Holding court in the summer

OPRF and Fenwick boys' and girls' hoops teams square off at popular tourney

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By CHRIS PUMMER

The Oak Park-River Forest and Fenwick boys' and girls' basketball teams will be joining 48 other teams at this weekend's Minuteman Classic, one of the Chicago area's toughest and most prestigious summer tourneys.

In total, 32 boys teams and 16 girls teams will be at York High School in Elmhurst on Friday and Saturday for this year's tournament. The girls games kick off the 11th annual event at 10 a.m. The boys games begin at 2 p.m. with the last games of the day beginning at 9 p.m.

The Fenwick and Oak Park girls will both play in the early game at 10 a.m., with the Friars waiting for an opponent to be announced on Court 4 and the Huskies battling Marian Catholic on Court 2.

The Oak Park boys' team will play its first game of the tournament against Reavis on Court 3 at 3 p.m..

The Fenwick boys will play their first game against Riverside-Brookfield on Court 4 at 7 p.m.

Each team will play another game Friday, and depending on pool play results, could play again on Saturday. At total of 128 games will be played in a span of two days.

The tournament is noted for drawing several top Illinois teams. Among this year's participants on the boys' side, nearly half the teams (15) earned a top-five seed in this past season's IHSA playoffs.

That includes five top seeds (Downers Grove South, Leo, St. Joseph, Hillcrest and Timothy Christian) and five more No. 2 seeds (Brother Rice, Neuqua Valley, Zion-Benton, Homewood-Flossmoor and Niles West).

But despite the pedigree most teams will carry into this weekend, it will be a different brand of basketball from the one that's played during the winter. The summer season is usually a time for coaches to fine tune team chemistry or get an early look at replacements for graduating seniors.

"We have no returning starters, so for right now we're just trying to figure out who can go out there and do something," said OPRF head coach Al Allen. "In the summer I like to pretty much leave them alone. We make substitutions by the clock, not by who's doing well like you would during the winter. That way you find out who the leaders are when the coaches aren't coaching."

Though there is a lot of freelancing and experimentation during these summer games, there is a precedent for success in the Minuteman translating into more success the following winter.

In the tournament's inaugural year, Hinsdale Central beat out Bloom for the tourney title. The Red Devils went on to qualify for the IHSA quarterfinals the next year. Meanwhile, Bloom turned its record around from 9-17 in the 1994-05 year to 21-9 the season after playing at the Minuteman under new coach Greg Meyers.

The past two seasons the Minuteman's championship game match-up has produced one team that finished second in the IHSA tournament (Homewood-Flossmoor in 2004) and another that finished third (Downers South this year).

Fenwick, the winner of the first Minuteman girls' tournament last season, made it all the way to the State quarterfinals this spring.

"There is a correlation," Allen said. "But kids can't get caught up in what their summer record is. You might be playing teams that are missing their best players, or their coach isn't coaching like he would during the IHSA season. It's less about the record and more about how you do under pressure and how much you learn from that."

The Minuteman Classic is a not-for-profit tournament, and all of the money raised through ticket sales and concessions goes towards D.A.R.E. programs run by local police departments. The tournament has raised more than $55,000 over the past 10 years.

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