If there were ever a motivational factor to win a basketball game, the OPRF boys team has one when the Huskies open the 79th Annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament against Bloomington on Monday, Dec. 28th. A loss would mean OPRF would play the first round of the consolation bracket the following day in the dreaded early-morning hour of 8 a.m.

“There are many reasons for us to win the first game of this tournament, but I’d have to say getting the team up before an 8 a.m. game the next day is certainly incentive enough to win the first round,” said OPRF head basketball coach Matt Maloney, whose team narrowly missed receiving a fourth seed in the tournament this year. Only the top four teams are seeded, and the honors went to Simeon, Waukegan, Peoria Manual and Joliet Township, respectively. Simeon was ranked as high as No. 2 last week before taking on top-ranked Whitney Young. The Wolverines (2-0), who boast 6-foot-2 guard Brandon Spearman, fell to Young 62-55.

But the Huskies (7-2), coming off a 68-27 thumping of Senn on Friday night where seniors Jeff Dirkin and Aaron Levin combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds, will need to step up their game in order to stay competitive in this stocked tournament. A victory against Bloomington in the first round will pit OPRF up against either third-seeded Peoria Manual or defending tournament champ Warren on Tuesday (1 p.m.).

“No matter who you draw in that tournament, it’s always a tough game,” said Maloney. “This is the point where the other coaches and I figured early on that we would finally be at full strength, and it appears to be falling into place at this point.”

The Huskies have endured a bad case of the walking wounded to start the season. Antonio Foster (ankle), Andrew Godbold (groin) and John Weinheimer (back) have all missed games with injuries, while senior forward Torger Philosophos is due back in the lineup for the tournament after being out for disciplinary reasons. All the injured players are expected to be ready to go for the trip to Pontiac.

“We’ve yet to have our full lineup ready to play for a game this season, so I’m looking forward to the tournament,” said Maloney. “We’ll finally have that depth that we thought we would have had when we started the season.”

OPRF last won the Pontiac Tournament in 1992.

Following the tournament, the Huskies jump into the thick of the West Suburban (Silver) Conference schedule with trips to Hinsdale Central (Jan. 8) and Downers Grove North (Jan. 9). They return home Jan. 15 to host Proviso West.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...