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Bartlett's Lance Whitaker (right) leads the Hawks into the Jacobs Tournament this weekend. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Under the watchful eye of Jim Hinkle, the Jacobs Holiday Tournament has developed into a prime late-December destination for high schoool basketball teams and fans in the northwest suburbs.
The tournament is going into its 22nd year, but it wasn’t until Hinkle took over as the coach at Jacobs in 1996 that the event expanded to its current 16-team format. Along the way it has grown to include 16-team freshman and sophomore tournaments while also attracting better and better competition.
“It’s been a real source of pride to be able to run this tournament and to host so many schools,” said Hinkle, who plans to retire after the season. “We’ve had some very nice ballplayers in here and some good teams.
“It’s typically very difficult to pick a winner in advance of this tournament. This year will be one of the few years I think we’ve got a clear-cut favorite, but then again, you never know.”
Hinkle singled out Zion-Benton as the team to beat this year. Led by junior standout Malik Yarbrough, the Zee-Bees own a 9-1 record and are ranked No. 12 in this week’s Sun-Times Super 25.
Bartlett and South Elgin join the host Golden Eagles as the three Elgin-area teams in the field. Defending tournament champion Huntley is playing at the State Farm Classic in Bloomington next week.
Lakes (9-1) and Bartlett (7-3) head the pack of teams that figure to challenge Zion-Benton for the top spot. The Hawks open play in Pool III against Rockford Jefferson at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Senior guard Lance Whitaker is averaging 18.8 points for Bartlett going into Friday’s Upstate Eight Valley clash at Metea Valley after missing his entire junior season with a knee injury. The Illinois-Chicago recruit is joined in the Hawks lineup by fellow three-year varsity members Marcus Aluquin and Jon Moss.
“Our leaders are all experienced in playing all those games in a row (at Jacobs),” Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. “They’re used to playing games in the morning and games in the afternoon when you’d rather be home watching TV and what not.”
Jacobs (3-5) enters the tournament on a streak of three wins in four games. Seniors Nick Ledinsky, Will Schwerdtmann and Lake Ojo and sophomore Chrishawn Orange head a balanced attack for the Eagles, who take on Marian Central at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in first-round play in Pool I.
South Elgin (2-9) hasn’t fared as well lately as it goes into Friday’s UEC Valley game at East Aurora on an eight-game losing streak. The Storm turns around and plays Crystal Lake Central at 9 a.m. Saturday in Pool II.
Injuries have left South Elgin short-handed as leading scorer Darius Wells has missed the past four games with a left ankle ailment. The senior guard has been joined on the sidelines the past two games by freshman guard Matt Smith, who is out until mid-January after suffering his second concussion in five months last week.
With his top backcourt tandem out, South Elgin coach Chaz Taft is looking for other players to step up and fill the void. The Storm is making its debut at the Jacobs Tournament after spending the past six years at York’s Jack Tosh Holiday Classic.
“We’ve got guys that are starting right now that have been waiting their whole life to get on the floor,” Taft said. “We had two guys go down, and they’ve got to take advantage of that. Right now those guys aren’t taking advantage of that major playing time.”
Pool play at the Jacobs tournament continues Dec. 26-27. The semifinals will be held Dec. 28 with the final round taking place Dec. 29.