure to ask Brown if there was anything more he and his players could do when they come down for the tournament.
"Kevin says they've gotten so much, in terms of clothes and supplies and things like that, that they almost don't know what to do with it all," Grunloh said. "But he said one thing they could use is athletic gear, particularly basketball stuff. He says that four of his players are completely without a home and could use some help with athletic supplies."
A broken foot is never a good thing in sports.
But Grayslake North sophomore Aidan Einloth has made a relatively quick recovery from the broken foot he suffered during soccer season in the fall.
He was playing hoops by Thanksgiving, although not quite at full strength.
"Aidan was really limited at the start of the season," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "The one way you could really see it was that Aidan couldn't jump all that well. And he's our best rebounder, so we had trouble rebounding at the start of the season."
In an early nonconference game, Wauconda took advantage and piled up putback after putback in a win over Grayslake North.
The Knights haven't been hurt like that lately. Einloth's foot is getting close to fully healed and his jumping ability has returned. The 6-foot-4 Einloth racked up 16 rebounds in a late December game against Antioch.
On the season, Einloth is averaging about 8 rebounds to go along with his team-leading 14 points per game.
"We are rebounding a lot better, now that Aidan can jump again," Grunloh said.