Centre of Attention: Showdown Draws Top Teams
Quagliano, Dick, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Dick Quagliano Daily Herald Correspondent
Coaches hate to give up home games. But for Mike Howland and his St. Viator boys basketball squad, the opportunity to play at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates was just too good to pass up.
St. Viator was originally scheduled to host East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Notre Dame this year. But when the offer to play in the 16th Annual National Guard High School Hoops Showdown at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates was made, Howland went to his team.
"It is fun for everyone," said Howland, whose team will meet Notre Dame this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the first game of a tripleheader at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. "I went to my guys and asked them, 'You want to play at home or at Sears Centre?' And they all said that they wanted to play at the Sears Centre. "
The second game will feature a rematch between Naperville Central and Benet Academy. Naperville Central edged Benet 57-54 in overtime in the title game of the Oswego Thanksgiving Tournament.
The final game of the evening has two Hall of Fame coaches colliding for the first time since 1984, when they met in the state third-place game. Gordie Kerkman will bring his 14-3 West Aurora squad up against Gene Pingatore's St. Joseph team that was ranked earlier in the season but has slipped to 9-8.
The St. Viator-Notre Dame matchup has always been contentious between the two league rivals.
"I don't think our schools exactly love each other," Howland said. "But we respect them. And I think they respect us, too. It is going to be a war when we go out there."
When St. Viator played at Notre Dame last season, the Lions clinched their first East Suburban Catholic title since 1997.
"Our teams are very similar," Howland said. "Both are very heavily guard-oriented with Division I players on both teams. Both teams shoot it well -- but they guard it better than we do."
Notre Dame assistant coach Shay Boyle agreed about the similarity between the teams.
"We have a lot of respect for St. Viator," Boyle said. "We have very similar makeups. Their guys know our guys, and it should be a lot of fun."
St. Viator's Ore Arogundade, who lives just minutes from the Sears Centre, is excited to play there, even though he has never been inside the building.
"It will be a great experience for all of us," said Arogundade, who is a junior and has offers from Northen Illinois and Toledo along with interest from Creighton. "It will be great to play close to home. We will get to play on a big stage and show what we got."
Arogundade is just one of the top juniors that will be featured in Saturday's event. Both Benet and Naperville Central feature two of the area's best big men in 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara of Benet and 6-foot-9 Nick Czarnowski of Naperville Central.
The two are good friends and drove together to Thursday's night press conference together. …