The Fenwick High School boys basketball team’s early season hot streak came to an end last week with a 56-45 loss at Hales Franciscan, but the Friars are in the midst of an even stiffer test at the 54th annual Proviso West Holiday Tournament this week.
Junior point guard Mike Smith scored 20 points and Mike Ballard added 17 points to power the Friars past tourney host Proviso West 64-47 in the consolation bracket of the presitgious tournament (regarded as one of the best holiday high school basketball events in the country). The Friars opened with a 53-48 loss in overtime to Hillcrest in opening round action. Smith paced the Friars with 20 points on 7-for-14 shooting and Ballard chipped in six points and three rebounds.
Fenwick (9-2) is the seventh seed in the tournament, which this year has cut back from 32 teams to 18.
Fenwick reached the quarterfinals at Proviso West last year before losing to Morgan Park and finishing sixth. The Friars are younger and less experienced this year and not expected to make a deep run, though Malnati pointed out they were missing two starters at last year’s tournament.
The starting lineup of guards Smith, Quinn Fisher and Kevin Owens and forwards Ballard and Nixon will have their hands full no matter who the opponent is.
“Every game at Proviso West is a big game,” Malnati said. “We’ve just got to be prepared. [The players] know what to expect
“The key is the same every game; we’ve got to take care of the ball, control the tempo and don’t take ill-advised shots.”
Led by Villanova-bound guard Jalen Brunson, Stevenson is the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 St. Joseph, St. Rita featuring Kentucky commit Charles Matthews, Kenwood and Hinsdale Central as the top five.
Should Fenwick beat Hillcrest, the quarterfinal opponent on Tuesday likely will be St. Joseph, a Catholic League foe the Friars know well. The Crusaders (8-1) are loaded, led by guards Jordan Ash and Glynn Watson, who have committed to Northwestern and Nebraska, respectively. 6-11 center Nick Rakocevic, one of the best junior post players in the state, is another major scoring threat for coach Gene Pingatore’s high powered Chargers.
“We hope we see St. Joe’s,” Malnati said. “That’s unfortunate that they put two teams from the same league in the same part of the bracket.”
The tournament continues Dec. 26 and Dec. 27.
Friars fall behind early against Hales
Prior to their appearance at Proviso West, the short-handed Friars got stuck playing their opponent’s style in the loss to Hales. The Spartans (7-1, 3-0 Catholic League), who took highly regarded St. Joseph to overtime before losing earlier this month, raced out to a 21-6 lead and never looked back.
The Friars had to play without sophomore Jamal Nixon, who was out with the flu. Five players missed class Wednesday because of illness, but Malnati is hopefully his squad will be at full strength for the tournament.
Ballard had 19 points and six rebounds in the loss, while Smith tallied 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.
“We tried to control the tempo and keep them out of transition and we did that pretty well in the first quarter,” Malnati said. “But then we took some fast shots, they got some easy baskets in transition and we started taking ill-advised shots.”
-Marty Farmer contributed to this story.