Knar turns Mundelein into a winner

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Knar turns Mundelein into a winner

Dick Knar has a history of turning hamburger into filet mignon. He once helped persuade future NBA star David Robinson to attend the Naval Academy. He turned a losing program at Northridge Prep into a sectional champion. And he is trying to do the same thing at Mundelein.

Now, with more than a few able assists from his son Robert, a 6-foot junior guard who has scored over 1,500 points in his brief career, Knar hopes to turn Mundelein into a consistent winner by achieving things that the Lake County school never has experienced before.

"This could be the best team I've coached," Knar said. "We have only two seniors. We are so young and sometimes we play like it. We lost two games in a row (to Cary Grove and Crystal Lake Central) and showed our warts. Size kills us. But we can score. If we push ourselves and rebound and defend, we can be very successful."

Mundelein will carry a 15-3 record into Friday's North Suburban Lake matchup with Stevenson. On Saturday, the Mustangs will face Antioch.

A year ago, Knar's team was 29-5 and lost to conference rival Warren by eight points in the sectional final. If Mundelein is to make history by winning its first sectional championship in school history, it is likely the Mustangs will have to go through Warren.

"We still have to beat Warren. They are the perennial power. But we don't fear them," said Robert Knar. "We know what it takes to get to the sectional. If we play defense, run our offense and accept our roles, we can get over the hump. If we beat Warren, we will know that we have arrived.

"We're getting a reputation as winners. The football team was 1-8, 2-7, 1-8 and 0-9 in the last four years. Losing started to get old. If you win, fans will come to see you. People have taken a liking to us. The students have adopted us. We don't want to have a reputation as a loser anymore."

At Northridge Prep in Niles, Dick Knar started 5-15 and 9-21 at a school that had won only eight games in eight years. In his third season, he was 21-9. In his last two years, he was 20-9 and 22-11 and won a first-ever Class A sectional title.

At Mundelein, he started 4-21 and 7-21. "Brutal" was how he described it. But he won 22 games in his third season. "I could see the light at the end of the tunnel," he said. Now the goal is to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time and perhaps punch a ticket to Peoria.

If the Mustangs make the trip, Robert Knar will be the conductor. He is averaging 21 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7 assists per game. He is the fourth leading scorer in school history and is leading Lake County in assists for the third year in a row. He has scored as many as 41 points in a game.

"When you have a good point guard, you don't realize how good he is until you don't have him anymore," Dick Knar said. "We hope people will press us. Robert has only 27 turnovers in 18 games. Last year, he went seven games in a row without a turnover.

"What makes him so good is he thinks he is the best player on the floor whenever he steps on the floor. He has no fear. He can control things. He is unselfish to a fault."

Robert Knar has received interest from Stanford and Virginia but he admits he probably prefers the "homey atmosphere" of smaller schools such as Northern Iowa and Bucknell. They have offered. So have Central Michigan, Santa Clara, Illinois State and Toledo.

"I visited Stanford and it didn't scare me," he said. "But Northern Iowa or Bucknell are more my style. They are a good fit. They are on my mind the most. They give me a lot of attention. Bucknell said I am one of their top priorities.

"Mid-major and high-major doesn't matter anymore. You get great competition everywhere. The Missouri Valley is a great conference. Northern Iowa is a small school but they have proven that they can play with anyone in basketball."

But recruiting is taking a backseat to completing his junior season in style. Robert Knar teams with 6-foot-6 junior Sean O'Brien (15 ppg, 10 rpg, 52 blocks), 6-foot-4 junior Chino Ebube (10 ppg, 6 rpg), 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Nate Williams (5 ppg) and 6-foot-1 senior Nate Brune (7 ppg, 33 three-pointers).

More firepower is provided by 5-foot-10 senior guard Jordan Wiegold (6 ppg) and 6-foot-3 junior Cliff Dunigan, who has scored 20 or more points in three games.

Robert Knar and O'Brien were guards at the lower levels. But O'Brien grew from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-6 and retained his point guard skills while developing into a shot blocker. He is a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Ebube is back after missing nine games while attending his grandmother's funeral in Nigeria.

"We need to be more consistent," the coach said. "We have to learn what level of intensity it takes to practice every day. We're working on ways to rebound better as a group. We must get our guards to go after the boards. We must rebound consistently. That's the biggest key for us."

Knar's players also see the light at the end of the tunnel. "From a standpoint of talent and athleticism, we are good. There is a maturation process we have to go through to be as good as last year. We are getting there. We are imposing our will on other teams. We feel we can get on a roll," Robert Knar said.

He cites his team's recent victory over conference rival Libertyville. "They cut our lead from 18 points to four. An inexperienced team wouldn't have won. They had momentum. But we held it together and won by 12," he said.

"We will outlast people. That's our edge, what will make the difference in tough games. We are in good condition. We have good shooting. We have multiple guys who can go for 20 points in any game. And we have a deep bench and quickness. That will enable us to outlast opponents."

Robert Knar said he and his teammates have been mapping out their goals for the 2011-12 season ever since a preseason meeting.

"The school never has gotten beyond the sectional. It was a cloud hanging over our heads," he said. "At that team meeting, we explained what it would take to get to state. Some thought they were afraid. But we said we have to do it together. It is starting to evolve now. It is catching on with the whole team. We're starting to believe. We think we can knock off Warren and Stevenson. We have the right guys to do it."

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both drop series openers

Here are some of Monday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Preview: Cubs look to bounce back vs. Giants tonight on CSN

White Sox fall to Diamondbacks in series opener

Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen

Should Blackhawks' next assistant coach be Joel Quenneville's choice?

How Bears are using veteran videos to school rookies on NFL way

Luis Robert the latest high-end acquisition for White Sox

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Carlos Rodon 'getting closer' but still without time frame for return

Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?

MMQB's Peter King's thoughts on Trubisky, Howard, White and the Bears offense

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”