By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
If Martin Kvitle wanted to illustrate what playing in the winner's bracket of the Collinsville Schnucks Holiday Classic is like, he'd show his younger teammates the game film of last year's semifinal matchup between East St. Louis and McCluer North.
"It was like, ‘Holy smokes, these guys are just flying around,'" said Kvitle, the senior point guard on the Quincy High School boys basketball team. "It was like a college game."
That's because the tournament has a history of showcasing top talent. And this year is no different.
Top-seeded Belleville East features University of Illinois signee Malcolm Hill. Second-seeded Chatham Glenwood is led by 6-foot-5 sharp-shooter Peyton Allen, who has offers from Idaho State, Oklahoma State, Bradley and Iowa. East St. Louis guard DeShawn Munson's name is on the recruiting radar.
And the list goes on and on and on.
"It's exciting to watch other teams and other players," said Kvitle, who watched from the stands as a youngster when Peoria Central's Shaun Livingston and Belleville Althoff's Kevin Lisch were among the best players in the tournament and the state. "There are great players here every single year."
There are also standout teams, something the Blue Devils believe they can be.
Unseeded but riding an eight-game winning streak, Quincy (8-1) opens play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Vergil Fletcher Gym against Dunlap. A victory likely means a second-round matchup with third-seeded Springfield Southeast.
Some have suggested it's the best draw the Blue Devils could have received. Others have scoffed, saying there is no good draw.
There's some validity to both arguments, not that the Blue Devils plan to listen to either argument. It doesn't change how they will play either way.
"We're going to have to play with a blue-collar mentality," Kvitle said. "We can't come out there and think we can walk over people. It's not like that. These teams are the elites. They are the ones winning their conferences."
Quincy fits that bill.
The Blue Devils are the Western Big Six Conference's only unbeaten team so far, sitting at 3-0 with a pair of conference road victories to their credit. It's part of the second-best start of any team in the tourney field.
Belleville East is still undefeated at 7-0.
"I like being the underdog," Kvitle said.
Not many teams say that when they take their best record into a holiday tournament in the last decade.
et, Quincy realizes this is a chance to make people take notice of what this team is made of.
That's steadiness in the backcourt, a willingness to lock-in defensively and the attitude they can win every possession.
"It's going to take toughness to win this tournament," Kvitle said.
The Blue Devils are convinced they have that sort of toughness, or at the every least, they are developing it.
"If you look at the very beginning of the year, we were watching film and a kid -- I believe it was Galesburg -- dove on the floor," Kvitle said. "Coach asked Luka (Radovic), ‘Would you dive on the floor?' Luka said, ‘Maybe.'
"We've gone from the ‘maybe' to the ‘heck, yeah, there's no doubt about it.' That's what it takes to win."
The Blue Devils soon will find out if that's enough.