Preps Talk

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."

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Vincent Holmes, Andy Schindel, Chris Lewis, Justin Harris and Mark Thomas

How they fared in 2018: 8-3 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A IHSA state football playoff field, defeated Springfield and then lost to Normal West in second round action.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Leyden
Sept. 6 vs St Francis
Sept. 13 @ Reavis
Sept. 20 @ Evergreen Park
Sept. 27 @ Eisenhower
Oct. 4 vs Oak Lawn
Oct. 11 @ Lemont
Oct. 18 vs Richards
Oct. 25 vs Argo

Biggest storyline: Coach Rone’s first season was a success. Can the Astros make another state playoff run in 2019?

Names to watch this season: LB Matthew Hightower (Sr.), WR/DB Jalen Smith (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros welcome back six returning starters back on defense, but they will feature nearly an entire starting offense with very limited experience.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach John Rone was able to get the Astros into the  playoffs in his first season in charge of the Shepard program. It was also the fourth straight playoff appearance for the school. The Astros always have plenty on hand in the skills department. But the defense may need to carry a talented —but younger— offense. If the pieces can gel, they can challenge for another IHSA state playoff appearance.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.