2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 1/26/2017 3:08 PM

Grayslake North resumes comeback-ready mode

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  • Grayslake North's Ryan Connolly, right, shoots over Lakes' Wade Parmly on Tuesday at Grayslake North.

      Grayslake North's Ryan Connolly, right, shoots over Lakes' Wade Parmly on Tuesday at Grayslake North.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


A loss to Lakes on Tuesday night snapped a four-game winning streak for the Grayslake North boys basketball team.

But the Knights never believed victory was out of their reach. They've had a knack this season of making comebacks a regular thing. Big comebacks.

"We've been down 15 or more points this season eight times and are 6-2 in those games," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "We've got a very resilient group. There have been so many situations where the kids could have given up, given in … but they've just kept going. They believe they are in every game, no matter the situation."

A big key to Grayslake North's success is its big three: Jamal Thomas and brothers James and Ryan Connolly. All three average double-figure scoring, with Thomas around 22 points and the Connolly brothers between 16 and 12.

"We've got three kids who can flat-out score and that's big for any team," said Grunloh, whose team is 13-5 on the season. "At first this season, we were having trouble with everyone knowing their roles. But once we got that down and those three kind of took on their roles as scorers, we've been a lot better."

Thomas has led the way with some eye-popping numbers.

He recorded a triple-double against East Peoria of 24 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. He also has 6 double-doubles on the season.

Plus, Thomas has been off the charts with his leadership.

"We have a very young team and I told Jamal at the beginning of the year that he may need to be more of a coach on the floor for us this season, that those younger kids needed a positive voice from him," Grunloh said. "I wasn't sure how he was going to handle that, but I should have never doubted him. He's taken on that role very well, along with everything else that he does for us."

Family affair: There's no sibling rivalry on the basketball court between Grayslake North stars James and Ryan Connolly.

Just sibling support.

"It's been fun watching those two together," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh says of the Connolly brothers. "They really stick up for each other, they look out for each other. And they work so well together."

The Connolly brothers have been working well for Grayslake North. James is averaging about 16 points while Ryan is at about 12.

"They don't try to outdo each other or anything like that," Grunloh said. "They just seem to really like playing together."

Both of the Connollys are good long-range shooters, but are working on their driving skills.

"Ryan is probably more of a natural scorer and shooter," Grunloh said. "And James probably uses his body more. But they are both very similar players, more similar than different."

Big honor: They are basketball players right now.

But in the fall, a big chunk of Antioch's roster plays football.

And Antioch basketball coach Jim White wants to provide a stage for some of those players to be recognized for major honors they received since the football season ended.

So in early February, Ben Gutke, Branden Gallimore, Logan Weber and Andrew Hare will participate in a ceremony before a home game against Round Lake (Feb. 3) to present them with their all-state football awards.

"We share a lot of guys with the football team," White said. "I thought it was important to recognize the guys for that honor. These guys have been going nonstop since the first week in June, and they've balanced a lot between football and basketball.

"It's really great what they've been able to do and we wanted to honor them for that."

All at once: It's bound to happen at some point.

Few teams escape the injury bug, or the sick bug, in any one season. Antioch was going at a good clip, and then … BAM!

"For about two months, we were great. Everybody was good," said Antioch coach Jim White, whose team is 7-11 and has lost four straight games. "Now, in the last two weeks or so, it's like it's all catching up with us.

"We have a lot of guys going down with injuries right now. We're kind of limping into this second half of the season."

Ben Gutke has missed time with a shoulder injury. Andrew Hare has been struggling to heal up a deep thigh bruise. Branden Gallimore has had flu and mono-like symptoms. John Petty has an ankle injury and Peter Boeh has a chronic hip injury that could require surgery in the near future.

All five players have missed full games, or parts of games.

"It's kind of a broken record," White said. "This always tends to happen in the dog days of the season. Kids start to feel the grind.

"It's tough to get a rhythm going. Our kids are tough as nails and they go hard and they keep pushing themselves. But you're almost afraid to practice when it gets like this. It's like, 'maybe less is really more right now.' "

Super sophomore: It seemed like a good idea.

But it was unsustainable.

Antioch coach Jim White, as much as he would try, just couldn't keep sophomore Dan Filippone out of the starting lineup any longer.

"Being that Dan is a sophomore, I was trying not to start him because I wanted to give him the chance for the game to come to him. I wanted to (ease him in)," White said. "But for one game earlier this season, we were short some guys so we started Dan and he's been starting pretty much ever since. We haven't been able to take him out of the lineup."

Nor has White wanted to.

Filippone, a 6-foot guard, has been on fire lately, averaging 21 points in his last five games. He poured in a career-high 30 points against North Chicago last week. He's gone from playing about half the game, or 16 minutes a game, to about 26 minutes per game.

"Things are really clicking for Dan right now," White said. "We've always known he can put the ball in the basket. But he was forcing some shots earlier in the season. Now he is being really selective with his shots, taking good shots."

White also likes the improvement he's seen out of Filippone on the defensive end.

"Defense came a little slow to Dan, in terms of when to be on our help line, how not to just lock in on his guy and to be in position to rotate and sink to help," White said. "Dan has definitely worked to make himself more of a part of our team defense and that's been a big help to us."

Hanging out: To break up a long season, fun needs to get penciled into the schedule sometimes.

That's Antioch coach Jim White's philosophy.

"We call it a 'Mental Health Day,' " White said. "The guys need a break, something fun."

So in early February, the Sequoits are going skip practice to go to a men's college basketball game at Allstate Arena. DePaul will be hosting Marquette in a Big East rivalry game.

"We've got friends at DePaul who are getting us tickets right behind the DePaul bench," White said. "We're really excited about it.

"It should be a really good game and it will be a great chance for our guys to relax and hang out together. All the kids in the program are going. We started doing this last year and the kids really like it. It's all about camaraderie."

Stringing it together: Michael Bens has been a model of consistency lately for Lake Zurich.

Coach Billy Pitcher is hoping that rubs off on the rest of the team, which has lost two of its last four games and got torched for 34 points by Libertyville guard Drew Peterson last week.

"We've put together some good games, but we can't seem to sustain that. Then we'll have some really bad losses," Pitcher said. "We'll have defensive breakdowns, bad possessions, we won't rebound. I wouldn't have expected it from this group. It's a great group of kids who really care.

"I'm just surprised that we're having some of these problems."

But Pitcher isn't surprised by Bens, his veteran guard.

Bens has always been able to score the ball. He is putting it together game after game right now for the Bears, averaging nearly 20 points over the last five games.

"He is scoring well and shooting the ball well for us," Pitcher said. "He's really been a leader for us and we've needed that. We're a little banged up right now, a little thin."

Lake Zurich, which is 14-6 on the season and 3-4 in the North Suburban, is down starting center Chris Trybula. The 6-foot-5 senior tore the ACL in his knee over the holidays and is out for the season. The Bears were also recently without Brian Chmiel, who was sick during the MLK tournament that was hosted by Lake Zurich.

"We've kind of struggled with our rotations and consistency," Pitcher said. "We are searching for some answers.'

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