By Brad Spencer
It's not a Fiero, a Grand Am, a Bonneville or a Grand Prix. It's a high school basketball tournament. It's the Pontiac Holiday Basketball Tournament and the OPRF boys basketball program has been participating in it for more than 35 years.
The tournament champs don't drive home in a new G8. Pontiac is the town about two hours south of Oak Park that hosts the tournament, a place that will soon be swarming with some of Chicago's elite high school basketball programs.
The Huskies begin the tournament against Warren Township (6-3) at 1 p.m. on Dec. 27. A victory will likely pit them against second-seeded Peoria Manual (7-0) at 11 a.m. on Dec. 28. This tournament has all the heavy hitters, including Simeon, Aurora West and Curie.
Simeon, of course, boasts Jabari Parker, a 6-foot-8 senior rated No. 2 in the country. As a junior, Parker was named the ESPNChicago.com Player of the Year, Illinois' Mr. Basketball and the national Gatorade Player of the Year. He averaged 19.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 3.3 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
OPRF may be a little out of its comfort zone when it comes to such steep competition, but head coach Matt Maloney said it's the entire experience that will have a positive effect on his players.
"Some of my fondest memories as a player came from my two Pontiac trips," said Maloney, who played at and graduated from OPRF. "It serves as a team building experience.
"We know that are best basketball is yet to come. We hope to show the Pontiac faithful that we are a contender to reach the third day."
If the Huskies fall in the first round, they'll likely face Danville at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 28. But what Maloney is striving for most is for his players to gain some experience at playing back-to-back games.
"The Pontiac Tournament is great for state playoff preparation," he said. "We have less than 24 hours between games and will play teams with different styles similar to the regional action."
While only a few minor injuries — and the flu bug — have bothered the team, Maloney said he hopes to have all his players back at full-strength after the holidays.
OPRF returns home on Jan. 8 to host Evanston (7 p.m.) in nonconference match-up. The Huskies will resume defending their West Suburban (Silver) Conference title when they travel to Glenbard West on Jan. 11.