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Mundelein's Sean O'Brien (33) puts up a shot during the third quarter of Saturday evening's game against North Chicago at the Mundelein and Warren Thanksgiving Tournament
Mundelein forward Sean O’Brien is the wheel that turns the boys basketball team’s offense.
And why wouldn’t he be? The Southern Illinois commit, who stands 6-foot-7, is big enough to play in the post and athletic enough to take defenders off the dribble. He’s also a skilled passer — able to find open teammates even when they appear to be covered — and a smart rebounder who can clean up the glass when needed.
But talk to O’Brien and Mustangs coach Richard Knar, and both will say that the team’s offense is better when there is balance. Relying too much on their star senior stalls the Mustangs’ attack, a reason why Knar has stressed sharing the ball and getting everyone involved.
As the team’s leader and the primary focus of opposing defenses, O’Brien sees it, too.
“It’s definitely important. We want to get everyone some touches, get them hot,” O’Brien said Friday after Mundelein’s 71-61 loss to North Suburban Conference Lake Division rival Stevenson.
Against the Patriots, O’Brien’s ability to facilitate the offense was limited by both the Stevenson defense and his own foul trouble. He picked up his first foul just 34 seconds into the game and a second with 4:31 remaining in the first quarter, forcing him to the bench for a good part of the first half.
Though he would eventually return and finish the game with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists, it was not enough, thanks in large part to the defensive strategy employed by Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose.
Recognizing O’Brien’s skills, Ambrose stuck physical forward Matt Morrissey on him while keeping athletic defenders on Mundelein’s wing players.
“We tried to limit them to one shot and take away some of their shooters,” Ambrose said. “Some kids can do certain things — some get rebounds, some can shoot. O’Brien can do everything.”
Two other Mustangs scored in double figures against Stevenson: Cliff Dunigan, who had 15 points, and Chino Edube, who scored 11.
But the rest of the team only scored a combined 11 points. Knar said that production will have to improve if the team is to be successful down the stretch.
“Balance is huge for us, because nobody knows who they have to stop,” Knar said. “We have to be basketball-wise, to do things better as a team. (Against the Patriots) we didn’t do that. We have to move without the ball, got to rub them around screens, things like that.”
With some tough tests still to come, including a rematch with conference-leading Stevenson on Feb. 15, the Mustangs hope that improved balance on offense will allow O’Brien — their do-everything forward — to lead them to glory.