January means shootout season, and a bunch of DuPage County boys basketball teams will begin taking part this weekend.
Wheaton Warrenville South again plays host to the most intriguing shootout of the weekend, the 16-team bracketed tournament where competitors face the grind of two games on Saturday and two on Monday.
Oak Park, WW South, Benet, Auburn, Warren, Lake Forest Academy, York and Notre Dame are the top eight seeds at the WW South MLK Tournament, but there's an air of uncertainty with six new teams in the field.
Chicago U-High, Clark, Lake Forest Academy, Morton, Plainfield East and Schaumburg Christian are the newcomers hoping to make a splash over the three-day weekend.
"Those are pretty solid teams in the top eight," said WW South coach Mike Healy. "We'll see what happens. It'll look different from the past few years."
Benet, WW South and York all sit in the top half of bracket. The Tigers and York could meet in the second round Saturday night while Benet would await that winner in Monday's semifinals if the Redwings win both their Saturday games.
"It's a nice little break to do something different," Healy said. "Our kids love it. They want to play. They don't want to practice."
In a strange twist of scheduling, Naperville Central and Willowbrook face each other in Saturday's opening round of the Sterling MLK Classic. About 75 miles north, Neuqua Valley will take its traditional trip to the Rockton tournament.
Addison Trail and Waubonsie Valley compete at Lake Zurich, Wheaton Academy plays at Burlington Central, and St. Francis continues pool play at the shootout hosted by DePaul Prep and Loyola.
Downers Grove North holds its annual one-day shootout on Saturday. In addition to the Trojans, Hinsdale Central and Wheaton North are part of the three-game event.
Gimre from downtown:
This happened in DeKalb over Christmas but West Chicago coach Bill Recchia hadn't seen it before and certainly not since.
In the first quarter of a 62-48 win over Ridgewood, Wildcats senior guard Jason Gimre went 8 of 8 from the 3-point arc and scored his team's first 26 points.
"He just kept finding open spots against their zone and kept knocking down shots. It was amazing," said Recchia, whose club entered Thursday 6-8 overall, 0-3 in the Upstate Eight Valley.
Gimre finished with nine 3s against Ridgewood. He went 8 for 8 from the foul line, collected 2 steals and scored 39 points.
Recchia, who as a Wildcat once scored 39 points against Marmion, said players from other teams sitting in DeKalb's stands cheered Gimre on.
"It was so cool because people who had no alliance with Ridgewood or West Chicago were going nuts in the stands watching this shooting display," he said.
It was an interesting weekend in the DuPage Valley Conference, where most of the teams faced a double dip of Friday and Saturday league games. School still wasn't in session and nobody had played in about a week.
An odd way to start the new year, to say the least.
"It was different but we had some good practices leading up to the weekend," said Naperville North coach Jeff Powers. "For us it was great."
You can say that again.
Naperville North (13-1, 5-0) swept its weekend games against Glenbard North and Neuqua Valley, scoring 79 and 75 points while winning by an average margin of nearly 30 points. Combined with Naperville Central's Friday victory over Wheaton Warrenville South, the Huskies found themselves in sole possession of first place in the DVC by Saturday night.
The Huskies face their biggest test of the season this Friday when they welcome Naperville Central (11-2, 4-1) to the north side for a pivotal cross-town game.
Emotions will be high for the much-anticipated showdown that'll also feature a tribute to Mark Lindo. The Huskies' former varsity basketball coach and current assistant baseball coach is retiring from teaching at the end of the school year.
"It should be a great atmosphere," Powers said. "Considering the records, I don't know how much more exciting it could get."
Westmont (13-1, 5-0 Interstate Eight) is off to its best start since the 1999-2000 season. That team, led by junior Pierre Pierce, lost its first game then won 28 straight before losing in the supersectionals to Bishop McNamara.
"There were some really, really good other players by his side, but everything ran through Pierre. He was the go-to guy," said Sentinels coach Craig Etheridge.
"This year it's almost the complete opposite. We have five, six different guys who we can go through. Nobody ever really puts up big numbers, but we do enough as a team to get by. We have that balanced attack that makes it difficult for people to stop us."
The team that is successful against Westmont is big and physical -- like Montini, which also shot the lights out in a 76-55 Broncos win at the ICCP/Westmont Tournament -- because the Sentinels are neither.
Troy Schlicher stands just 5-6 but can shoot the 3, and fellow junior guard Matt O'Leary is typical of the entire lineup at 5-11. Yet time and again Westmont's balance lands three players in double figures.
"We continue to surprise people," Etheridge said. "We don't intimidate anybody when we take the floor for warmups, that's for sure, but we usually give everybody a pretty good game."