PONTIAC “ Landing a top four seed for the Pontiac Holiday Tournament is never an easy task.
And the competition for that status in the 75th edition of the prep basketball showcase, which begins today and continues through Friday at the high school, may have been even tougher this season than any other.
"There are a number of teams that could have been in the top four that weren't," said Aurora West coach Gordon Kerkman, whose 7-0 Blackhawks are seeded third. "There could be some surprises. Hopefully we're not surprised."
Several sparkling records were relegated to a No. 5 seed or below and the undefeated hosts rated merely a No. 9 seed with a 10-0 record.
"We open up with (13th seed) Lockport and they've only lost one game, too," said Bob Williams, coach of No. 4 seed Schaumburg. "And we're paired with Bloomington (in the lower bracket). They are very talented.
"And Curie (BHS' first-round opponent) is a good team out of the city (Chicago). Just those four teams make a great tournament."
Ranked second in the Associated Press Class AA preseason poll, Chicago Simeon is the top seed after dropping the tournament title game to Bloomington last December.
The Wolverines are 4-2 and led by junior star Derrick Rose. The 6-foot-3 guard is ranked the No. 8 junior in the nation by Rivals.
Simeon backs up Rose with a solid lineup of 6-3 junior Bryant Orange, 6-7 junior Jelani Poston, 6-5 senior Tim Flowers and 6-6 junior Kevin Johnson. The Wolverines face Lake Forest at 8 p.m. in the first round.
Fourth in Class AA according to AP is No. 2 seed Gurnee Warren. The 7-0 Blue Devils return their top seven players from a 24-4 team and play No. 15 Lane Tech (5-2) at 10:30 a.m. today.
"Our kids have played pretty well," Warren coach Chuck Ramsey said. "Generally, we have pretty good balance. We have good depth and good experience."
The Blue Devils average 71 points but have only one player scoring in double figures in 6-3 senior Marcus Lewis at 13.1.
Warren's balance comes from 6-1 seniors Marvin Bembry (9.4) and Mitchell Moore (9.0), 6-3 junior Ceola Clark (7.7), 5-8 senior Jor1 dan Dalton (7.3), 6-0 junior Logan Derrick (6.6) and 6-3 junior Shannon Adams (6.1). Clark is the top rebounder at 6.1.
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"It is a great field. A seed is nice, but it actually means nothing once games start," said Ramsey. "With all good teams, it's not really that much of an advantage."
Aurora West has featured a stingy defense that permits only 35 points per game and is led by 6-2 senior T.J. Marion.
"He's an exceptional defensive player. I've read quotes from other people saying he could be as good of a defensive player as there is in the state," Kerkman said. "He's very unselfish, maybe too unselfish at times. A lot of games he is liable to lead us in assists, scoring, rebounding and blocks."
Other key players for the Blackhawks, who play No. 14 Niles West at 2:30 p.m. today, include guards Johnny Walker and Reggie Shipp and 6-4 post players Dernando Eiland and Tyler Thompson.
"I think we're capable of playing a lot better than we have," said Kerkman. "But considering our inexperience, I've been pretty pleased."
Jake Pancratz, a 6-1 senior who has older brothers playing Division I basketball at Northern Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, paces 8-1 Schaumburg at 16 points. Grant Monroe, a 6-5 junior, chips in 15 points and 6.5 rebounds.
"Jake is a good perimeter player and a very good 3-point shooter. He had an ankle injury the first week of practice, and it's finally healing a little bit," Williams said. "He's a great all-around leader for us.
"We like to think we play team-oriented basketball. We get up and down the floor, and we're pretty much all man-to-man (defense)."
Schaumburg and Lockport meet today in a 6:30 p.m. first-round game.
Other games today in the 16-team tournament are No. 6 Peoria Manual against No. 11 Joliet at 9 a.m., No. 7 Danville vs. No. 10 East Moline United at 1 p.m., BHS against No. 12 Curie at 4 p.m. and No. 8 Oak Park-River Forest meeting the host Indians at 9:30 p.m.