Boys basketball opens with tournament win

Evan Goldberg, Sports Editor

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As a pregame routine, the boys basketball team huddles in preparation for its season opener against Niles West, a 67-64 win on Nov. 20 in which senior Kellen Witherell scored 16 points. Photo by Hope Mailing

In a game against Hersey on Nov. 21, the boys basketball team found itself trailing by as many as 21 points midway through the third quarter. By the end of the third, that deficit was cut to nine. To open the fourth, junior Brian Johnson hit a three, and on the ensuing possession, senior Max Knebelkamp intercepted a pass and scored an open layup. Just like that, the lead was cut to four. With 4:50 remaining in the game, Glenbrook North took the lead for the first time since the first quarter via senior Michael Roane’s hustle for an offensive rebound and layup. The team eventually went on to earn a 51-45 victory.

The win over Hersey was the Spartans’ second of six successive victories to open the 2017-2018 season, including finishing as the winner of the GBN/St. Patrick’s Thanksgiving Tournament following a 55-52 victory over De La Salle.

Roane, a second-year varsity player, said the senior leadership and team chemistry, especially between juniors and seniors, has greatly improved from last year, a factor which hindered the team’s ability to succeed a year ago.

“Last year, it was like a juniors versus seniors rivalry type thing,” said Roane. “We just did not get along, [but] this year, the juniors and seniors are a lot closer.”

Junior Frank Siegien said the current seniors have done a better job of making everyone feel like a part of the team.

“Guys like [senior Kellen Witherell] are kind of like the glue of this team,” said Siegien. “They bring everyone together and make sure nobody is [left out].”

David Weber, boys basketball head coach, said Witherell and Knebelkamp, along with seniors Evan Barnes and Sean Merrigan, stepped up at the end of the last season during the playoffs, giving him high hopes for this year.

“We changed our lineup a little bit [last year],” said Weber. “I think the [current seniors] sparked us at the end of the year. … Those guys, with their quickness and their defensive ability, really sparked our team.”

Through the first six games, the Spartans’ leading scorer was Johnson, who averaged 13.7 points per game and shot 52.2 percent from three. Johnson was also named MVP of the Thanksgiving tournament in which he stepped up in the championship game to score 17 points in the absence of Witherell and Knebelkamp due to injuries. Roane leads the team with 6.3 rebounds per game, while Knebelkamp leads the team in assists with 3.6 per game as of Dec. 5.

In the tournament, GBN’s largest margin of victory was six points, and four of the six games as of Dec. 5. have been decided by a single basket. Last season, GBN was 7-8 in games decided by six points or less, something Weber said he hopes the team will improve upon this year.

“We lost a lot of close games last year,” said Weber. “We struggled in the fourth quarter. We couldn’t make plays. We couldn’t get stops, and I hope that team chemistry will make us a better team at the end of the game.”

Roane said the energy from players on the bench, something that was missing last season, helped motivate players on the court during the tight games in the tournament. He specifically remembers Johnson’s and-one layup in the closing seconds of the game against Hoffman Estates which completed a six-point comeback in the closing 90 seconds of the game, ending in a 45-44 win for the Spartans.

“We all just stood up and went crazy [when he made the shot],” said Roane. “It was absolutely insane. No one really expected us to come back and be able to do that, so when that happened, it was almost mind blowing.”

According to Weber, the team’s goals for the season are to first win the Thanksgiving tournament, which was achieved on Nov. 24, win a conference championship, which has eluded the Spartans since 2012, and compete for a regional championship. He believes the seven returning seniors, along with the depth added by the juniors, gives them the opportunity to achieve these goals.

Witherell said he hopes this team leaves a mark on the basketball program for years to come.

“I just want this season to not be forgotten,” said Witherell. “I want us to be remembered by everyone [who is] a part of GBN basketball. Whatever [it takes] to do that I’d be happy with.”

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