MSL East dominance aside, Prospect's Camardella looks at the big picture

 
 
Updated 2/6/2019 3:08 PM
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  • Prospect coach John Camardella leads his team during the Mid-Suburban League boys basketball championship game at Barrington last season. The Knights can wrap up their 2019 appearance in the MSL title game with a win against Buffalo Grove on Friday.

      Prospect coach John Camardella leads his team during the Mid-Suburban League boys basketball championship game at Barrington last season. The Knights can wrap up their 2019 appearance in the MSL title game with a win against Buffalo Grove on Friday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

The beast of the Mid-Suburban League East in recent years has been Prospect.

It's not easy to defeat the Knights in division games. In fact, it's been downright impossible over the last three years.

Heading into Friday's showdown at Buffalo Grove, a game that will essentially determine the MSL East winner, Prospect has won 27 MSL East games in a row.

Two years ago, the Knights ended division play with nine straight wins. Last year, they went a perfect 10-0 in MSL East play.

Currently, Prospect is 8-0 in the East with two games to play. A win against Buffalo Grove would clinch Prospect's third straight MSL East championship and its 10th in the last 12 years.

"Believe it or not, we don't talk a lot about the streak or wins and losses," said Prospect coach John Camardella, now in his 12th year and the architect of the Knights' dominance in the East. "But our guys are very aware of the expectations we have in our program.

"We talk a lot about focusing on the moment, and focusing on your goals. We talk about not flinching in those big moments, about keeping your head up and your shoulders back and avoiding distractions. We think if we do all that, we have a great chance of getting to the MSL title game, and our guys love that. It is really a special and fun night."

Prospect has won three MSL conference championships in nine appearances as the East representative in the title game.

"We've had a couple of tough losses to two undefeated Fremd teams in the MSL title game," Camardella said. "But it's been fun to play in those games, even though they ended in losses for us. Our guys really enjoy the experience."

No cupcakes here: One of the most interesting parts about Prospect's ascension to MSL East supremacy is that it hasn't come with a bunch of gaudy numbers.

Sure, the Knights have been nearly perfect in MSL East games, but their results in other games have been anything but.

For instance, Prospect is 8-0 in the MSL East heading into Friday's division game at Buffalo Grove, but is just 13-10 overall.

That means Prospect is 5-10 in its other games this season.

And that sits just fine with head coach John Camardella, who goes out of his way to schedule tough nonconference games. His philosophy is that to be the best team possible, his team has got to play the best teams possible, even if that means losing those games.

This season, Prospect loaded up on heavyweights such as St. Viator, Evanston, Notre Dame, Glenbrook South, Waukegan and Stevenson.

"If you look at our teams the last few years and really over my entire coaching career, we have lost a lot of nonconference games. We are probably .500 or worse in nonconference games," Camardella said. "But I want our guys to see where they're at. If we want a chance to play for a division or conference championship, we've got to play those types of top teams, and if that means losing games at Thanksgiving and Christmas against teams like that, I'm OK with that.

"I love competing and I want to go against the best, win or lose. You want to go against teams that are better than you because that's how you get better. I'm hoping that way of thinking trickles down to our players."

Prospect, which is 99-19 in the MSL East in Camardella's 12 years, is 207-122 overall over the course of his tenure, which means that the Knights are just 108-103 in all other games besides MSL East games.

"If losing games to top teams is going to help us maximize our potential in the long run, we're going to do that," Camardella said. "No one likes to lose, and we are trying to win every game. But you've also got to look at the big picture and how your team grows against the teams it plays."

Moving parts: Prospect has rolled to its 8-0 mark in the MSL East and has done so without being at full strength for much of the season.

Seniors Jon Kreidler and Ben Zellmer, the Knights' top two scorers at about 11.6 points per game each, have both battled injuries that have forced them to miss games.

Kreidler had problems with his back and was out for most of December. Zellmer is currently battling an ankle injury.

Kreidler, Prospect's only returning starter from last year, has been on fire when healthy. He is on pace to break the school's record for shooting percentage at 61 percent overall. From 2-point range, Kreidler hits at a scorching 70 percent clip while he knocks down 45 percent of his shots from 3-point range.

Zellmer is one of Prospect's top defenders but can be a major scorer, as evidenced by his career-high 26 points earlier this season against Wheeling.

Last year, Zellmer barely played for the Knights and was one of the last players on the bench.

"Ben is one of the most improved kids I've ever coached. He really worked on his game and lived in the weight room over the offseason," Prospect coach John Camardella said. "But he's been out the last three games and I'm not sure if he'll play Friday (at Buffalo Grove). It's been an issue for us all season with injuries.

"We've played only a handful of games with all five of our starters healthy and playing. But we have had other guys step up."

