Benet's O'Mara is a 'special player'


Benet's O'Mara is a 'special player'

There is no telling how good or even how big Sean O'Mara could be. The 6-9, 235-pound sophomore from Benet Academy in Lisle is only 16 years old and has started only 11 varsity games but he already is being touted as the No. 40 player in the nation in the class of 2014 by longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of

"He has a chance to be a special player," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "He is coming into his own. He hasn't finished growing yet."

"He has the makings of being a star," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye, "even if he is still a bit unproven."

Unproven and virtually unknown until recently. As a freshman, he sat behind Wisconsin recruit Frank Kaminsky on a 29-1 team that was ranked No. 1 in the state before losing to East Aurora and Ryan Boatright in the sectional. He experienced his combat duty working against Kaminsky in practice. He suffered bumps and bruises but learned his lessons well.

Now O'Mara is making a name for himself. He is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game and dishing out his own brand of punishment. He was named most valuable player of the Plainfield North tournament. A local newspaper selected him as player of the week. Every school in the Big Ten is making inquiries.

"It's his first time in the spotlight and he's just getting used to it," Heidkamp said. "He is handling it very well. He understands the team comes first. We knew he would be a major factor this year."

O'Mara has been playing basketball since he could walk. He played one-on-one with his mother in the driveway. He always has been taller than his classmates and his doctors tell him that he has "a bunch of room left in my growth plates."

"I am hoping for seven feet," he said. "I'd be happy with that."

Here is another piece of first-hand information about O'Mara that basketball fans who already are wondering which college he will attend would like to know: North Carolina is his dream school.

"I have family members who live there and a cousin will go there next year," he said. "I have roots there. I liked watching Tyler Hansbrough play in every game while he was there. I want to have a chance to consider them."

That said, he hasn't made any commitments. He isn't even thinking about the recruiting process. Not yet. After all, he has more than two years of high school competition remaining. He has only begun to feel what it is like to face the basket or take a shot from 15 feet.

"How do I evaluate myself?" he said. "I need to be more consistent. If I was watching myself, I don't know if I would offer me. But I have played against Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young's 6-10 star who is rated No. 2 in the class of 2014 by Coleman) in AAU and I know I can play against him.

"My coach has given me a heads-up, preparing me for college recruiting. I don't know if I'm ready for it. As a sophomore, I'm just doing the best I can do. But I want to make sure the college coaches come to see me. Hopefully, when the time comes for them to see me, I'll be ready."

O'Mara learned to play the game the hard way. "Every day in practice I got to go up against a Division I center (Kaminsky). He beat me up a lot. But I learned how to defend and cover the entire lane and how to defend the three-point shot," he said.

"I came into this season with a lot of confidence. Working against (Kaminsky) made me realize a lot of guys I will face won't be as good as Frank and it will be easier for me to work down low. I have two more years of this. I have plenty of time to get better with it (dealing with playing in the spotlight) and learning how to deal with it."

He began to realize he might have a bright future in basketball when he played with Benet's varsity during the summer before his freshman year. He got more playing time as the summer went on and found himself playing high-low with Kaminsky on occasion. "The coach thinks I can do something with this team," he said to himself.

How does O'Mara compare to Kaminsky?

"Frank played inside and could face the basket. That's why he is a good fit at Wisconsin," Heidkamp said. "O'Mara is a low post player."

"Kaminsky is more perimeter oriented. He excels at facing up and being able to knock down shots from three-point range. That is why he is ideal for (Wisconsin coach) Bo Ryan's system," the Schmidt brothers said. "O'Mara is much more of a back-to-the-basket player and more physical. They have contrasting styles but both have the ability to be very good college players.

"There are striking similarities at the same stage of their careers...stamina issues, toughness issues, incredible touch, good hands, good passing skills. O'Mara is stronger but does not run as well. His defensive mobility isn't as good as Kaminsky. But he is more developed as a post player."

One of the first colleges to recognize O'Mara's potential was Illinois. Going into his freshman year, he participated at a summer shootout in Champaign and attracted the attention of Illini assistant coach Jay Price.

"I realized they are interested in me for basketball. It was a shocker. After all, I was only a freshman in high school," O'Mara said. "But I started to hear about other AAU kids who were getting offers. It was motivation for me. I was motivated to do the same thing."

