Spectacular individual performances can change the complexion of not only a game, but a season.
As we near the stretch run of the high school basketball season, here are five players that have the ability to single-handedly carry their team on a given night:
Austin Amann, Elk Grove: One of the area's top scorers has carried the Grenadiers to a share of the East lead, and it's performances like his 27-point night at Rolling Meadows and the 32-point effort at Hersey that make Amann and Elk Grove a serious contender. The senior, who is averaging 19 points per game, is just 65 away from 1,000 for his career. "What is leading to his success on the floor is he's not forcing anything and not putting any pressure on himself, besides to play well," said coach Anthony Furman. "You try to do too much, you wind up doing less for your team. He's definitely taking it in stride and just being a good teammate."
Ore Arogundade, St. Viator: Competing in the talented ESCC promises to be quite the challenge for St. Viator (10-3), and the junior swingman will be crucial in the team's bid to win back-to-back conference titles. Arogundade has shown that he can take over games, like his masterful 26-point, 10-rebound performance in the second round of the Hardwood Classic against Fremd. The Division I prospect averages just under 16 points per game, but it's his versatility that impacts so many games. "He has to do a lot of things for us like scoring the ball, rebounding the ball, making plays for his teammates," said coach Mike Howland. "Once he cleans a few things up, and we clean a few
things up, we're going to be really dangerous. He's a dangerous weapon to have going forward."
Kyle Bolger, Schaumburg: This season hasn't gone exactly as planned for Schaumburg (8-7), but the Saxons still have as good of a shot as anyone to win the West. And if they do, it will be because of their most experienced player, Bolger, continuing his strong play.
Averaging 16 points per game, Bolger is comfortable in any situation, whether it be getting a steal, facilitating and setting up teammates, or being more assertive. There will be nights when Schaumburg needs
Bolger to step up, like in the win over Minooka in which he scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. "Probably the greatest impact he has on the game is his will and competitiveness," said coach Matt Walsh. "He's a complete player. He really puts the time in and prepares to put himself for key situations."
Luke Potnick, Buffalo Grove: The Bison have the potential to make a run at the East crown and will need Potnick to continue his exceptional play to have a chance. If the area's leading scorer at 22 points per game has more nights like his 45-point outburst against Hersey, BG should challenge Elk Grove and Prospect for East supremacy.
The senior's all-around game has been steadily improving.
"Obviously, he can score, and he's carried us in some games," said coach Ryan O'Connor. "But he also has the ability to carry us with his passing and overall ball handling. He's doing a lot of other things other than scoring."
Brad Zaumseil, Barrington: The senior point guard has been on a tear recently, dropping 24 points in the win over Lakes in the third place game at Jacobs and putting up 31 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds in a victory over Grant last week. Zaumseil is a pain to chase around because he's so quick with the ball, and once he passes off to a teammate, he doesn't stop moving. With the three-year starter's leadership, the Broncos are a legitimate contender in the tight MSL West race.
"He gets the ball down the floor so quickly and his vision is unbelievable," said Palatine coach Eric Millstone, who's team plays Barrington tonight. "He is a nightmare to guard."
And, introducing ...
And then there are the players whose impact goes beyond the box score. These players may not have the flashiest stats but their ability to make big plays in key moments often define winning teams:
Sean Benka, Fremd: Chasing around speedy guards or banging down low with the big men aren't the most glamorous tasks, but it's a role that the senior has embraced and often excelled at. Along with Xavier Williams, Benka willingly takes on the other team's best player. At 6-foot-5, Benka's versatility on both ends of the floor is extremely valuable and he's able to contribute offensively (7 ppg) to alleviate pressure on leading scorer Riley Glassmann. "We've asked a lot of him, and he has really stepped up this season," said coach Bob Widlowski. "He's going to take the challenge and guard the other team's best player. He's faced a lot of tough kids and done a good job."
Kevin Hammarlund, St. Viator: Hammarlund averages 9 points for a team that has plenty of firepower, but where the guard's true value lies is that he's able to fill a variety of roles. Whether it's taking a charge, picking up some of the scoring slack or shutting down the opponent's best player, the senior is always making the key play in tight games. And that may go unnoticed by the casual fan, but not coach Mike Howland.
"He's an intangibles guy that I have a hard time taking off the floor," Howland said. "He makes the plays that you don't get any credit for and go unnoticed half the time, but they're the difference between winning and losing."
Chris Macahon, Palatine: To see the difference between last season's 3-win Palatine team and this year's squad that is 9-8, look no further than the man bringing up the ball. Getting the ball up the floor and the team into the offense was an adventure last season as leading scorer Roosevelt Smart had to handle the ball a lot. Palatine is turning the ball over 11.2 times per game this season, down considerably from 15.5 last season. And that's because the sophomore Macahon, who is averaging just over 9 points and 3 assists, plays well beyond his years.
"Chris takes all of the uncertainty out of the equation this year," said coach Eric Millstone. "You put the ball in his hands, we get into the offense, and everyone on the floor benefits from it."
Welby Malczewski, Prospect: One advantage Prospect has over most area teams is its height. Backing up starters Mike Houghton and Colin Olson, the 6-foot-5 senior has been a luxury for the Knights off the bench. After missing most of his sophomore season with a broken leg and not playing last season, Malczewski has come on strong this season, with his latest quality effort being a 13-point, 9 rebound performance in the team's last game against Vernon Hills. Though he's averaging just under 4 points and 4 rebounds, big games like that could turn the tide for Prospect in East.
"He decided to make a run at it senior year and he's been a huge addition to our team," said coach John Camardella. "He's provided a spark off the bench."
D'Angelo McBride, Conant: The Cougars started the season slow, losing five of their first seven games, as McBride recovered from a broken wrist in the second round of the football playoffs. Though he's just a junior, McBride's presence on the floor has made a huge difference as the team has gone 8-3 since his return. He guards the opponent's best player and helps take the pressure off leading scorer Robert Hudson (12 ppg) in averaging 8 per contest. With starting point guard Joey Ranallo likely out for the foreseeable future, Conant (10-7) will ask McBride to add ball handling duties to his repertoire. "His defense and leadership down the stretch of games is what has been absolutely huge for us," said coach Tom McCormack. "He's a lockdown defender and a great leader."
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