Proviso West sets the holiday standard

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Proviso West sets the holiday standard

Joe Spagnolo is a familiar face around the Proviso West Holiday Tournament in Hillside, as familiar as a basketball. He has been affiliated with the state's premier event in one management position or another since 1981 and currently serves as the tournament director.

A Proviso West graduate of 1980, Spagnolo attended his first Proviso West tournament as a student in 1976. "I got hooked on high school basketball at a young age," he said.

He wasn't around for the first one, however. Walt Sawosko, then athletic director at Proviso West, was the visionary. He organized the first tournament in 1961. He started with eight teams, then expanded to 16 the following year. Next year, Spagnolo will oversee the first 32-team event.

"(Sowasko) wanted a local tournament so Chicago schools could be home during the holidays and didn't have to travel," Spagnolo said. "There was a great expansion of new schools at that time and it was easy to get new or older schools to fill the field."

At that time, the only "local" tournament was De Kalb. To compete during the holidays, schools went to Centralia or Carbondale or Pontiac. After Proviso West made its mark in the 1960s, several other tournaments were launched in the Chicago area.

"(Sowasko) was a pioneer," Spagnolo said. "He got a big bump in 1967, 1968 and 1969 when Evanston (with Bob Lackey), Proviso East (with Jim Brewer) and La Grange (with Owen Brown and Marcus Washington) won the tournament and went on to win the state title. That put Proviso West on the map."

Proviso West got another big bump in 1977, 1978 and 1979 with the presence of St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas, Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre and Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers. The future college and NBA stars were consecutive tournament MVPs and attracted huge crowds.

"The ThomasRivers game in 1978 was probably, along with the LackeyBrewer game of 1967, the two biggest crowds we've ever had at Proviso West," Spagnolo said. "The fire marshals locked the doors but some people broke down a door and let 500 people in. The capacity of the gym was 3,860 at the time and it was estimated that 4,700 people saw the game."

Two other landmark games that also attracted huge crowds were the Kevin GarnettRonnie Fields games in 1994, which marked future All-Pro Kevin Garnett's first appearance on a big stage in Chicago, and Jon Scheyer's spectacular performance in 2005 when the Glenbrook North star scored 21 points in 75 seconds with future coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke watching.

"(Scheyer) was the modern highlight," Spagnolo said. "That was voted as the No. 1 moment in the 50-year celebration of the tournament. He went on to become the tournament's all-time leading scorer.

"But what nobody remembers is that Proviso West won the game. Glenbrook North was the defending champion, unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state but Proviso West won the quarterfinal game 85-79."

Proviso West's success spawned other holiday tournaments. Elgin left in the early 1970s to form its own event. York left in 1972 to launch its own tournament. And Rich Central left to help form the Big Dipper tournament at Rich South.

Some people never leave, however. Bill Heimann, a Proviso graduate, attended the first tournament and still buys a season ticket. He sits next to Tom Clancy, who one-time resident of Wood River near St. Louis, who has been attending the event since 1970.

Timer Steve Busa, a Proviso West graduate of 1976, is in his 29th year at the scoring table. And public address announcer Dick Clish, a Morton graduate and former Proviso West principal, has been working since 1985.

"Our mission is to promote high school basketball," Spagnolo said. "We say: 'Proviso West is where basketball is best.' We want everyone to enjoy what we have, paying customers or referees or participants. We think it is a special event and more people want to get involved in it."

It is a big undertaking, like a little city for four days. More than 100 workers are employed. It is the only tournament that has officials who work only one game. Spagnolo handpicks 84 different officials, the biggest corps of officials for any tournament in the nation. Peter King started in 1983 and has worked the most consecutive years. Jim Bernardi started in 1978 and still is working. John Dacey, who started in 1984, has worked more games than anyone else.

"We have had 88 different officials who worked our tournament and also worked the state finals," Spagnolo said. "Rich Weiler worked the 1962 Proviso West final and the NCAA final in 1980."

But Proviso West no longer is the only game in town. It spawned competition. Attendance is down across the board. Proviso West has had only one sellout since 2007. And the capacity of the main gym has been reduced to 2,990 with the construction of new seats in 2007.

"There are a lot more things for people to do, more tournaments to see," Spagnolo said. "Years ago, you had to go to a game to see it. Now you can see it on TV or the Internet or Twitter or e-mail. There are so many ways to get information."

For example, this year's Proviso West tournament can be seen on the Internet on Proviso West's website, pwhoops.com. CN100, Comcast Sports Net Chicago's suburban outlet, will tape delay the third place and championship games for re-telecast on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

The 51st tournament will be Dec. 27-30. Opening-round pairings will pit Morgan Park vs. Hinsdale Central, Glenbrook North vs. St. Patrick, New Trier vs. Fenwick, Homewood-Flossmoor vs. Von Steuben in the upper bracket and Hillcrest vs. Morton, Rockford Auburn vs. Proviso West, Proviso East vs. Brooks and St. Joseph vs. Benet in the lower bracket.

Proviso West's all-time tournament team? Spagnolo admits it is hard to argue with a starting five of Isiah Thomas, Kevin Garnett, Mark Aguirre, Glenn "Doc" Rivers and Jon Scheyer.

"I agree with the first four. I always had Isiah, Rivers and Aguirre on my top team. And Garnett is a no-brainer. The fifth was up for debate. Before Scheyer, I voted for Jim Brewer and Marcus Liberty. But after what Scheyer did, there is no doubt that he gets the fifth spot. Now he is part of folklore."

Just like the tournament itself.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”