Sportsmanship became a hot topic in the moments immediately following a 2-point game involving neighborhood rivals Carmel and Libertyville.
Good sportsmanship, that is.
After such a closely contested game, perhaps no one was prepared for what they saw next. Players from both Carmel and Libertyville were hugging, slapping high-fives and standing arm-in-arm at halfcourt, flashing their brightest smiles at a few cameras.
"It was pretty cool," said Carmel coach Tim Bowen, whose team was able to steal a 56-54 win in Libertyville's gym on Tuesday. "We were going to get on our bus fast and get out of there, but when you see a moment like that happening, you stop and just let it happen.
"This wasn't even something the parents got going. The boys initiated it themselves, right after the game and the parents and everyone else just kind of went along with it, too. It was a neat moment."
About seven or eight seniors from both Carmel and Libertyville, including Michael Barr, Jack George and Billy Kirby of Carmel and John Vernasco and Matt Reed of Libertyville, got together after the game to commemorate possibly the last time they would be on the same court together. Many of them had grown up playing park district or feeder basketball together.
"There's a lot of respect between both teams," Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil said. "I know a couple of their kids went to school at St. Joseph's (grade school) with some of our kids. Some of these kids have known each other for a long time."
Carmel continues to pile up the milestones this season.
In a win over Lakes last week, the Corsairs became just the third team in school history to win 20 games in a season.
"The last time that was done was in 1984, so it's pretty special to us," said Carmel coach Tim Bowen, whose team is 22-6 heading into the weekend. "I give our kids a lot of credit. Getting through February, when you start to get tired and your shots are falling short, isn't easy. It's hard to bring your intensity and energy to every game. But they've hung on pretty good and we've gotten some big wins."
Carmel's big 2-point win at Libertyville on Tuesday was secured by guard Billy Kirby, who nailed a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds remaining. The Corsairs began the fourth quarter down by 8 points.
"I've never had a group be so efficient in the fourth quarter," Bowen said. "We've been finishing games really well. We are just really focused on doing the things we need to do to win games."
Most coaches don't like to hear the word contagious right now.
During the winter sports season, the last thing they want is for one of their players with a cold or illness to infect the entire team.
Then there's Warren coach Ryan Webber, who is hoping that Greg Swain is as contagious as can be. Of course, Swain isn't ill, and the only thing that was infecting him the other day was good shooting.
Swain played a key role in leading Warren to a win over Prospect on Tuesday. He scored 19 points and, more importantly, shot the ball well. And that's something that hasn't happened often for Warren in recent games.
Before defeating Prospect, the Blue Devils had lost five straight games, and in each game, they shot well below the 50 percent mark from the field. They also had a tough time making free throws.
"The struggles we had with our shots…it was like an epidemic," Webber said. "No one was spared. We shot 31 percent against Lake Forest, 32 percent against Lake Zurich. We went 4-of-18 in the fourth quarter against North Chicago. We missed four straight free throws with two minutes left against Zion-Benton.
"We've had a hard time getting shots to fall, and free throws to fall. Then, Greg had a very good game against Prospect and you're hoping it's contagious and that if just one guy starts making his shots, then maybe a couple more will, too."
Dom from downtown:
Warren's shooting woes should be helped by the return of guard Dom Cuevas.
He started the Blue Devils' first 11 games and was averaging about 8 points per game. But he's been sidelined since the holidays with a knee injury. He just returned and should provide a nice offensive spark off the bench.
"Dom can really shoot it, especially from 3-point range," Warren coach Ryan Webber said. "He'll add a lot to our depth."
Basketball is helping:
It's been a rough month or so for Warren senior guard Sam Schroeder.
His mother had been struggling with cancer, and she wound up losing her battle last week. A few of Schroeder's teammates went to her funeral.
"The last few weeks have just been a nightmare for Sam," Warren coach Ryan Webber said. "He's one of the most popular kids on the team. Everyone just loves Sam and to see what he and his family have been going through has been so tough on all of us."
Schroder missed four games in order to care for and be with his mother in her final days. Being back with his teammates and playing basketball has provided some comfort for Schroeder. In fact, he flourished in Warren's win over Prospect on Tuesday, rolling up 5 steals in the second half alone.
"He really impacted that game for us," Webber said. "We had been missing his defense. He's such a tough kid and a tough player and it's been nice to have him back."
Back on track:
The roller coaster ride for Libertyville guard John Vernasco continues.
Right now, he's climbing, and enjoying the view. Not too long ago, he was in a bit of a free fall. It's been that kind of career for Vernasco, who got off to a promising start on varsity but has been sidetracked a few times.
As a junior last season, he was stopped in his tracks by a concussion that forced him to miss a majority of Libertyville's games. This year, he got off to a slow start with an ankle injury.
When his shot stopped falling around the holidays, Vernasco lost his starting spot.
"We weren't sure what was going on, so we decided to bring John off the bench to alleviate some of the pressure on him with his shot," Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil said. "Then he started playing better (in practice) and we started giving him more minutes."
In fact, Vernasco has been playing so well lately that he's been back in Libertyville's starting lineup for the last six games.
"I think it's all confidence," Bogumil said. "At the beginning of the season, he was missing shots, then he'd miss free throws, then he'd make some turnovers. I think he was down and his confidence was down.
"But then he went in against Mundelein (on Feb. 7) and he just hit some shots and he got his confidence back. He's been in double-figures in every game since, and now we're yelling for the other guys to get him the ball.
"We're just really happy for John because he's stuck with it this whole time."
Round Lake guard Karnell Wright has the numbers of a superstar, but he often doesn't get the attention that comes with them.
That's because despite Wright's scoring average of 24 points per game, one of the best in Lake County this season, Round Lake has only four wins.
"He's our best-kept secret," Round Lake coach Jeremy Fisher said of Wright. "When teams come to play us, I don't think they really understand at first just how good he is.
"I feel bad that he doesn't always get the recognition he deserves, but it doesn't really seem to bother him. He loves playing and he just wants to get better. In practice, he's still always trying to improve his game."
Wright has become a complete player over the years. He's Round Lake's leading rebounder at 8 rebounds per game and has been a nuisance on the defensive end, racking up tips, deflections and steals.
"Karnell is a hustler," Fisher said. "He's a competitor and he wants to win and I know that it frustrates him when we don't. But he keeps fighting. He's aggressive and he attacks the basket and he's just a lot of fun to watch."
Rebounding was a problem for Round Lake early in the season.
But senior forward Mateusz Lopez has helped shore up the boards for the Panthers, mostly out of sheer will.
Lopez averages nearly 7 rebounds to go along with his 9 points per game. He's now just behind Karnell Wright as the team's leading rebounder.
"Mateusz started playing basketball as a freshman and he's come such a long way since then. We've really seen a big jump this year," Round Lake coach Jeremy Fisher said. "Mateusz is just a kid that never stops working. He is so dedicated to being better.
"After practice, he'll come up to us and ask how he can be better in the post, he'll ask us to show him how to rebound better or score more. He's worked really hard for us this season."