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."

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

Raiders' move to Las Vegas approved by NFL owners: When's Bears' first trip to Sin City?

The Oakland Raiders won't be the Oaklnad Raiders for much longer.

NFL owners approved by a 31-1 vote Monday the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, meaning Sin City will soon have its own NFL team.

With the Raiders playing in the AFC, the move doesn't affect the Bears much. But there eventually will be a road trip to Nevada.

When's the first time the Bears could play in Vegas?

Now, that's contingent on a couple things.

First, the NFL needs to keep its current scheduling model, which pits certain divisions against one another every few seasons.

Second, will the Raiders even be playing in Vegas by 2019?

A new stadium needs to be built, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that the Raiders will stay in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, potentially getting to Vegas for the 2019 season — when the Bears could play there in the team's inaugural campaign in the desert. But a new stadium might not be done by then, keeping the Raiders in Vegas another season. Or, maybe the Raiders could play where UNLV plays.

Whether it's two years down the road or more, there will one day be a Bears road trip to Vegas, one it's fairly certain Chicago fans will be interested in joining.

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

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USA TODAY

Archie Miller a good hire at Indiana, but his promotion to the big time comes with big-time expectations

Archie Miller is the new Indiana head basketball coach, and while that gives Indiana the big splash it wanted for Tom Crean's successor, it remains to be seen whether it will please the Indiana fan base and its monster-sized expectations.

Miller is a great get for the Hoosiers, a guy who's taken the Dayton Flyers to four straight NCAA tournaments, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014, a round the Hoosiers themselves haven't reached in 15 years. Miller has Big Ten experience, a former Thad Matta assistant at Ohio State, and he has experience recruiting in Big Ten Country.

He's been in line for a promotion from the A-10 to a major-conference program for a couple years now, and he was one of the biggest names at that level that Indiana or any other major-conference program looking for a new coach could have snagged.

But weren't Indiana fans expecting Steve Alford to come back to Bloomington?

Keeping in line with the enormous expectations this fan base always seems to have for this program, the internet was hoping athletics director Fred Glass could woo the former Indiana star back to his alma mater, pry him away from the most tradition-rich program in the country to spearhead a rebuilding effort for the team that finished tied for 10th in the Big Ten standings this season.

Those hopes seemed pretty unrealistic from the beginning — though it is difficult to argue with the immense financial attractiveness any Big Ten program has — but a perfect example of the kind of expectations that await Miller.

Marquette is plenty of distance up the college-basketball ladder from Dayton, but it was Crean, too, who made a career leap to the Hoosiers almost a decade ago. Crean's nine-year tenure featured some program-saving digging out from the horrendous spot Kelvin Sampson left things in. It also featured two outright Big Ten championships and three seasons of 27 or more wins. But all that couldn't keep the crushing expectations off Crean's shoulders, and one season after he won a conference title in one of the toughest conference's in college hoops, he was out.

Crean's kind of success wasn't good enough at Indiana. Will Miller's be?

Of course there was inconsistency that accompanied Crean's winning. The Hoosiers were just two wins above .500 this season, the same thing that was true a season after Indiana earned a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament. The two winningest seasons during Crean's tenure were followed by years in which Indiana didn't make the NCAA tournament. Not the kind of trajectory a program expecting a national championship wants to see, hence his firing.

But that goes to show how tough the task is in Bloomington, not necessarily when it comes to building a winner but when it comes to pleasing the folks in this basketball-loving state.

That's Miller's job now, and there likely won't be too long of a honeymoon period. Miller won at the lower levels of college basketball, winning 102 games over the past four seasons, but the Big Ten is a different animal. Another former Matta assistant, John Groce, found that out over his five seasons at Illinois. After getting hired off a Sweet Sixteen run at Ohio, Groce made the NCAA tournament just once in his five seasons in Champaign, the reason for the Big Ten's other coaching change this offseason.

Miller comes to Indiana with a better resume than Groce brought to Illinois — the A-10 is a much better league on an annual basis than the MAC, and Miller did more consistent winning over a longer stretch — but with a similar challenge ahead of him. Illini fans soured on Groce relatively quick, with questions about his job status lingering for a couple of years before he was fired earlier this month. Certainly Crean was never free from questions about his job status during his time in Bloomington, not even getting them to go away with a Big Ten championship last season. Will Hoosier fans treat Miller any differently if a deep tournament run doesn't come in one of Miller's first few seasons?

Of course, that all comes with the territory of being a college basketball coach, and Miller knows that well from his time as a major-conference assistant and with his brother the head coach at Arizona. But now he has to live it every day.

Miller is a great hire by Glass. It's time to find out if Indiana and its sky-high expectations make for a great landing spot for Miller.