On back-to-back nights in different states, defending Illinois Class 4A state basketball champion and top-ranked Chicago Curie will face some of the top talent the metro-east has to offer.
On Friday in Chicago, Curie (2-0) takes on East St. Louis (2-1) and 6-foot-10 University of Illinois recruit Jeremiah Tilmon in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Chicago Elite Classic. That game will be played at the Illinois-Chicago’s UIC Pavilion.
Curie then heads to Kentucky to take on Illinois defending 3A state champ Althoff (3-1) and Saint Louis University recruit Jordan Goodwin in a 4:45 p.m. game Saturday at the Marshall County (Ky.) HoopFest.
“They’re athletic, they can pressure the ball and their coach does a really god job with getting them to guard,” Althoff coach Greg Leib said of Curie. “My players are probably my best scouts because they know all the ins and outs of these guys on social media, and Jordan’s seen a lot of them on the national level.”
Curie is coming off a 28-5 season and is led by senior guard and Tulsa recruit Elijah Joiner, along with 6-foot-7 junior twins Treavon Martin and Tyree Martin, and seniors Terry Smith Jr. and Allante Pickens.
There will be more than 50 Division I recruits on display at the Chicago Elite Classic, which has a full slate of games on Friday and Saturday. Among the matchups are Whitney Young vs. Chicago Kenwood and Simeon vs. Gonzaga College High (Washington D.C.), along with Evanston vs. national powerhouse Montverde (Fla.) Academy.
The same holds true at the Marshall County Hoopfest, which over the years has evolved into perhaps the nation’s No. 1 shootout destination for teams, high-profile players and the Division I coaches chasing their services.
Althoff is making its third trip to Marshall County after playing there previously during Kevin Lisch’s senior year in 2004 and also in 2009. A Belleville native, Kevin Lisch played on the Australian men’s national basketball team, the Boomers, in the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro.
“In Kevin’s year when we were there, in the game before us, Tyler Hansbrough was working over two 7-footers, and the game after ours, you had Kevin Durant, and the game after that was Ty Lawson,” Leib said. “We were sitting in the hospitality room eating and chili and hot dogs, and we’ve got (Kansas coach) Bill Self and (North Carolina coach) Roy Williams and all these big-time coaches up there sitting down and enjoying the hospitality. It’s just a fun experience.”
Hoopfest has grown so much it is now expanded over four days in a gym that seats 5,200.
The event has hosted 14 NBA players over the years, including Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Shaun Livingston.
Among the top players on display at Hoopfest this season: DeAndre Ayton, 7-foot center with Hillcrest (Ariz,) Prep Academy, an Arizona recruit; Shai Alexander, Hamilton Heights Christian Academy (Tenn.), a Kentucky recruit; John Petty, Mae Jemison (Ala.), an Alabama recruit; Billy Preston, Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, a Kansas recruit; Gary Trent Jr., Prolific Prep (Calif.), a Duke recruit; Paul Scruggs, Prolific Prep (Calif.), an Xavier recruit; Matt Coleman, Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, who has narrowed his list to Duke, Texas and Stanford and Taveion Hollingsworth, Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ky.), a Western Kentucky recruit.
Marshall County special events director Dan Hudson and his crew work hard to keep making this event bigger and better each year.
“We’re very excited about that Althoff-Curie game,” Hudson said. “Curie has been with us for years, and now I know they’re in the same playoff classification, so it’s going to make it even more interesting. We like to take the best of the best and bring them over across the border.”
Althoff has to play Carbondale in a 7:45 p.m. South Seven Conference game Friday before leaving Saturday morning for the three-hour trip to Kentucky.
“I just wish it was warm enough to fish and we had a little bit more time on Sunday,” Leib said. “It’s going to be packed, and it’s a tough environment. These things helps put your kids in those pressure situations that they’re going to see hopefully at the end of the season. We pass on some (shootout) opportunities in Chicago because of the experience we’ve had with this outfit. It’s been nothing but positive, and I thought it would be a great experience for the kids.”
Goodwin is averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds, with games of 32 points and 35 points under his belt. Althoff also features Division I prospect Marvin Bateman and Division I football prospects C.J. Coldon, Edwyn Brown and Bryson Strong, along with much-improved 6-foot-4 senior Dante Ray.
Curie’s only major loss to graduation was Devin Gage, now playing at DePaul. Joiner averaged 11 points last season but is capable of much more.
Althoff is no stranger to the elite shootout scene. The Crusaders lost to national powerhouse Chaminade and current Duke University freshman Jayson Tatum at the Highland Shootout last season and wore down Chicago Kenwood at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout last season.
The Crusaders will face East St. Louis on Jan. 7, 2017, at the Highland Shootout. They will then face Chicago 4A power Evanston on Feb. 4, 2017, at the Bank of O’Fallon Shootout.
“Jordan likes the bright lights,” Leib said. “He brings it every night, and it’s infectious for the other guys too.”
Althoff lost 81-78 last Saturday to fellow 4A heavyweight Edwardsville in the championship game of the Highland Thanksgiving Tournament. While both teams had star players coming off deep football playoff runs, the game also featured 37 points by Edwardsville senior guard and Division I prospect Mark Smith, and a frenetic comeback by Althoff.
“What I loved about the team is that with five minutes to go they’re down 15, and instead of pointing fingers an laying blame, they all rallied around one another and made a good run at a top-10 team in the state in Edwardsville,” Leib said. “That’s something positive and something we can build on that. They took ownership in it as well.”
Chicago Elite Classic
at University of Illinois-Chicago, UIC Pavilion
Friday, Dec. 2
Loyola Academy vs, Niles Notre Dame, 6 p.m.
East St. Louis vs. Chicago Curie, 7:30 p.m.
Oak Park-River Forest vs. Fenwick, 9 p.m.
Marshall County HoopFest
at Marshall County High School, Benton Ky.
Saturday, Dec. 3
Paul Laurence Dunbar (Ky.) vs. Mae Jemison (Ala.), 3:15 p.m.
Althoff vs. Chicago Curie, 4:45 p.m.
Oak Hill (Va.) Academy vs. Aspire Academy (Ariz.), 6:15 p.m.
Hillcrest Prep (Ariz.) vs. Prolific Prep (Calif.), 7:45 p.m.