O'Mara also is motivated to lead his team to the state finals in Peoria, something that last year's powerhouse team failed to do. The Redwings are 10-1 going into Tuesday's game against St. Joseph in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

Outsiders might be surprised by Benet's early-season performance. After all, the only returning starter from a year ago, 6-5 junior Pat McInerney, broke his wrist in the opening game and won't return until January. A role player last season with Kaminsky and Dave Sobolewski taking most of the bows, McInerney is expected to be a double digit scorer this season.

"We're not surprised by being 10-1. A lot of us feel we should be 11-0. We lost to Naperville North by four points and we didn't play very well," O'Mara said. "We're waiting for McInerney to come back. We could compete with last year's team. We are able to do as much damage as they did."

In McInerney's absence, everybody has picked up the slack. Other starters are 6-foot senior point guard John Enochs (10 ppg, four assists), 6-3 senior guard Griff Hanekamp (9 ppg), 6-2 senior Joe Schuessler (6 ppg) and 6-6 senior Bobby Wehrli (8 ppg). Other contributors off the bench are 5-11 senior Nick Mankowski, 6-2 junior Jack Toner and 6-6 senior Matt Clements.

"People don't realize that these kids played against Kaminsky, Sobolewski and last year's starters every day in practice," Heidkamp said. "They played 90 practices against two kids who are in the Big Ten. It helps to elevate your game. They are better than people realize."

Heidkamp, 41, in his fourth year as head coach at Benet, already is recognized as one of the best coaches in the state. A 1988 graduate of St. Patrick, he played for the legendary Max Kurland and also coached one year with Kurland before he retired. He served as assistant to St. Patrick coach Mike Bailey for eight years, was head coach at Nazareth for three years, then returned to St. Patrick to assist Bailey for three years before landing the head coaching job at Benet.

"I knew the history," he said. "I knew it was a great school and a great opportunity. I knew the basketball tradition was very strong. I couldn't wait to accept the challenge."

He is looking forward to the challenge awaiting at Proviso West. He is eager to find out some things about his team as they prepare for the conference season and state tournament beyond.

"Last year, we went to Proviso West looking to win the tournament, which we did. This year, we're playing against a lot of athleticism and we'll find out a lot of things about our team," Heidkamp said.

"We'll find out about our ability to handle pressure, to play transition defense, to play in front of a big crowd. Will we have poise or will we get caught up in the excitement? The experience will be positive with the conference and state tournament in front of us and McInerney coming back in January. He will make us better in every facet of the game."

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Michael Carter-Williams learns on the fly, thrives in Bulls debut

Ten days ago Michael Carter-Williams was the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Circumstances can change quickly in the NBA, as the 2013 Rookie of the Year found out when he was traded two weeks ago for the second time in his four-year NBA career. But Carter-Williams also realized just as quickly the value in carving out a role, and he made a great first impression on his coaches and teammates Thursday night in the Bulls’ 105-99 win over the Celtics.

The 6-foot-6 guard played a crucial role in the second half in slowing down a potent Celtics offense, and he provided an offensive jolt midway through the fourth quarter that helped push the Bulls to their first win of the season.

His numbers in 17 minutes won’t jump off the score sheet – he tallied five points, six rebounds and three assists – but his impact on the game was felt on both ends, and in his three stints he cemented himself as a key part of the Bulls’ rotation moving forward.

Carter-Williamas was thrown into unfamiliar territory late in the second quarter. Isaiah Canaan was the first guard off the bench for Fred Hoiberg, but after he missed all three of his 3-point attempts and the Celtics reeled off a 14-4 run to pull within three, 43-40, Hoiberg deployed Carter-Williams alongside starting point guard Rajon Rondo.

In the 10 days since Carter-Williams had joined the Bulls, his time in practice had been spent learning the point guard position. But with Rajon Rondo playing well in the first half, Hoiberg kept his starter in and substituted in Carter-Williams, a natural point guard, into a three-guard lineup with Rondo and Jimmy Butler.

Having Rondo next to him, Carter-Williams said, helped him ease into the Bulls’ offensive sets that wound up making a difference in the fourth quarter.

