One day, Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber was lamenting about issues he has with a lack of depth on his 2011-12 basketball team. The next day, his star player, 6-foot-8 junior Andrew McAuliffe, suffered a knee injury. On Monday, Weber learned that McAuliffe will be sidelined from four to six weeks.
"He has a fractured patella. He won't be back until mid to late January. He'll miss 10-12 games, a big chunk of the season," Weber said. "We have to get through this stretch of games without him and it will be tough because we have to go to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
"We have to totally change our whole offense, all that we have done up to this point. And everybody will have to step up. We have to get game experience and get guys off the bench to play."
Ironically, McAuliffe was injured during what Weber described as his best game of the year and his team's best game of the year. Despite suffering a knee injury, he scored 29 points and grabbed six rebounds in last Tuesday's 67-39 rout of Niles North.
"Then we played our worst game of the year," Weber said, referring to last Friday's 48-42 overtime loss to Deerfield. It was the first of several games that McAuliffe will miss.
Among the players who will be counted on to step up are 6-foot-5 senior Mark Johnson and 6-foot junior point guard Kurt Karis. Johnson scored 28 points against Niles North, then had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Deerfield. But Karis was befuddled and frustrated by Deerfield's box-and-one defense and never got untracked. It was a lesson he won't forget.
"We have to scrap more. We don't have the 6-8 presence that we had," Karis said. "We didn't make shots on Friday. And we were 5-for-13 from the free throw line. The defense packed in with a box-and-one on me. I scored only four points. It was very frustrating."
Afterward, aware that McAuliffe would miss some time, Karis texted all of his teammates. "We didn't play a good game. We have to work harder in practice. We have to work even harder and scrap harder. And I need to step up and be the player I can be, shoot more, be more confident," he said.
"One loss doesn't make a season. We need more balance. That loss shows how much harder we need to work. It is good that this happens to us early rather than later so it shows what we need to do."
Even before McAuliffe was injured, Weber complained about lack of depth. Three players already had left the program. Point guard Joe Prince moved back to California. Backup point guard Ethan Schmidt quit the team before the season began. And Cory Dolins transferred to Niles West.
Weber planned to build around McAuliffe, who was averaging 15 points and five rebounds and is being evaluated by Northwestern and other Division I schools, and Karis, who is averaging 13 points and four assists and was MVP of the Niles West Thanksgiving Tournament.
Without McAuliffe, he will count on Karis, Johnson, 6-foot-2 senior Mitchell Lev, 6-foot-1 senior Adam Chick and 6-foot-1 senior Trevor Ponticelli to fill the void. Johnson obviously got the message. He was averaging 10 points per game but scored 47 in his last two games.
They'll take a 6-1 record and debut their new lineup and revamped offense on Tuesday against Conant, then play Highland Park on Friday before meeting St. Patrick in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.
"This team will be very competitive throughout the season," Weber said before McAuliffe's injury. "We won't blowout a lot of people. We have to win a lot of close games. We won't score a lot of points. We don't hit a lot of three-point shots. We play slower than we're used to playing."
Like many kids growing up in Northbrook, Karis was inspired by the spectacular play of former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer. His brother was on Scheyer's state championship team.
"So I went to every game. My dad played basketball and pushed me to play. Watching the state championship team made me want to play for Glenbrook North," Karis said. "Scheyer was amazing to watch. It was incredible to see what he could do. His supporting cast knew their roles. It inspired me to play my heart out to be able to play on the varsity.
"I was in Peoria when they won the state title. My brother didn't play a minute in the final game but he was the happiest he ever was. He played the last minute of the semifinal and got fouled and made two free throws at the end. It was his great moment of glory."
Now Kurt faces a big challenge if his team is to advance on the state tournament trail. "I'm the quarterback out there. My major role is to distribute the ball. We have desire. All the seniors want to win. It's a hard thing to win a state title but we haven't had a big challenge yet to see if we are the real deal. Now we do. But we think we can do it," he said.
Meanwhile, Weber has his own challenges to deal with. In his 17th season, he has won 325 games and one state championship. But he has noticed how the game has evolved and he isn't sure it is for the better.
"The high school season isn't as important to these kids as before," he said. "They play so much outside the school. The main focus used to be high school. Now it is AAU. They are tired and worn out. They play so much AAU and go to personal trainers and weight training coaches. By 3:00 in the afternoon, when they come to our practice, they are exhausted.
"And parents are into it more than ever before. The parents now are more hands on. The kids go home and tell their parents everything that happened in the day. The Internet has changed parental involvement. They want to see success. It isn't as much fun as it used to, nowhere near as much fun as when a kid came to practice and was excited to wear a Glenbrook North jersey.
"The pride and passion of playing for your high school isn't there anymore. When we used to scout five to 10 years ago, we would be exhausted. Now you scout and it's pretty much all the same...drive to the rim, not a lot of set plays. High school basketball isn't as structured as it used to be. It's all about athleticism, stopping dribble penetration, who is more athletic and who can drive and penetrate and kick. You used to have to figure out plays but not anymore."
Coaching without McAuliffe in the lineup could be his biggest challenge of all.