Senior reserves Mike Slupski and Jack Schneider have answered the call for the Knights. Both have provided tough defense and some big shots in their increased minutes.

"Jack hit a game-winning 3-pointer for us against Notre Dame and Mike hit back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter to help us beat Elk Grove," Camardella said. "Those two have been huge for us and they've helped us keep taking steps forward even with all of our injuries."

The bug: Most teams get it.

Some teams are unlucky and get it every year. Others escape its consistent wrath and get it maybe every other year or every few years if they're really lucky.

Barrington has it this season. A good, hard case of it.

It's the injury/illness bug. And right now at Barrington the bug has bitten four of the team's top eight players.

Connor and Dylan Keenan, Braden Albertson and Damian Zivak have all missed practices and are questionable for Friday's game at Palatine due to either injuries or illnesses.

"We play pretty much only eight or nine guys," Barrington coach Bryan Tucker said. "To have half of your top eight guys out or questionable, that's a big hit. I know every team deals with it from time to time, but it's a pretty bad thing for us right now."

Tucker will look to his three senior captains to be even more productive than usual.

"Mark Johnson and Jason Boock and Will Raider will be counted on to really step up for us along with Aaron Sarkar, one of our other leading scorers," Tucker said. "And I would think our other guys on the bench will be getting more opportunities."

Sophomore standouts: Two of Palatine's best players are just sophomores -- center Julian Campbell and point guard Luke Seiffert.

Campbell, an intimidating 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, is leading the team in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He also pulls down 8 rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, Seiffert has made the most of his spot in the starting lineup, which came early in the season when senior point guard Demo Collins went down with an injury.

Seiffert has settled in to his role as distributor and floor general.

He's also contributing more offensively and recently hit a game-winner against Buffalo Grove.

"You can see Luke growing not just from game to game, but from possession to possession," Palatine coach Eric Millstone said. "He's developed into quite a leader and it's great to see him making the right decisions, like he did in taking that game-winning shot.

"I think it's great that we've got Luke and Julian playing so well. Anytime you have a sophomore post presence and a sophomore point guard playing like this, I think it bodes really well for the future of the program."

Best choice: It's been an up-and-down year for Wheeling, which endured a 10-game losing streak that spanned the month of December.

But one of the ups this season has been the play of senior Michael Best, who leads the Wildcats in scoring at 18 points per game.

One of Best's "best" moments of the season came recently when he committed to Lake Forest College to play basketball there next season. Best, a three-sport athlete and standout at quarterback for the Wheeling football team, could have gone in many directions, but was determined to play basketball in college.

Best was also considering Lawrence University in Wisconsin.

"Lake Forest is a great fit for Michael," Wheeling coach Michael O'Keeffe said. "It's a great academic school and a really good basketball program."

This is the second time O'Keeffe has watched a Best commit to play basketball in college.

Best's older brother T.J. Best, an all-conference performer for Wheeling two years ago, is now starting at Carthage College as a sophomore. When Michael was a sophomore two years ago, he started on the varsity at Wheeling with T.J.

Shakeup during streak: As Wheeling struggled during its 10-game losing streak earlier this season, head coach Michael O'Keeffe made some personnel changes.

Reserve Solomon Hudson went from a reserve to a starter, and has flourished.

"Solomon is just a sophomore and it took him some time to transition to his new role because he was our seventh or eighth or ninth man," O'Keeffe said. "But since Christmas, he's been starting and he's been great. He's athletic, he's strong. I think he's one of the best on-ball defenders in the Mid-Suburban League. He's just going to keep getting better and better."

Meanwhile, junior forward Cade Zalewski is also making the most of more opportunities.

Zalewski, also a baseball star, missed some time earlier this season due to some baseball obligations, as well as due to a concussion. But now healthy, Zalewski's minutes are going up and he's had two double-doubles in the last three games.

"Cade is not afraid to mix it up in the paint and we like the way he plays," O'Keeffe said. "He's getting some experience under his belt now and he's doing a lot with it."

Pain in the ...: Buffalo Grove senior Tom Trieb made a valiant return to basketball in seemingly record time from a broken hip that he suffered early last fall during football season.

But unfortunately, Trieb, who missed just the season opener of the basketball season before regaining his spot in the starting lineup and flourishing, is now dealing with his hip again.

A cut and pivot during a practice didn't agree with his hip. In pain, Trieb was told by trainers to go back to his hip doctor. He was due to get an MRI on Monday and will be out until further notice.

Trieb has missed three games so far for Buffalo Grove, which is missing his physicality in the lane.

Trieb was Buffalo Grove's leading rebounder and also averaged about 12 points per game.

"It's worrisome for him with his hip," Buffalo Grove coach Keith Peterson said. "He's such a good kid and it's really hard for him to be out."

But Trieb has his future to think about. He is due to play football in college next year at Northern Illinois University.

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