“He definitely helps me out a lot,” he said of Rondo. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever talked to about basketball, he knows everybody’s position, he’s a great point guard and I’m glad I get to learn from someone like him.”

Carter-Williams’ impact was felt immediately. The Celtics missed their next four shots, with their only points coming off free throws after Nikola Mirotic fouled Jae Crowder on a 3-point attempt. The Bulls pushed their second-quarter lead back to nine by the end of the half as Carter-Williams defended both Avery Bradley and Gerald Green.

That same substitution pattern followed late in the third quarter after the Celtics used a 14-5 run to pull within a possession of the Bulls. The Celtics took their first and only lead of the night on an Isaiah Thomas 3-pointer, but with Carter-Williams again playing next to Rondo the Bulls reeled off seven straight points to push the lead back to six, 75-69.

Carter-Williams opened the fourth quarter on the floor without Rondo, though Wade initiated most of the offense. Playing off the ball, Carter-Williams continued to press defensively while waiting for his opportunity to contribute on the other end.

And when he got his chance, he made the most of it. After missing his first four attempts, Carter-Williams was left alone on the left wing for a 3-pointer that he connected on. Butler then stole an Avery Bradley pass in transition and found Carter-Williams, whose floater in the lane pushed the Bulls’ lead back 12, 93-81, with less than 8 minutes to play.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

When Thomas reeled off five quick points to pull the Celtics within five Hoiberg pulled Carter-Williams for Wade, who assisted on two consecutive Taj Gibson baskets before connecting on a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left to seal the Bulls’ home opener victory.

It was as successful a debut as a reserve point guard could have, with Carter-Williams logging the only positive rating (+3) among the five players who came off the bench for the Bulls. A 30-point first quarter allowed Hoiberg to play Carter-Williams alongside Rondo in the second and third quarters, and the results were evident, even with Carter-Williams playing a “new” position.

“I think it was tough for me because when I was first in there I was with Rondo, and so when he’s in there he runs the 1 and I play the 2,” he said after the game. “So a lot of times in practice I was learning the 1, and it’s pretty hard to learn everybody’s position in one week. So I was just looking for anybody to tell me where to go, what to do, and just try to make the best of it.”

Despite the unfamiliar spot on the floor, Carter-Williams did make the best of it. In nine minutes alongside Rondo, the Bulls’ defensive rating (points per 100 possessions allowed) was 99.1, an improvement from the 103.6 rating the team logged on the night. Carter-Williams’ individual defensive rating was 95.1, the second best number among guards behind Wade (89.8).

The numbers weren’t as solid on the offensive end, with Rondo and Carter-Williams together managing just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. But the Bulls’ surprisingly hot night from beyond the arc – 11-for-25 – allowed Hoiberg to focus more on the defensive end, where the Bulls wound up holding the Celtics to 99 points a night after they tallied 122 against the Nets.

And Carter-Williams still came up with two key passes late in the third quarter as the Celtics threatened. First he found Mirotic open for an 18-foot jumper on the left baseline. Then he grabbed a missed Wade layup and kicked it back out to Mirotic, who buried a 3-pointer in the final minute of the third quarter to push the Bulls’ lead to six heading into the fourth quarter.

“I love Michael’s game. He had a couple times where he had no idea what he was doing when I called the play, but that’s going to happen. He’s only been around the team a few days. But he played with a lot of poise,” Hoiberg said. “I like how he can get into the paint. He can get downhill. That’s something that every team wants.”

It’s an important year for Carter-Williams. In addition to him learning a new system on the fly, he’s in a contract year and said it’s a personal goal of his to cement himself as the backup behind Rondo.

With Jerian Grant inactive and Canaan sitting the final three quarters, Thursday night may have done just that. And whatever his playing time looks like going forward, or who he’s playing with, Carter-Williams is hoping to make the same impact he did Thursday night.

“I think I can really lead us no matter who’s on the court,” he said. “Whatever Fred thinks is best he’s going to do, and of course it’s a personal goal of mine to just be on the floor as much as I can.

“I was able to find my rhythm a little bit (in the second half) and just try to help the team. Defensively, whether it’s rebounding, getting steals; offensively, scoring or making the right pass or the right play.”

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