Bulls

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."

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.