Holiday Classic is comin' to town

Hinsdale Central set to host 16-team boys basketball tournament again this year

The Hinsdale Central boys varsity basketball team will return to the eighth annual Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic Dec. 27 as defending champions.

The Red Devils beat Oswego East 54-41 last year to capture the program's first title in the tourney. The team went on to set school records for wins in a season (31) and consecutive victories (23).

Then 94 percent of that's team offense graduated in May.

But varsity boys basketball coach Nick Latorre is approaching this tournament as he would any other.

"Just like always, we just want to use it as opportunity to get better," he said. "I feel like the Christmas tournament is kind of where you solidify your identity.

"We've gotten better since the start of the year," he added. "We never talk about results. We always talk about the process."

The tournament, started eight years ago by then athletic director Dan Jones, quickly became the premier winter basketball tournament in the area. This year's 16 teams, which hail from 15 different conferences, include a defending state champion. Eight of the teams won 20 or more games last season.

"It's loaded," Latorre said. "It's a really good tournament. I feel like this year we might have our best field."

Central will play its opening game against Schaumburg at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27. If the team wins that game, it will face the victor of the DePaul Prep/Lincoln-Way Central game at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28. (See bracket for full schedule.)

Even though they know they will face some tough competition, athletes are looking forward to the event, Latorre said.

"I love it. They love it. It's just so cool to be at home," Latorre said. "We usually have a practice in the morning, and if we're fortunate enough to be playing in the evening, it really makes it fun."

The tournament, which has its own website, identifies four Central plays to watch - 6' 4" guard Vincas Buzelis, 6' guard Will Kusak, 5' 10" guard Daniel Orozco and 6' 7" forward Tyler Thick.

Latorre said he is less concerned about a standout player and more interested in seeing the team build good chemistry, with players buying into and enjoying their roles.

"I just hope we continue to improve as a group. I'm not really looking for any one individual to do anything spectacular," he said.

One individual who has done a spectacular job, Latorre said, is tournament organizer Joe Spagnolo.

"He's the whole show as far as organization, greeting everybody, recruiting the right teams," Latorre said. "He's just top notch. Everything is first class. He does a great job with it."

Spagnolo, an assistant coach for the varsity team, had been running the tournament since the inaugural event. Planning starts more than a year in advance, he said.

"In October, we already assigned all the officials for the following year," he said. "It's definitely an event that a lot of officials want to work in. We want to make sure we get the best people we can get."

With three officials assigned to each of 32 games, Spagnolo has 96 slots to fill.

Monitoring potential participants also is an ongoing assignment.

"We're kind of always updating the short list of teams that might want to come in," Spagnolo said. "This year was kind of unique. We have five new teams, which is the most we've ever had at any one time. Usually it's one or two changes every year."

He encouraged fans to visit the tournament website at for information on tickets ($8 a day, $25 for the tournament), teams, players and more.

"It's cool because we started it from scratch," he said. "You've got every bit of history that's there."

While planning the tournament is a challenging task, Spagnolo says he enjoys managing all the moving pieces.

"It's like a big puzzle, trying to get a lot of people in a place, in and out over the four days, whether they are fans or teams or media. It's definitely a good challenge.

"I like seeing a lot of different people, whether they are coaching friends that I have or whether they are fans that come back every year," he added. "It's kind of like a family reunion of basketball people. It's the people that make the tournament."

Latorre said everyone involved feels lucky and blessed to host the tournament.

"If you like basketball like me, if you're a gym rat, it's a cool four days," he said. "It's so much fun."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean