The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
I’ve got to get something out of the way before I get to the meat of today's post–last night I flipped on the Washington State-Utah game on Fox Sports. I always like to see WSU and get a glimpse at former Wisconsin, UW-Green Bay, and UW-Stevens Point coaching legend Dick Bennett. It was just after halftime and WSU was up 45-19 when I tuned in. This may have been one of the most shocking moments of my life. First off, a Dick Bennett team is supposed to take 40 minutes to score 45 points, not 20 minutes. I can’t recall the last time I saw a Bennett-coached team that had jumped out of the gate like that. Second, I used to have a theory about Bennett-coached teams back when he was at Wisconsin and I had more of a chance to see his games. If either team had a lead of more than 4 points, you could effectively double the lead for purposes of figuring out in your head if a comeback was possible, since Bennett’s teams’ tight defense, and less-than-stellar offensive players meant that no one was going to rocket their way back into a game. Thus, although Utah was only down 26 points, it was as if they had to fight back from a 52-point deficit. I’d hate to be a coach who’s losing big to Dick Bennett...
Now on to today’s real topic. Every year about this time, at some point I will hear that old Christmas song proclaiming "It’s the most wonderful time of the year." To be honest with you, I’ve always somewhat disagreed with that sentiment, and wanted to write a remake that reflects the fact that tournament time in March is the most wonderful time of the year. However this year, I feel pretty confident that the song lyric above is as close as it has ever been to toppling March as the most wonderful time. After today, I for one, am in for at least three days of pure joy. December 24 and 25th, of course, are big family days. And then, on December 26, holiday tournament time kicks off.
I have always loved attending high school holiday tournaments, but until this year, the tournament season never totally catered to me. For several years, I was an attendee of the Milwaukee Vincent Holiday Tournament. The Vincent Tournament was a standard four team, two night affair, with two games being played each night. It also seemed to be an excuse each year to set up a Vincent vs. Wauwatosa East final game, much the same way that during my youth Marquette’s Blue and Gold Classic (back when it was the Bank One Classic) used to be an excuse to set up a Marquette vs. Wisconsin final. And last year I had an excellent time attending my first ever Badger Classic at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, where I got my first look at several talented players including Marquette’s Wesley Matthews, Wisconsin’s Joe Krabbenhoft, and Wisconsin recruit J.P. Gavinski.
But something was slightly off about both tournaments. The Vincent tournament suffered the same problem as many other high school holiday tournaments in that it was only four games long. And with rare exceptions, three of the games were not all that intriguing. The Badger Classic was phenomenal in terms of intrigue and volume of games in a two-day period, but required me to drive from Milwaukee to Madison in order to see it. Though not a prohibitive drive, the trip to Madison still ensured that I would kill at least two and a half hours in my car.
But this year all of that changes, and I’m putting my faith in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Classic. If you come here on a regular basis, and you’ve not been living in a cave, you probably already know about this event. Two days, fourteen games and countless top-notch high school players and teams, all held in the gorgeous new Al McGuire Center in downtown Milwaukee, ensuring that I can start mainlining basketball without ever having to get on the freeway. And as the name implies, it’s being put on by the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. If you’ve picked up the Yearbook this year or in years past, I think you know that if Mark Miller, editor of the Yearbook, can put on a tournament in anywhere near as impressive a manner as he can put together a basketball publication, we’re all in for a treat.
If you want comprehensive previews of each game, visit the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook’s website. If you’re too lazy to read a truly informed person’s view, though, here’s my uninformed viewer’s take on why each day one match-up will be worthwhile:
Oostburg vs. Burlington Catholic Central: Rumor has it that Catholic Central is the state’s top ranked division four team. I don’t know much about Oostburg, other than that they’re always good, and the city tends to churn out tall kids in an aberrant manner every year. So if form holds true, they’re probably ranked somewhere high in division three. Small school powers collide!
Whitefish Bay Dominican vs. Appleton Xavier: Last year Dominican won the division three state title, and earlier that season I had the opportunity to see them knock off division one champ Madison Memorial. The key players from last year's squad have moved on to college, but you’d be best advised to get an early look at sophomore Kwamain Mitchell, since you’ll be hearing a lot about him in coming years. I frankly don’t know anything about Appleton Xavier, but assume if they’re in this spot that they’ll be able to give a good game.
