There's been a bright side to the injuries and illnesses that have forced continuous changes to the lineup at Mundelein.
The Mustangs, who lost four straight games earlier this month, are feeling better about their depth as a few reserves have proved their value lately while getting more than just spot duty.
Junior guard Derek Parola, senior guard Thomas Gandolfi and junior forward Adam Turner were seeing more minutes than usual over the last week as the flu hit Mundelein hard. The Mustangs, already having to make up for the void left by the knee injury to star guard Robert Knar, have been down as many as three starters over the stretch run.
Leading scorer Sean O'Brien missed a couple of games with a respiratory infection, as did senior guard Dylan Delaquila. And senior guard Quinn Pokora was extremely ill last week as well.
"We talk all the time during the season about taking care of yourself," Mundelein coach Dick Knar said. "It's winter, it's cold, everyone's sick. It's easy to get run down. But this really hit us. It is what it is and we've just tried to get through it.
"The only good thing is that some of our guys have really had to step up and play more significant minutes and they've done some nice things. Guys like Derek Parola, Thomas Gandolfi and Adam Turner gained a lot of confidence and confidence is a big thing to have in the state tournament. If kids get in foul trouble or we need them to step in, they're going to feel better about doing that."
Minute by minute:
Talk about strict.
The return of Robert Knar has been monitored not just closely, but down the minute.
The standout Mundelein guard blew out his knee last summer in an AAU game and has been working diligently ever since in an effort to return for the last few weeks of the season.
His first official game back was earlier this month against Libertyville, but he was allowed to play only two minutes per quarter. He hit four 3-pointers in that game, but wished that his stretches on the floor were longer.
He is able to add another 30 seconds more per quarter each time his doctor gives the OK. But it's not expected that Knar, who set Mundelein's all-time scoring record in a win over Wauconda last week, will play more than four minutes a quarter over the upcoming state tournament.
"He's frustrated for sure. This is an adjustment for him," Mundelein coach Dick Knar said about his son. "It was hard for him to be out and now that he's back, it's hard for him that he can't play the way he wants to. He says it's hard for him to get in a rhythm.
"The biggest thing the doctors are worried about is fatigue. His knee is actually stronger now than it was before the injury. That's not the problem. But it's not wanting to overdue anything and have fatigue set in because the (weakened) muscles around his knee might not be able to give enough support, especially if they're tired. That's how people sometimes reinjure themselves. Coming back from an injury like this has to be really gradual."
Coach Knar will take gradual. At least he can call on his sharpshooter now. Having Robert on the bench for most of the season was difficult for everyone.
"At least he's on the floor," Knar said. "It's good to have him back."
When Grayslake North senior guard Nick Carmody was a sophomore and began practicing with the varsity, he was a little gun-shy.
"We had to beg him to shoot. We had to force him," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "He was kind of passive at first."
The "pass" in passive may tell more of the story.
As good a scorer as Carmody now is, he's probably a better passer, and perhaps always has been.
Carmody is averaging nearly 7 assists, per and over the last few weeks, he's been at nearly 10 assists per game. He dished out 12 assists earlier this month against Woodstock North.
"He just has this way of finding the smallest holes in a defense to get a pass to a teammate," Grunloh said of Carmody. "Nick can find anyone. His passing fits so well with what we do. We get a lot of people involved in the offense because of how he can get them the ball."
New kid on the block:
For the first time ever, Grayslake North will be in the Class 4A field for the state tournament, which tips off next week.
The Knights missed the cutoff for returning to the 3A field by 120 students.
"We were kind of preparing for a move up to 4A, but not until next year," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "We were a little surprised that we went over this year, but it's not something that we're not ready for."
Grunloh said he's been scheduling more 4A teams during the regular season in the event that a move up in class did happen. The Knights played eight games against 4A teams this season, including Grant and Rolling Meadows.
"The 4A sectional field in Lake County is tough. It was tough to seed because there are so many good teams," Grunloh said. "But I don't think moving up hurts us. We actually went 6-2 against 4A teams this year.
"It's just being ready for a different style. In 4A, I think the style is generally more run and uptempo and in 3A it's more zone and slowdown. I think the 4A style actually suits us better."
Ratios in math class might not be much fun, but Keith Blomberg probably doesn't mind them on the basketball court.
Especially this year.
The Wauconda point guard boasts a positive assists-to-turnover ratio of 2 to 1.34. He has more than 100 assists on the season.
"This is big for us because I can't remember a season in which we had more assists than turnovers, for an individual or the team," said Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager, now in his fourth season. "We've always struggled with turnovers. But our turnovers are down this year and we're passing the ball better."
Wauconda averaged more than 20 turnovers a game last year. Now, the Bulldogs are in the teens.
"When we're not turning the ball over, we're giving ourselves a chance to win," Luetschwager said. "We're giving ourselves a chance to run our offense and get good shots."
Coming up roses:
The weight of finding a college has finally been lifted from Austin Swenson's shoulders.
The Wauconda guard has been hoping all winter that Rose-Hulman would make him an offer to play on its football team. A quarterback for the Bulldogs in the fall, Swenson was also waiting to hear whether or not he was accepted as a student into the rigorous engineering school.
He finally got the nod last week on both fronts.
"He was a different kid in practice the day he found out," Wauconda coach Scott Luetschwager said. "I think the wait was definitely starting to weigh on him. He was wondering why it was taking so long.
"We're just so happy for him that it worked his way. This is huge. And it's nice because he can go into the tournament relaxed and just enjoy playing."
Despite dealing with the prolonged stress of waiting to hear back from Rose-Hulman, Swenson has been on the mark for the Bulldogs. He averages about 12 points and leads the team in rebounds and steals. He's also second in assists.
"It's been great to see Austin do so well in both football and basketball," Luetschwager said. "It's amazing how he can go from sport to sport and still do so well."