Hersey's Scott, Wheeling's O'Keeffe looking forward to holiday tournaments

 
 
Updated 12/20/2018 6:30 PM
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  • Wheeling boys basketball coach Michael O'Keeffe is looking forward to next week's Wheeling Hardwood Classic, a tournament he played in during high school days at St. Viator.

      Wheeling boys basketball coach Michael O'Keeffe is looking forward to next week's Wheeling Hardwood Classic, a tournament he played in during high school days at St. Viator. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Wait! This looks familiar.

It will be like déjà vu all over again for some nostalgic basketball coaches in the Northwest suburbs who, over the next couple of weeks, will be taking their teams to the exact same holiday basketball tournaments that they played in themselves as high school players.

"It seems like it was just yesterday that I was going down there as a player," first-year Hersey head coach Austin Scott said.

"Down there" is Pekin. And that's were Scott is taking the Huskies over the holidays. Hersey will be playing in the Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament, now in its 54th year. When Scott was a star at Lake Zurich in the mid-2000s, he made four trips to Pekin, three with the varsity team. During Scott's junior year, Lake Zurich won the consolation championship at Pekin.

"We were the second seed in the tournament that year but we lost to a really tough Peoria Richwoods team in the first round," said Scott, a 2006 Lake Zurich graduate. "But we came back to win the consolation championship and that was our best finish there.

"I just remember really appreciating the history and prestige of that tournament and what it did for our team to go down there and spend that time together (away from home). That's the seminal purpose for our team going down there. We want our players to have fun and experience a lot of time together."

Interestingly, Scott will reunite in Pekin with one of his Lake Zurich teammates, Mike Kolze, the Bears' all-time leading scorer. Kolze is now an assistant coach at Lake Zurich, which is still a participant in the Pekin Holiday Tournament.

"We always had so much fun at Pekin and one thing the coaches at Lake Zurich would do was take us to a really nice dinner at Alexander's Steakhouse in Peoria," Scott said. "It was a meal and an experience that all the players really looked forward to each year. We are going to do the same thing with our (Hersey) players this year."

Also caught up in the holiday memories and nostalgia of his playing days is Wheeling head coach Michael O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe, a standout at St. Viator who graduated in 2007, had one of his most memorable moments as a high school basketball player at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic.

"My senior year, we lost in the first round at Wheeling but then we ended up beating Notre Dame in the consolation championship," O'Keeffe said. "I hit a 3-pointer in the corner in that game to send us to overtime and then we won in overtime."

Of course, the irony has not been lost on O'Keeffe that he has now come full circle as the head coach of the host school of his favorite holiday basketball tournament.

"I actually grew up going to the Hardwood Classic. I think I went every year since third grade," O'Keeffe said. "I would go with this friend of mine and his dad every year and we would just watch games from like 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and we would eat pizza all day. To go from being a fan of this tournament, to a player in it and now a coach has been an absolute blast.

"It's been my goal since I became head coach here to make sure that the Hardwood Classic remains one of the best holiday tournaments in the area."

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