HILLSIDE, Ill. -- During his brief holiday visit home, Duke guard Jon Scheyer stopped by basketball practice at his alma mater, Glenbrook North High School.
Scheyer, now a senior in college, is still a legend in John Hughes country for his high school dominance, and he wanted to give his team a little pep talk in preparation for the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
"I told them, 'You've got to win one for our school,'" he said. "Because I definitely didn't."
Not exactly "Win One for the Scheyer," but the Spartans, one of the tournament favorites, likely got the gist.
Far from the negativity surrounding Jay Cutler and Vinny Del Negro and the specter of Milton Bradley, Saturday morning was a breath of fresh air for at least one reporter.
It was a Boxing-Out Day, if you will.
This weekend marks the end of tournament season before conference play begins, and Chicago is stacked with choices. From Proviso West to the Big Dipper at Rich South to the Pontiac Holiday Tournament to several smaller ones dotting the suburbs, the best players in the area will be trying to test themselves against some solid competition before league play begins, culminating in championship games on Wednesday. Foreman, an easy first-round winner at Proviso West, got things started by beating Simeon to win the CPS Holiday Tournament on Dec. 23.
If you're sick of watching Chicago teams (not including the Blackhawks, obviously) sputter and spin out, and you're tired of waiting for the ax to fall on beleaguered coaches Lovie Smith and Del Negro, there's still time to watch someone win a championship around here.
Proviso West is a good place to end the year on a good note. You don't go there for the food ($4.25 for a slice of pizza?) or the outdated music, which, on Saturday, included Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," "Another Night" by Real McCoy and "Wild Wild West" by Escape Club. You go for the basketball. You go for the eight games stretched over 13 hours on the opening day.
A few hours before Glenbrook North tipped off against T.F. North in its tournament opener (a 55-48 win), Scheyer was talking in a phone conversation from Durham, N.C., preparing to go to practice. He said he wished he could have stayed in Chicago an extra day to watch GBN play. Scheyer, a three-time all-tournament selection, is the all-time leading scorer (386 points) at the hoops fest, now in its 49th year.
Scheyer's records are pretty impressive, considering the stars who came before him -- from Doc Rivers and Isiah Thomas to Farragut high riser Ronnie Fields and Westinghouse legend Cedrick Banks. (Though, in all fairness, Thomas and Rivers, who joined Mark Aguirre on the 1977 all-tournament team, didn't have a 3-point line.)
Scheyer made national headlines as a senior in 2005, when he scored 21 points in 75 seconds in Hillside. Unfortunately for his Spartans, the defending state champions, it wasn't enough as they lost to the hosts. Proviso West was winning 71-58 when he went on a tear with 1:24 to play, hitting four 3-pointers, a layup and 7 of 8 free throws, not to mention two steals, before fouling out. He scored 52 points, also a tournament record, in the 85-79 loss.
"People bring it up to me all the time. 'I was there when you scored 21 points at Proviso,'" he said. "But since we lost, it's not always the best memory."
How big is this tournament? Scheyer said winning it may be tougher than winning the state championship.
"Not winning Proviso West," Scheyer said, "is probably my biggest regret from high school."
Jacob Pullen understands. Pullen, a starting guard on Kansas State's nationally ranked squad, made it to the tournament for a bit to watch his Proviso East Pirates take on Evanston before catching a flight back to Manhattan, Kan.
"It was probably one of the best games in Proviso West history," Pullen said. "It was back and forth. I hit a 3 and then Demetri would hit a 3 and Evan would get an 'and-one.' Four seconds left, we were up by one and Evan was holding the ball at the top of the key and he made a pass to Demetri under the rim and he shot a layup with like 0.2 seconds left. It was a lot of fun. It doesn't get any better than the good old days, when we were playing."
Proviso East has produced a string of famous guards, from Rivers to Michael Finley to Dee Brown and Shannon Brown, and last won a tournament title in 1991. St. Joseph, Whitney Young, Westinghouse and Farragut have dominated in the last decade and change. Morton won the title over Proviso West last year.
"Growing up, when you're little, all the top players were involved in it, like Dee Brown and Shannon Brown, so you always wanted to be around," Pullen said. "So growing up, this was like the biggest thing. It was almost bigger than the playoffs, because there is so much good competition and you get to play against teams you don't always get to see."
Simeon is the No. 1 seed in Pontiac, which starts Monday. The school's most famous alum, Derrick Rose, was preparing for an important game at the United Center on Saturday night, when he reminisced about his amateur days.
"I played in the CPS holiday tournament here and they're just competitive," he said. "Everybody comes out. All your schoolmates, your gym class teachers and all that usually come to the game because there's no school. It's just fun."
This year's Proviso West slate is less stacked with star players, but competition is still fierce. Hillcrest, which had won its first 12 games of the season, lost its tournament opener to Von Steuben. The Panthers went 0-4 in the tournament last year.
"We wanted to come and show we should be in this tournament and we can play with the best teams in the tournament," Von Steuben guard Jermaine Hiller (11 points, five rebounds, four steals) said. "Obviously Hillcrest is one of the top teams, so we wanted to make a statement by winning the first game."
The Pirates, playing in their trademark short-sleeve jerseys, outlasted a scrappy Evanston team, 59-55 in overtime. Sophomore forward Trashaun Carroll (14 points, 13 rebounds) went from goat to hero when he tipped in the go-ahead basket after missing 6 of 8 free throws in the extra period. A transfer from Curie, he got his first taste of tournament time.
"We haven't won this tournament in a long time," Carroll said. "We're trying to show people we can do it. We've just got to believe"
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.