Scouting holiday tournaments, Northwest
Wheeling Hardwood Classic
Dates: Dec. 26-Dec. 29
Total teams: 16
Local teams: Wheeling, Fremd, St. Viator, Buffalo Grove, Maine West, Prospect
Favorites: Glenbrook South, St. Viator, Geneva, Waukegan
Quick hit: Fremd coach Bob Widlowski is on the verge of notching his 300th career win. He is sitting on 298 wins.
But to reach the big milestone win at Wheeling, he's anticipating an all-out battle.
"We've been at Wheeling the last eight years and this is one of the strongest fields there from top to bottom that I have seen," Widlowski said. "I think there are seven or eight teams that could win this thing. It's going to be a huge challenge to get through four games in four days against that type of competition."
York Jack Tosh Classic
Dates: Dec. 26, 27, 28, 29, 31
Total teams: 32
Local teams: Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, Palatine, Elk Grove, Conant
Favorites: York, St. Laurence, St. Ignatius, Riverside-Brookfield, Batavia, Brother Rice
Quick hit: Before Schaumburg even gets to York for holiday tournament action, the Saxons will be knee deep into the Christmas spirit.
By then, the players and coaches will have already participated in a gift exchange and a "carnival-style" practice.
"We like to do some fun things with our practices around the holidays," Schaumburg coach Wade Heisler said. "We'll have a day where we do fun games at practice, like spinning around on a baseball ball and than trying to make a layup, dodgeball tournaments, different fun things like that. Then, we'll do a team breakfast and have a white elephant gift exchange where you try to steal each other's presents. We try to make it fun."
That's because after Christmas, things get serious at the gigantic 32-team holiday tournament at York.
"I think the tournament is extremely deep this year," Heisler said. "If I had to pick one team, York is probably the favorite, but I think there are multiple teams that could be at the top."
Glenbard West Holiday Classic
Dates: Dec. 22, 26, 27, 28
Total teams: 8
Local teams: Leyden, Hoffman Estates
Favorites: Glenbard West, Lake Park, Addison Trail, Hoffman Estates
Quick hit: Leyden coach Bill Heisler takes his holiday noshing very seriously.
"I love the hospitality room at the Glenbard West tournament. It's one of the best around. It keeps us coming back," Heisler said with a laugh.
Heisler was quick to add that the quality of competition at Glenbard West gets high marks, too.
"We always like the nice mix of teams they have here, too," Heisler said. "And this year, I think the field is one of the most competitive it's been in awhile."
Under Heisler, Leyden has won the Glenbard West tournament twice, in 2012 and 2014. The Eagles have been playing at Glenbard West for the last seven years.
"We just like the way things are run at Glenbard West," Heisler said. "They do a really good job. And to be able to see different teams that you're not used to is also really nice."
Jacobs Hinkle Holiday Classic
Dates: Dec. 22, 26, 27, 28, 29
Total teams: 16
Local teams: Barrington
Favorites: Barrington, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South, Jacobs, Grant, Waubonsie Valley, South Elgin
Quick hit: Barrington is about 10 games into the season. But with only two players returning from last year with significant varsity experience, Barrington coach Bryan Tucker still considers his team rather green.
Playing a flurry of games in the Hinkle Holiday Classic should help the Broncos to continue to learn on the job.
"We've had to have a lot of young kids grow up in a hurry and they just need to continue to get experience," Tucker said. "The Mid-Suburban League is a big challenge when you are young and inexperienced and what we look for in the holiday tournament is getting these young kids looks at different styles and Jacobs is really great for that. It's a deep and talented tournament with so many different styles of play.
"Of course, we're going to try to win games there, but it's also important for us to try new things, try new combinations and to get better each day of the tournament."
Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament
Dates: Dec. 27-29
Total teams: 16
Local teams: Hersey
Favorites: Moline, Morton, United Township, Springfield Lanphier
Quick hit: First-year Hersey coach Austin Scott is carrying on his program's long-running tradition of participating in the Pekin Holiday Tournament.
He's also carrying on with the coach that got that tradition going in the 1990s.
Longtime Hersey coach Don Rowley, who coached at the school for 17 years until 2008, is back at Hersey as one of Scott's assistants. Rowley was taking the Huskies down to Pekin in the mid-1990s.
"That (Pekin) tradition goes way back with Don," Scott said. "I don't think Hersey has ever won it down there, but I know we've had some pretty good runs."
Scott appreciates having Rowley by his side as he transitions in his first year as a head coach. Scott's father Dave, a longtime head boys basketball coach at Maine South, is also on staff to lend his support.
"It's been a really good first year so far," Scott said. "There have been some ups and downs but it's been a tremendous learning experience with a great group of kids and parents who have all been so welcoming. We're just hoping that we all have a lot of fun together in Pekin because we will have a lot of time together."