Beloit Memorial vs. Kenosha Bradford: I’ll level with you–I know nearly nothing about these teams. But I assure you that the tournament organizer does, and is giving us a good match-up. And even if he’s not, this game is part of the first session of the day, which includes the two games listed above. So if you just want to see, say, Dominican and Oostburg, you can still stick around for this one and it’s not going to cost you a dime.
Nicolet vs. Tosa East: The obvious draw is Louisville recruit Jerry Smith, who’s bound to dazzle everyone in attendance with a smooth dunk, or jaw-dropping assist. But at the end of the day, this is a match-up of two of Milwaukee’s best programs over the last several years. Nicolet alums include Bill Jenkins (Valpo), Bob Jenkins (Valpo), Dan Grunfeld (Stanford), Joah Tucker (UWM), Tanner Bronson (Wisconsin), and Morris Cain (Wisconsin). Tosa East alums include Devin Harris (Wisconsin, NBA), Scott Merritt (Marquette, NBDL), Mike Nabena (UW-Green Bay) and Allan Hanson (UWM). And that’s only going back to the mid-1990s. Who’ll be the next person on this list of distinguished players? Show up and find out.
Milwaukee Pius vs. St. Thomas Academy: Because I read the comprehensive report on the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook website, I know that St. Thomas Academy is located in Minnesota and has a guy who’s going to play for the Gophers next year. So that’s good. Pius, as you know, I saw last week, and they’re on their way to being a very solid team. They're led by the very solid, uber-quick D’Angalo Jackson, who’s the top remaining division one prospect in Wisconsin’s senior class. Two division one prospects, and at least one team that I know is developing nicely. Do you need to know any more?
Milwaukee Vincent vs. Chicago Boys To Men Academy: Remember those lists of division one college players above from Nicolet and Wauwatosa East? Put them together and you still might not have the number of division one ballplayers from Vincent over the past 10 years. And yes, they lost most of their key players from last year’s stellar team, but if I’ve learned one thing in my time watching high school basketball, it's that Vincent always reloads. I can’t name many of their players right now, but I assure you that I’ll be able to by the end of the year. As for the other school, I know nothing about them, but if a school is named "Chicago Boys To Men Academy," and it’s getting invited to a basketball tournament like this, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they may put some emphasis on the basketball program. So this one should be worth checking out.
Henry Sibley vs. Seymour: Henry Sibley, hailing from Minnesota, is another out-of-state team that I know nothing about. But there are a few reasons to think that they’re a worthy entrant. First, they’re paired up against Seymour, a constant power and prohibitive favorite to win the Wisconsin division 2 championship this year. Second, the winner of this game gets the winner of Vincent vs. Boys To Men Academy, which we’ve already established should be two of the stronger teams at the tourney. And you know that the goal of the tourney isn’t to get anyone blown of the court. So while it’s a given that you’ll get a look at a good Wisconsin team, it’s a good bet that you’ll expand your horizons to a solid out-of-state team as well.
Day two brings back all of the teams except for Beloit Memorial and Kenosha Bradford, who will be replaced by Watertown and Hartland Arrowhead. And though I can’t claim any knowledge of Watertown, I assure you that Arrowhead is more interesting to watch than their current 2-4 record implies.
To say that I’m thankful for such an orgy of basketball to be occurring in Milwaukee would be an understatement. I plan on being there (as should you) for as much of Monday as I can find people to join me for (as of now, most of my favorite game-watching buddies are committed for at least some portion of the day), and for Tuesday night’s evening session after I get off of work. Familiarizing myself with the things that Santa’s left for my under the Christmas tree will have to wait until Wednesday–I’ve got basketball to watch. Hope to see you there.
And with that, I’d like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season (yes, I’m part of the conspiracy!). Updates will be more sporadic over the next week or so as I take a holiday rest, but don’t worry, I’ll still be out there watching as much basketball as I can stomach.