There's no gym too far or too out of the way for Billy Kirby.
The Carmel senior guard was a traveling man last summer, seeking out any gym where he could shoot and get in pick-up games.
"Billy spent a lot of time getting better over the summer," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said. "He's a Libertyville kid and I heard stories from people in Waukegan who would see him working out there. He'd go to other gyms, too. He'd travel all over the place and just went to work."
The payoff for all those extra trips to the gas station is already apparent.
Kirby, now in his third year on varsity, has developed into a more complete player who can not only hit long-range shots, but can also finish on strong drives to the basket. He's more productive than ever, having doubled his scoring average from last year. And his assists are up, too. At 9 points per game and 4 assists per game, Kirby is a big reason the Corsairs are off to a 6-2 start.
"I think we'll see that scoring average go up more because Billy really could be scoring a lot more, but he's so unselfish. He's always looking to set up his teammates," Bowen said. "He distributes the ball so well and we like that. But there's a lot of times that we're telling him, 'Take that shot. You don't have to pass it every time.' We want him shooting it more."
Kirby had 14 points in Carmel's most recent game, a loss to archrival St. Viator last weekend.
"Billy was a great leader on the floor for us in that game," Bowen said. "He took care of the ball, played good D and he made some big jump shots.
"He's just been really consistent for us."
There are the downsides of coaches coaching their own kids.
But Carmel coach Tim Bowen says they are all well worth it for the big upside. He's says he hopes the next two years go by extra slow, so that he can savor every minute with his son Lee, a junior forward for the Corsairs.
The younger Bowen hit a big baseline jumper when Carmel was making a late run in last weekend's loss to archrival St. Viator.
"When you have to coach your own kid, it can be tough sometimes because people want to see how you're going to handle playing time and discipline and things like that," Bowen said. "But there are also so many fun moments.
"It's fun when we get to spend extra time in the gym together working on his game. He is serious about getting better and he wants to do well."
The Bowens work on basketball away from the gym, too. Some of their best work is done sitting in the stands, scouting opponents.
"We've shared a lot of really good moments doing that," Tim Bowen said. "We sit there and really analyze the game. We have fun doing that."
After years at Wheeling, Carmel will be changing up its holiday tournament tradition.
The Corsairs will now be playing in the long-running Jacobs Holiday Tournament.
"We've been trying to make some changes over the last few years with everything from where our spectators sit to where our freshmen and sophomores play over the holidays," said Carmel coach Tim Bowen, who took over as head coach at Carmel four years ago. "I knew I wanted to start from scratch to get a new start, a new reputation at a holiday tournament. Carmel hadn't had a winning season in 20 years when I got here. There were definitely things I wanted to do differently."
By playing at Jacobs over the holidays, Carmel can avoid meeting up with a couple of East Suburban Catholic Conference foes in St. Viator and Notre Dame. Vernon Hills and Fremd, also Wheeling participants, are on Carmel's schedule as well.
Bowen thought it was important for his players to see new faces and different looks
"We're happy to make a change," Bowen said. "Besides getting "away away" and going somewhere far away for a holiday tournament and really doing something different, this is the next best thing. I think this could be really good for us."
Third is a charm:
After golf and baseball, basketball might be Derek Parola's third-best sport.
But Mundelein's sharp-shooting senior guard does his best to make it look like basketball is his top priority. He's had some big games for the Mustangs, who are 1-8 and have desperately needed his production.
Mundelein has been without two double-figure scorers, brothers Nate Williams (20 ppg) and Pierre Bailey (12 ppg), for the last two games. Both have been out for personal reasons.
Parola had 13 points on three 3-pointers in Wednesday's loss to Lake Forest. He had a whopping six 3-pointers last week against Warren and finished with 20 points.
On the season, Parola is averaging about 14 points per game.
"Derek is a great kid and the kids really like him and respect him because he works so hard," Mundelein coach Corey Knigge said. "Even though he's busy with golf and baseball, he was in the gym all the time over the summer just shooting and getting better.
"He can shoot the ball and score really well, but we're also asking him to do things that he probably didn't have to worry about too much last year. We want him to rebound and defend and trap and hustle all over the floor.
"We also need him to create his own shots. Last year, when we had a bunch of seniors, Derek could kind of stand on the perimeter and we would find him and kick out to him. We're putting a lot more responsibility on him this year to generate offense."
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