THE BLOG
01/23/2014 01:38 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2014

Seven Days in Late December: Ghosts of Hillside

Shoot westward out of Chicago on I-290 and you'll hit Hillside in under 30 minutes.
After the expressway, it's only a short drive to Mount Carmel Cemetery. Al Capone's buried there, so is Dean O'Banion. Two of Chicago's most-feared criminals now rest next to a gas station, Wendy's and McDonald's up the road, a high school across the street.
Everyone knows Al Capone. Fewer know his North Side rival O'Banion. Fewer, still, would recognize other names scattered throughout the grass and tombstones.
Tough names, enforcer names, like Vincent Drucci, "Machine Gun" McGurn, Frank Nitti, Frank Rio. Guys that struck fear in weasels, rats and innocents during prohibition; recognized now by nostalgic crime buffs that think the seedy underbelly has gotten too soft.
But, this story isn't about the Chicago Outfit and bloodshed.
It's about the high school across the street.
It's about Proviso West's Holiday Tournament and how 50 years were condensed into 61 games over seven days in late December.
Three years ago, the Holiday Tournament celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The 50-Year All Tournament Team: includes, among others: Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers (Proviso East), Hall-of-Famer Isiah Thomas (St. Joes), Future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett (Farraguet), Fab Five member Juwan Howard (Chicago Vocational), 2010 2nd overall pick Evan Turner (St. Joes).
According to the tournament's website, around 300 Holiday Tournament players have gone on to play Division-1. Some everybody knows. A lot that only nostalgic buffs recall.
Capones, O'Banions, Nittis.
My third Holiday Tournament and I couldn't sleep. I stopped by Dunkin' Donuts on the way, ordered a large coffee and left it cooling in my cup holder, too distracted by memories to drink.

2009.
My first press section.
Aggrey Sam was there, writing for SLAM, told me to call him Sam. Sam's now the Chicago Bulls Insider for Comcast SportsNet. He was the only other writer of color.
First time I realized high school basketball is a white man's beat.
There was even a white Sam.
Sam Smith stopped by for a few games. Smith started writing about the Bulls in 1987. His book about the 90-91 championship season, The Jordan Rules, was a New York Times bestseller. He also won a lifetime achievement award from the Pro Basketball Writers Association.
So White Sam's a legend.
But I looked up to Black Sam, would nod and wave goodbye in the parking.
I was writing features for a website that is now "temporarily unavailable."
I mainly hung out and watched basketball, occasionally I'd pull out my laptop and try to look busy.
Whitney Young won that year, beat Foreman by 15 for the 'ship.
Alex Dragicevich won MVP that year, despite his Glenbrook North team finishing fourth.
Against Young in the semi-finals, the only game where he didn't put up 30, Glenbrook North scored 33 points. He had 21.
Alex went to Notre Dame, transferred to Boston College last year and hasn't scored 30 points since high school.
2010, Alex was the youngest player named to the 50th anniversary team. That year I went to one game, I can't even remember who played. By that time I was writing less, barely anything at all. I didn't even stop by the press section, just hung around courtside. The website I wrote for took a hiatus. I didn't have an outlet.
Six months later, I left the University of Missouri. Call it unhappiness, or youthful apathy. I had to change speeds.
A few months after returning home, I was working in a nightclub, unsure if I'd go back to school, or write about basketball again.
When you love to do something and stop cold turkey, withdrawal can happen without you even noticing. I didn't get the shakes, I didn't wake up drenched in cold sweats. But once I started up again, particularly with this series, the high was overpowering.
Still, I haven't covered tournaments since 2009 and back then I was mostly pretending, staring wide-eyed at my surroundings.

There's Capone across the street in 1978, when Isiah Thomas and Doc Rivers went for the championship.
O'Banion in the stands when Senior Kevin Garnett won MVP and the championship in 1994 alongside his Farragut teammate, Junior Ronnie Fields. Ronnie scored a tournament-record 51 points a year later, after Kevin graduated and went straight to the NBA. Ronnie also won MVP, signed with DePaul, a First-Team All-American.
Kevin, 15-time All-Star. Ronnie ruled academically ineligible, charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse, never played in The League.
Kevin, NBA Champion. Ronnie, cautionary tale.
2005. Glenbrook North Senior Jon Scheyer scored 21 points in 75 seconds, finished with 52, broke Ronnie's record. Mike Krzyzewski in the crowd, those 75 seconds immortalized on YouTube. Jon won a championship at Duke, got poked in the eye during the NBA Summer League, never played in The League.
Hillside immortalizes, keeps legends fresh even after they fade.
2013.
I got off 290, ready to relive 2009.
Morgan Park won last year and I was there to cover their repeat bid. Day three, the last day of the opening round and Morgan Park didn't play until 7 p.m., the second-to-last game.
I parked at 8:45, tossed back lukewarm coffee, wondered if I could make it 12 hours without falling asleep.
Out in the cold, the addiction hit, or the caffeine kicked in, or exhaustion turned into delirium.
Either way, I entered the gym and stepped into half a century melted together and thinly spread between two baskets (okay, I hadn't eaten breakfast).
This time, I skipped the press section, reclined across four rows of hard bleachers, opened my notebook and felt like Capone staring at a warehouse filled with prohibited cases of Canadian Club.