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PEDELTY BOX: My team-by-team report on 'Feast Week'

Thanksgiving tourneys an early barometer on boys hoops teams

Before I moved into the big chair here in The Times Sports department — well, actually, the sports editor's chair is the exact same as pretty much everyone else's around the office, although I do have a bigger computer monitor to help with designing pages, but "moved behind the big monitor" sounded kind of odd and might give the impression we have an oversized pet lizard in the Sports department — our previous sports editor, Andy Tavegia, liked to use this week of every year to write about what he called "Feast Week."

Feast Week was not only a reference to all the delicious food he and I and hopefully you may have enjoyed with friends and family around the Thanksgiving table(s), but also to all of the boys high school basketball teams he had the opportunity to see as they opened their seasons across the area in Turkey Day tournaments.

Of the 13 boys hoops teams we cover in these pages and the 11 who participate in Thanksgiving tournaments, I had the chance to personally get out and cover seven last week, and thought I'd share my thoughts of what I saw here in this space as a tribute to our former illustrious leader's Feast Week columns of years gone by ...

Marquette and Fieldcrest did not play in Thanksgiving tournaments. Both are scheduled to open the season this week and then take part in two Christmas tournaments, each starting in the Hall Colmone Classic with Fieldcrest opening in Spring Valley on Saturday and Marquette on Monday. They'll both be replacing a ton of talent from last year's teams, but both also have fantastic veteran coaches — Marquette's Todd Hopkins and Fieldcrest's Matt Winkler — who have proven for decades they know how to get the most out of their rosters. Hopefully I'll be seeing both teams very soon. ...

Somonauk and Earlville both are expecting big things this season, but you'd still have to say the strong starts and eventual runner-up finishes each enjoyed in their respective Thanksgiving tournaments (Somonauk going 3-1 in Seneca's Turkey Tournament, Earlville 2-2 in the Route 17 Classic) were pleasant surprises.

I didn't get to see Earlville with my own eyes, but our Brian Hoxsey tells me they look solid and could make some noise in this year's Little Ten Conference and the IHSA's 1A postseason led by the dynamic Landon Larkin. I did cover Somonauk in an incredibly — and inexplicably — exciting game on Seneca's penultimate night, and in a game their best player, 6-5 center with guard skills Liam Roberts, had an off night, the Bobcats still impressed me and had me thinking their long regional title drought may come to a close about three months from now. ...

Flanagan-Cornell scored a third-place finish in the Route 17 and carries a three-game winning streak into the regular season after losing its opener to eventual tournament champion Ridgeview. Big man Tyler Harms is going to be a force, and the guard play is maybe a little ahead of schedule for the Falcons — a good sign of things to come as the Falcons enter the brutally-difficult Heart of Illinois Conference before meeting some of our other area teams again in Marseilles. ...

Both Streator and Newark left their Thanksgiving tourney tables with 2-2 records and fourth-place showings, but perhaps a bit of a bad taste in their mouths after losing their final two — Streator in Ottawa's Dean Riley "Shootin' the Rock" and Newark in the Seneca Turkey Tournament.

Still, from what I saw both SHS coach Beau Doty and Norsemen coach Rick Tollefson have to be encouraged by what they've seen to this point, especially in the way their charges shared the basketball in a balance-over-star player approach. Also in common? Both of these teams should shoot a lot better as the season plugs along ... and will be awfully dangerous when and if that happens. ...

Ottawa was the area's lone fifth-place finisher, and again, coach Mark Cooper has to be encouraged with his Pirates' showing in their own tournament with a mostly new rotation after last year's amazing, senior-led season. That's especially true as Ottawa played basically three of its four games without expected leader Myles Tucker (lower-leg injury) and saw multiple young men — namely Zach Vogel, Levi Sholders and Anthony Cooper — really step up when called upon. With Tucker in its opener, Ottawa looked really, really good to my eyes. ...

Finishing seventh — meaning they lost all their pool-play contests but finished tournament play with an encouraging (and much-needed) victory to take into the regular season — were Seneca and Woodland in their own tournaments, as well as Serena in the Coal City/Manteno Tip-Off. I covered both the Irish and the Warriors, and both impressed me with how hard they played in eventual losses. With 70 points in its seventh-place win, I believe the same likely rings true for Serena.

That kind of effort in "unimportant" games makes teams better as December gives way to the new year, and especially when conference tournaments and regionals roll around. Keep an eye on these three for visible improvement. ...

Both Sandwich and Leland started the season 0-4 — not where they wanted to be, obviously, but likely not entirely unexpected with both squads losing so many key players from last year's rosters to graduation, to transfer, to injury. The big picture for the Indians and Panthers, though? It's only four games out of 30-plus.

Former Streator and Ottawa head coach Brandon Creason once told me the high school basketball season is like no other simply because of how incredibly long it is; how many swings up and down teams go through; how difficult it can be to maintain momentum and focus across a three- or hopefully closer to four-month season.

Thirteen of the top 15 players on The Times 2018-19 Boys Basketball All-Area Team left to Pomp and Circumstance at the close of last school year.

I, as well as "Sportzilla" — our department's possibly fictional giant pet monitor lizard — will be interested to see how the players stepping in this season continue to grow on and off the court.

All said, after Feast Week I'd say the boys are off to a pretty good start.

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