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Mundelein Saturday, 2/9/13 Mundelein's Robert Knar (22) puts up a shot over Zion-Benton's Trenton Curry (15) during the fourth quarter of Saturday's game. Zion-Benton won the game, 78-73. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times
It had been 357 days since Robert Knar last played a home game for the Mundelein boys basketball team.
So long, in fact, that the senior guard created a hashtag — #TheReturn — on Twitter.
Knar took another step toward a full return from an ACL injury Saturday, as he was in the Mustangs’ lineup for the opening tip against Zion-Benton.
“I didn’t even know I’d be in the starting five,” Knar said. “I got a nice applause. It made me feel at home and realize how much I missed it.”
After coming off the bench to score 12 points in Friday’s loss to Libertyville, Knar saw a slight progression in his minutes Saturday. Before the Libertyville game, his doctors — Dr. Mark Neault, who performed the surgery on his knee, and physical therapist Scott Beckman — approved him to play eight minutes.
That was also the plan Saturday. Knar started every quarter, then sat down after two minutes. Late in the fourth quarter, after senior guard Quinn Pokora fouled out, Knar came in and finished the game, playing an additional minute beyond what was planned.
“Whatever the doctor says, we will follow,” said coach Richard Knar, Robert’s father. “We thought it was better to have him start rather than end each quarter.”
Richard Knar said the next step is for Robert Knar to play three minutes per quarter, then four. If he’s healthy, he’ll play more.
“If we can get that where Robert’s minutes go up and our guys are all healthy, we can do some good things,” Richard Knar said.
Saturday’s 78-73 loss to Zion-Benton came 24 hours after a surprising 87-80 loss to Libertyville. Any chance Mundelein had of winning the North Suburban Conference Lake Division is lost, a function of a three-game losing streak that started with a 63-60 loss to Warren on Jan. 26.
One source of Mundelein’s troubles is an inability to play at full strength. When the Mustangs take one step forward (e.g., Knar’s return), they take two steps back.
Star senior forward and Southern Illinois recruit Sean O’Brien sat out the Zion-Benton game with a bad cold. Without him in the lineup, Mundelein got out to a 15-point second-half lead. But the Zee-Bees closed the game on a 30-10 run as the Mustangs had no replacement for O’Brien’s rebounding, scoring and overall presence.
“He’s really calm all the time and it mellows (everyone) out,” said Pokora, who scored a team-high 23 points against Zion-Benton, including five three-pointers. “He’s lanky, a good defender. We missed his rebounding the most.”
Mundelein has three games left before regional play begins Feb. 26. O’Brien is expected back and with a strengthening Robert Knar, the belief is the Mustangs will be peaking at just the right time.
“It’s a gradual process,” Robert Knar said. “I was just happy to be out there with the guys. Hopefully we can start a winning streak.”