It's always nice to have well-connected friends.
A friend of Carmel basketball coach Zack Ryan was able to help the Corsairs get an up-close-and-personal look at life in the NBA over the holidays.
Carmel was in Minneapolis at the Tartan Tournament over Christmas break. Part of the trip included a team outing to a Minnesota Timberwolves game. The team got lower-level seating and also got to watch Minnesota's shoot-around prior to the game.
The shoot-around was a real eye-opener.
"It was really good for our guys to see the work those (NBA) guys put in," Ryan said. "We were talking to some guys who worked at the arena about how the players were there at shoot-around before the game, but they were also there like four hours earlier also getting shots up. They're not only gifted athletes, but they really put the work in. It was good for our guys to see that."
Ryan said his players could identify with the Timberwolves. Both Carmel and Minnesota are young teams that often have trouble being savvy in crunch time to close out games.
"I was reading an article about how Minnesota has a lot of talent, but is so young," Ryan said. "Some of the issues of a young team show at the end of games. I think we are a lot like that. We are a very young team."
Carmel starts three sophomores and a fourth sophomore gets major minutes.
"We are still learning about each other and learning about the game," Ryan said.
Super sophomore: One of Carmel's sophomore starters has been playing like a seasoned veteran.
Forward Johnny Roeser has become the Corsairs' go-to player, leading in the team in points (12 ppg), rebounds (7 rpg) and blocks (3 bpg). He was especially effective in Minnesota, where he was named to the Tartan all-tournament team.
The 6-foot-5 Roeser, a starter for Carmel last year as a freshman, had 25 points in one game and 15 points in a game in which he was matched up against a 6-foot-8 Division I star that will be playing at Texas next year.
"Johnny is really starting to find himself and expand his game," Ryan said. "He was able to hold his own against that kid going to Texas and that was impressive. He's become a matchup nightmare because he can post you up, but he's also hitting his outside shot now. When he's hitting that outside shot consistently, that's when he's really scary.
"Johnny is also not afraid to take an important shot, or the last shot of a game and we need someone like that."
Step right up: It's Zach Kuligowski's turn now.
Last year, Kuligowski was Robin to Michael Green's Batman. Now that Green is playing college ball at St. John's in Minnesota, Kuligowski is, well … you know who.
"Now, Zach really has a chance to shine," Round Lake coach Jeremy Fisher said. "He's taken to the spotlight of being the go-to guy for us.
"I think it helped him to play with Michael. He was in more of a supportive role, and he got to watch Michael to see what it takes to be a go-to player."
Kuligowski, a senior and three-year varsity player, is averaging a team-best 18 points and 8 rebounds per game.
"Zach has really added to his game," Fisher said. "As a freshman, he looked to shoot mostly 3-pointers, but now, he's really taking advantage of his height at 6-foot-4 and he's doing a lot of damage inside. He's become a lot more versatile."
Tough losses: It was a tough holiday break for Mundelein.
The Mustangs went 0-4 in DeKalb without three key players, Jeff Bikus, Kyle Enright and Andrew Silva, all of whom started at times last season as sophomores.
All three have missed games this season with injuries.
"We were worried (Kyle) might have a stress fracture," Mundelein coach Corey Knigge said.
Enright recently got back the results of an MRI, which showed he didn't have a stress fracture, but he does have severe shin splints. He was expected to play this week for the Mustangs, but is going to need to ease back in.
Bikus is suffering from a sprained ankle and treatment has been slow. Meanwhile, Silva is coming off his second knee surgery, and is a question mark.
"(Silva) has missed like eight games now," Knigge said. Not sure when he'll be back. He's got to keep working with doctors and physical therapists."
Balanced books: The Warren scorebook often gets filled in from top to bottom.
That's because multiple Blue Devils score multiple baskets.
"We have a lot of balance," Warren coach Jon Jasnoch said. "We run a motion offense so there are equal opportunities and a lot of guys end up scoring for us. Our balance comes from the fact that we have a lot of guys who can shoot the ball.
"There's no one guy to get the ball to. If you try to take away one guy, someone else will get a shot."
Branden Ellis and Juwan Perry lead Warren in scoring at 11 points per game, but Ian Schilling, Declan O'Connor and Jayson Dorsey all average about 8 points per game.
"You kind of like to have that go-to guy, and we're trying to figure out who that will be," Jasnoch said. "But it's also nice to have a lot of options."
From rival to teammate: Warren coach Jon Jasnoch is in his second year as head coach after many years as an assistant in the program.
One of the assistant coaches now on his staff is a former mentor and rival. Don Kloth, who coaches Warren's sophomore team, used to be the head coach at North Suburban foe Zion-Benton.
"It's been fantastic working with Don," Jasnoch said. "I've always had tremendous respect for Don and his teams at Zion-Benton. I pick his brain about everything, and he is so helpful at sharing information. He loves coaching and is so passionate about the game. It's just so fun talking to him. We could sit and talk for hours about basketball. I was so glad when he joined us."