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No doubt about Huisel's sports acumen
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Carmel high School basketball player Jonathan Huisel of Gurnee holds an autographed Pedro Martinez baseball as he stands with his collection of autographed sports memorabilia.


Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/7/2010 10:54 PM

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While high school athletes seem to constantly be getting bigger, faster and stronger, they also might be getting more provincial.

I'm not talking about their view of the world in general here. That's pretty much 24/7, 360-degrees. I'm talking about their view of sports.

What do they really know, and how much do they really care about sports these days?

Over the years, I've had more than a few coaches lament the evolution of the high school athlete from a perspective standpoint. They say that high school kids used to be diehard watchers of football and basketball, baseball and other sports on television. They used to eagerly read about their favorite teams and players in the newspapers.

These perspectives are thought not only to have broadened their knowledge of sports but to have served as a motivator of what is possible with some hard work.

With hundreds of shows on cable to choose from, the Internet, iPods, video games and dozens of other gadgets siphoning time away from teenagers, these coaches have argued that their athletes just aren't big sports fans anymore, and that their athletic development, from a holistic standpoint, is somewhat stunted because of it.

I've had coaches tell me that high schoolers aren't as knowledgeable about the game as they once were; and sometimes they aren't even as passionate as they were when the thing to do was meticulously follow the comings and goings of their favorite teams and players.

Well, let me introduce you to 18-year-old Jonathan Huisel.

There are exceptions to every rule, and apparently every theory.

Not only does Huisel know all about his favorite teams and players in basketball, baseball, football and hockey, he could also probably sell you a pretty impressive piece of coordinating memorabilia.

Huisel, a senior basketball and baseball standout at Carmel, is an avid sports lover, watcher - and collector.

"I hate video games," Huisel said. "Whenever I go to my friends' houses and they're playing video games, I'm always like 'This is so boring.' I'd much rather watch a game on TV. And I'm always looking to go to a game in person. Then you go and you hope that maybe you also get a few autographs."

Huisel, a 6-foot-6 center who loves doing the dirty work in the post, is averaging 12 points in a season that has the Corsairs experiencing more success than they have in years. With seven victories, Carmel has already won more games than last year and Huisel is a big reason why.

Meanwhile, in the spring, Huisel shifts to the mound, where he is one of the Corsairs' top pitchers and a well-regarded prospect at the next level.

When Huisel isn't pushing people around in the post to clear an offensive rebound, or winding up on a wicked fastball, he's busy following all the teams and players he loves.

And when he's not doing that, he's faithfully managing an eBay account that he uses to buy and sell the memorabilia that stuffs his bedroom from floor to ceiling.

We're talking hundreds of items here. Cool stuff, too.

"Actually, I don't really sell all that much because I want to keep most of what I get," Huisel said. "I've got some pretty good stuff and I really like looking at it and remembering how I got it."

Almost all of Huisel's memorabilia is autographed, and almost every autograph he got himself.

Every bit of memorabilia has a story to it.

"I could look at a ball in my room and tell you what happened in the game, who won, everything," Huisel said. "I could tell you how I got the autograph, who I was with when I got it. (The memorabilia) is a great way to keep your memories straight."

For instance, Huisel will never forget how he went out to preseason practices this past summer to get autographs from as many Bears players as possible. He's now got signatures from almost every player on this year's roster on an orange team flag.

Huisel has also collected used game gloves from Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox, a cleat signed by Bears defensive lineman Tommie Harris, a signed baseball card and ball from Pedro Martinez, a signed glove once used by former Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, a signed jersey from Ben Gordon, signed golf balls from PGA events.

The list goes on and on and on.

Huisel, who sleeps under a wall mural of the Fenway Park scoreboard, has dozens of autographed baseballs in his room that are sitting in protective plastic casings and stacked high on his dresser. He's also got signed hockey pucks, signed bats, signed Sports Illustrated covers, signed jerseys, signed basketballs and footballs, signed Wheaties boxes, signed players' cards.

His room is literally like a sports museum.

"I've devoted a lot of time to sports," said Huisel, who still manages to carry a 4.0 grade point average. "But the great thing is that it's a lot of time I'm spending with my family. We have season tickets to the Bears and my dad (Jim) will get a lot of other tickets to the Bulls, the Blackhawks, baseball games. And we all go to games together. Even my mom (Rose) is into it."

Huisel and his 24-year-old brother Steven, who played baseball at Warren and then at Elmhurst College and is now the pitching coach at Elmhurst, also collect together.

They look for deals on cool merchandise and then make a game of seeing who can get the best autographs.

"My brother used to work at a sports memorabilia shop and got really into trading cards," Huisel said. "He kind of got me into it and now we try to out-do each other with who gets the best stuff. It's fun, though."

Huisel, who is currently on the ready for a Derrick Rose autograph, is hoping the fun will never end.

He says that being such a passionate sports fan and collector has shaped him as a person, and certainly an athlete.

"It helps when you watch a game, and you listen to the commentators, I'm always like, 'Oh, I could use that myself,'" Huisel said.

"Just watching the athletes helps me, too. When you watch a professional athlete, you constantly get the feeling, 'Wow, if that could ever be me one day.' Even if you know it's the slimmest chance in the world, it keeps you going, it keeps you wanting to get better."