O'Brien starting to scratch the surface

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O'Brien starting to scratch the surface

High school coaches often say that the most satisfying experience of their career is when the "light bulb goes on" in the mind of a young athlete, when he realizes for the first time how good he can be, that he can play the game as well or better than everyone else.

For Mundelein's Sean O'Brien, that landmark moment came last July.

O'Brien went on to have an outstanding junior season. He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds and proved to be an agile shot-blocker as Mundelein finished 26-8, losing to Warren in the sectional final for the second year in a row.

"My junior year was the best year of my life," O'Brien said. "Our team played great and it was by far my best year personally. It was a breakout season. College coaches started to notice me."

In the recent Best Buy tournament in Minneapolis, playing for Mike Weinstein's Fundamental University, O'Brien turned in another signature performance, attracting the attention of several Division I coaches.

"I'm not the most confident player," he said. "The light bulb hasn't completely gone on yet. I still have trouble with my confidence a little bit. I know I can play with everyone but I don't play like I can sometimes. At Best Buy, I did play well but I know I can play a lot better.

"I am a mid-major player right now. If I was a high major school right now, I wouldn't take me. But I think I'll get to the point where I can play with anyone. What are they looking for? They want to see me have the ball in my hands on the perimeter and show them that I can make big plays, that I'm a point guard in a 6-foot-6 body. What impresses the coaches the most is I can consistently shoot from anywhere on the court."

O'Brien has offers from Florida Gulf Coast and Elon. He has interest from Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Loyola, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Belmont and Lafayette. Once he achieves a qualifying ACT score, he can expect more offers. Notre Dame is his dream school. His goal is to land a Big 10 scholarship.

Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye consider O'Brien, 6-foot-7 Nathan Taphorn of Pekin and 6-foot-7 Alec Peters of Washington, Illinois, as the three best shooters among all of the wing forwards in the class of 2013.

"O'Brien is the most athletic of these three players and has tremendous offensive versatility," Roy Schmidt said. "That is because he handles the ball well and is a great passer both in transition and when set from the top of the key. He has proven he can drill shots from beyond the three-point arc."

He is a point guard in a 6-foot-6 body because, when he was younger and only 6-foot-2, he learned guard skills. His father is 6-foot-6 so he always felt his son would grow. But the youngster never lost the feel for ball-handling and passing like a guard. He grew to 6-foot-4 after his sophomore year, then to 6-foot-6 as a junior.

"He is a match-up nightmare for a lot of people," Mundelein coach Dick Knar said. "He works in the post with both hands and can shoot threes. He also is a shot blocker with long arms and great timing."

Weinstein describes O'Brien as a "huge sleeper who is just starting to scratch the surface as to how good he can be. At the worst, he is a mid-major. But he is the kind of kid who could blow up to major Division I. He is very intriguing because he can do so many things at 6-foot-6. His best days are ahead of him. I'd like to see where he is at the end of July."

O'Brien will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills in front of Division I coaches against the best competition in the country. In June, he will participate in the Riverside-Brookfield tournament and team camps at Loyola and Northern Iowa. In July, he will compete in major AAU events in Orlando and Las Vegas.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm at 7 12 right now," he said. "I'm still scratching the surface of how good I can be. I need more athleticism. I'm working on my body. I have the skill set. Now I need my body to improve.

"The main thing I'm working on is my jump shot. I love to go against better teams and better players. It shows you where you are as a team and personally. When I play against kids who are going to high Division I schools, it motivates me, knowing I can do that, too. My goal is to get offers from major Division I schools."

What about Notre Dame? He's an O'Brien, right? His grandfather played basketball at Notre Dame. So far, however, the Irish haven't expressed any interest. "If they showed interest in me, I'd jump on it and work my butt off to try to get there," he said.

O'Brien works out five or six days a week. He lifts weights under the direction of personal trainer three days a week. He is beginning to get stronger but he weighs only 190 pounds and hopes to weigh 205 as a senior, 215 in college.

He enjoys the recruiting process and is looking forward to the 2012-13 season because, with O'Brien, Northern Iowa-bound guard Robert Knar and the entire starting lineup returning, Mundelein figures to rank among the top teams in the state. But the Mustangs have big challenges ahead.

"We've never won a sectional. That's our first goal. We've lost to Warren six times in the last two years. They've knocked us out of the state tournament the last two years," O'Brien said.

"I regret how we went about doing some things last season. We had 10 juniors on the team. We knew in the back of our minds that we had next year. We kind of let that overtake last year's team. We were more focused on next year. Now it is this year. We have a new mindset. This is the last go-round for the whole team. You can tell the difference in open gym and the weight room. Kids are more intense, more hungry, more motivated. This is our last year."

O'Brien has no timetable for the recruiting process. He will wait and be patient because he is convinced that, if he plays as well as he thinks he can play, he will receive more Division I offers. He said he will wait until at least November or perhaps later before making a decision.

"Now I'm just enjoying the process," he said. "It can get stressful and overwhelming. But only 10 percent of all athletes get an opportunity to do this. So I'm enjoying it. Ten years from now, I'll think it was really cool."

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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 26 of 28 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.