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

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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 Hot100Hoops.com.

"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."

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Canucks: Corey Crawford rebounds

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The Blackhawks’ starts have been all over the map this season but their finishes have usually been strong. That was the case again on Sunday night as the Blackhawks took a lead, lost a lead and regained a lead for good in their 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

This one featured a little bit of everything. So let’s just get to the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ victory over Vancouver.

1. Jonathan Toews breaks through. If the Blackhawks captain’s confidence was a little shaken with his lack of scoring this season, it should’ve gotten a boost with his Sunday outing. Toews’ goal and three assists were as big for him as they were the Blackhawks, who needed every bit of it late against the Canucks. In his last 12 games Toews has three goals and eight assists. He’s getting there. Said coach Joel Quenneville, “it seems like he was around the puck way more and when he does that, usually good things happen.”

2. Great start. This hasn’t been written very often but it was more than evident on Sunday night. If this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best opening period of the season it was pretty close, as they broke out to a 2-0 lead against the Canucks. The Blackhawks, outside of a 3 ½-minute sequence without a shot on goal, were tenacious and ready to shoot, taking an 18-9 shots-on-goal edge in that first.

3. Corey Crawford rebounds. Quenneville considered Scott Darling for this game, an understandable thought with Darling coming off a 30-stop shutout. But he wanted Crawford to get back to where he was prior to his appendectomy, and Crawford took a step in that direction on Sunday night. In stopping 25 of 27 shots Crawford got his 18th victory of the season and 200th of his career. Quenneville said Crawford “looked like he was in control.”

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4. Michal Kempny’s tough stretch. When Kempny has been good this season he’s been very good. When he’s been bad... The defenseman was in the penalty box when the Canucks scored their first goal and he was beaten by Bo Horvat on the Canucks’ second goal. Kempny didn’t play the final 14 minutes of the game. Quenneville, who liked what Kempny brought on the team’s road trip, said Kempny just has to work through some things. “Coverage with awareness and knowing sometimes it’s man coverage, sometimes it’s playing the puck and clearing the loose stuff,” Quenneville said. “Defenseman is a tough position as you’re growing and learning it, but the more you play the better you play and I still think he’s making progress.”

5. Brian Campbell gets to keep No. 500 this time. Campbell thought he had his 500th point against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night but it was taken away. Well he got it back on Sunday night, setting up Richard Panik’s 11th goal of the season in the first period.