For WW South, tournament is well worth the effort

Updated 1/16/2019 1:06 PM
  • Downers Grove North and Sema'j Henderson will play in the Wheaton Warrenville South MLK Tournament for the first time this weekend.

      Downers Grove North and Sema'j Henderson will play in the Wheaton Warrenville South MLK Tournament for the first time this weekend. John Starks | Staff Photographer

The Wheaton Warrenville South MLK boys basketball tournament is a huge undertaking for coach Mike Healy and the other organizers.

But it's proven to be worth the work.

"It's a busy time leading up to it, but we want to make sure it's run well," said Tigers coach Mike Healy. "Our kids love it. If you approach it the right way, it's a great time for teams to come together and bond."

The WW South event is unique because of its format -- a 16-team bracketed tournament guaranteeing everyone four games that take place Saturday and Monday. While a core group of schools keeps coming back, there's always a bit of turnover in the field because of the grind involved.

Not everyone wants to play four games in three days.

This year's turnover adds more local flavor. Downers Grove North, Lake Park and St. Francis are among the newcomers, a list that also includes Joliet Central and Rockford East.

"We were ecstatic with the five new teams we got," Healy said. "With the local teams we added, hopefully we'll get more people in the stands."

The potential second-round matchups could be tremendous for DuPage County fans. If the brackets cooperate, York would take on the Morton-Plainfield East winner, WW South would face Downers North and Benet would play Lake Park.

St. Francis plays Rockford East in a tough first-rounder.

"It's a good mix of teams," Healy said. "You could flip a coin with a lot of the matchups."

Film crew:

For Downers Grove South, the proof was in the film room.

The Mustangs went 1-3 at the Hoops for Healing Thanksgiving tournament, then lost their West Suburban Gold opener to Proviso East. It was time for a turnaround.

Kris Olson and his assistants broke down everything on video for the players, who responded.

"When we got done with that tournament we realized we weren't very good offensively and defensively," Olson said. "Talking to the kids and showing them the film, they took it as a challenge that they wanted to be better. They've taken a lot of pride in how they've played since then."

Downers South (13-5, 6-1) has since won 12 of 13 games, including advancement into the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic title game. The Mustangs fell to York but bounced back with four straight Gold wins.

Senior guards Justin Eagins and Wes Hooker have combined to average 32 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5 assists, but now the Mustangs are getting contributions from everyone.

Timmeon Gamble, a transfer from Proviso West, scored 16 points in Friday's win over Willowbrook. Kamonte Brown-Poe, J.T. Jablonski, Charlie Furman and Chris Gory are all pitching in as the Mustangs make a run at the Gold title.

"Justin and Wes get a lot of the headlines," Olson said, "but they'd be the first ones to tell you it's the whole team that's making it happen."

After Tuesday's win over Leyden, Downers South holds a half-game lead over Proviso East atop the standings. The Mustangs travel to Maywood for a huge Gold game against the Pirates on Jan. 25.

"They've been practicing as hard as they can and it's been carrying over into games," Olson said. "Friday night we had a really nice win, and then we came back and had an outstanding practice on Monday."

They had a dream:

Timothy Christian enjoyed hosting a 2018 boys Class 2A sectional so much it wanted to bring something else to the sparkling Ward Athletic Center.

Thus, the eight-team MLK Trojan Shootout, Monday in Elmhurst.

"We just had such a good response from the fans, from the media, even from our own Timothy Christian supporters that we were just brainstorming -- myself, (athletic director) Jack LeGrand, superintendent Matt Davidson -- we've got to host a marquee event for Martin Luther King Day," said Trojans coach Scott Plaisier.

The goal in assembling the field was to bring in teams from different areas.

From Yorkville it's Parkview Christian -- coached by hall of famer Don Davidson, Matt's father -- against Chicago's Hope at 1:30 p.m.

Timothy Christian and Aurora Christian play starting at 3 p.m., followed by two-time defending Class 2A champion Orr against Blackhawk Christian, out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Marian Catholic and Naperville North (11-6) tip off in the 6 p.m. nightcap.

Top players include Naperville North's Tommy Welch, Marian Catholic's Ahron Ulis, Aurora Christian's Will Wolfe, Orr's Tajautae Williams and Blackhawk Christian's Caleb Furst, a 6-foot-9 sophomore with a reported five college offers, four from Big Ten schools.

Before the shootout Timothy (11-7, 3-2) visits Ridgewood in a Metro Suburban Red game on Friday. During their Jan. 4-10 "Renew" mission trip to Arizona, the Trojans beat that state's defending 2A champion and the 2017 winner.

Led in scoring by junior guard Matt Owens and sophomore wing Josh Harris with good support by junior guards A.J. Vos and Zach Orange and senior forward Danardo Jones, Timothy won two close games, "which has kind of been our Achilles' heel all year," Plaisier said.

Top seeds:

Westmont is the No. 1 seed and Lisle is No. 2 at the 13th Interstate Eight Conference Boys Tournament. It starts Friday and culminates with championship and third-place games Jan. 25 at Coal City. Lisle is the defending champion; Westmont took third place.

"It's kind of an unpredictable tournament," said Westmont coach Craig Etheridge, whose Sentinels won in 2008, 2009 and 2012 and enter this one with an 18-2 record.

"I don't think the No. 1 seed has ever won the tournament. I was kind of hoping we wouldn't get the No. 1 seed for that purpose, but it'd be nice to be the one who breaks that trend," he said.

Etheridge has built this team for this season. Except for junior guard Alex Pietrzak the score sheet is stuffed with seniors -- Matt O'Leary, Jaden West, Troy Schlicher, Michael Thompson and Caden Anderson. Though Anderson is a four-year starter and 1,000-point scorer he doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting.

Lisle (11-10) dealt Westmont one of its losses, an atypical 64-35 outcome at the Lions Thanksgiving Tournament. As Etheridge suggested, seed has little bearing on the IEC Tournament outcome -- on Tuesday, Lisle lost to No. 3 seed Coal City, 68-65.

When things are going right for the Lions, their 1-3-1 defense -- fronted by 6-foot-5 junior Connor Webb with Jay McGrath and Elisha Basnight on the wings -- gives teams trouble. Offensively, 6-5 Jakub Kowal can score in the low post.

Lisle and Westmont wouldn't face each other until the IEC Tournament final. Lisle also hosts its rival in the Feb. 15 regular-season finale, and they're both in the same subsectional of the Class 2A Peotone sectional.

"We both have to earn our way through the tournament and it's not going to be easy, but it's possible we could see Westmont in three big games over the next five weeks," said Lisle coach Mark LaScala.

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