It's not Christmas yet, but the Libertyville boys basketball team got a pretty nice gift this week.
Point guard Ryan Barth still has more basketball ahead of him in a Wildcat uniform.
Barth missed Libertyville's overtime loss to Zion-Benton last week with a lower leg injury that made even walking painful.
Teammates and coaches feared that Barth, Libetyville's leading scorer and playmaker, could miss the rest of the season. Barth did, too.
But doctors confirmed on Wednesday that the injury wasn't as serious as they initially thought it could be. In fact, they've told Barth that with about four weeks of rest and rehab, he should be back on the floor in January.
The Wildcats, who have started out 4-3, will be counting the days. Barth, who hurt himself when he jumped up for a rebound in a game against Lake Zurich and landed on someone's foot, is averaging 23 points per game.
"We've been hoping for the best," Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil said. "Ryan has been playing terrific this season. I've had other coaches come up to me and say that he's arguably the best point guard in the (North Suburban Conference) and I would agree.
"We've been hoping that he wouldn't miss this year. He already missed his freshman year."
Barth broke his foot playing football as a freshman.
He was determined to make up for the lost time this season.
"Ryan worked so hard in the off-season trying to get ready for his senior year," Bogumil said. "He played football in the fall and even while he was doing that, he came in to the gym each day at 6:30 in the morning to work on his shot so that he could keep sharp for basketball season. He didn't want to lose any of the work he had done on his shot over the summer."
Ironically, Barth once again finds himself in a position of having to keep his skills from dulling. It's probably more important this time around considering he'll be coming back when everyone else is in mid-season form.
"Ryan might have to change some of what he does," Bogumil said. "But he'll be alright. He's such a good player.
"It's just unfortunate that he's having to miss so much time. It just shows you how fragile playing time can be. We tell our kids all the time that your high school career is fleeting. Enjoy every moment of it."
Take your Pils: Already, Libertyville has found just the right medicine to cure its blues about Ryan Barth's injury.
Barth, the team's point guard, went down with a leg injury earlier this month and will be out for the next four weeks.
But the Wildcats have hardly missed a beat at that spot because junior guard Griffin Pils has been on fire. The former reserve scored 17 points against Zion-Benton in his first game starting at point in place of Barth.
"Griffin was really good coming off the bench because he gave us a spark and it was nice to be able to spell guys like Ryan with a really good player," Libetyville coach Scott Bogumil said. "But Griffin did a really nice job (against Zion-Benton). He did a nice job running the team."
Pils was brought up to the varsity last year as a sophomore. He and junior Ellis Matthews will be counted on more for scoring in Barth's absence.
Like Pils, Matthews came up big in the Zion-Benton game, scoring a game-high 28 points.
Bee stings: For Libertyville, its loss in overtime to Zion-Benton last weekend felt a bit too familiar.
Over the last few years, games between Libertyville and the Zee-Bees have often come down to the final seconds, and just a bucket or two.
"We've had a lot of 2- point games with Zion-Benton, and a lot of overtime games with them," Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil said. "Unfortunately, we've lost most of them."
Last year, the Wildcats took a last-second three-point shot that would have won the game, but it missed. In 2008, when Zion-Benton finished as the state runner-up, Libertyville lost in overtime to the Zee-Bees.
The following year, the Wildcats hit a last-second shot to beat Zion-Benton.
"In my first year at Libertyville (2004-05), we lost to Zion-Benton in the regional on a last-second shot," Bogumil said. "It's a little frustrating. For the most part, we haven't been able to get over the hump against those guys. In games like that, you second-guess everything afterwards because one play really could have made a difference.
"You'd almost rather lose by 8."
Third a charm: With two explosive scorers in the lineup in Ryan Sawvell and Robert Knar, Mundelein has proven to be a very good basketball team thus far.
The Mustangs have started out the season 6-2.
But to be a great basketball team, head coach Dick Knar believes his team needs at least three main scorers.
"It doesn't have to be one guy doing it, it can be a bunch of them all contributing to fill that role," Knar said. "But one way or another we definitely need a third option."
That's because teams are keying hard on Sawvell and Robert Knar. They're packing their defenses in the paint to make life tough for the 6-foot-8 Sawvell and they're face-guarding and double-teaming Knar on the perimeter.
"Ryan's handling it really well. He's averaging 20 points and 15 rebounds a game. And Robert is averaging 17 points a game and is our leading playmaker," Knar said. "But they've got to work really hard for everything they get. It can be frustrating for them at times.
"Another option, that third option, if we had that on a consistent basis, if we had guys who were consistently hitting shots, defenses would need to cover that and it would make things easier for Ryan and Robert."
One likely candidate for that third-option scoring is sophomore forward Sean O'Brien, who has started every game.
Knar believes that once O'Brien gains a little more experience and is more comfortable on the floor, his impact will be much more significant.
"Sean has all of the skills," Knar said. "He's got really good hands, he's really long and he does a great job of getting in the lane with little runners. I think he could be that (third-option) guy that we really need."
Knar also thinks a combination of multiple players, such as Leavon Head, Jordan Weigold and Nate Brune, could fit that third-option scoring role as well.
Sparking the team: Grayslake North center David Sparks is living up to his name.
He has given the 6-1 Knights exactly the spark they've been looking for in the post.
"He's the best back-to-the-basket post player we've had here ever," said Grayslake North Todd Grunloh, who helped start the program five years ago.
"He started the season a bit slow, but he's really gotten into a rhythm these last four games. He's putting up some big numbers."
With 14 points against McHenry on Wednesday, Sparks scored in double-figures for the third game in a row. His 6 blocks followed an 8-block performance in a win at Antioch last week.
"David was a third-string center last year and every now and then you'd see glimpses of some really great things but then there would be other times when you knew he had a ways to go," Grunloh said. "But as the season went on, he got closer and closer to our other two guys and now, he's very consistent."
Sparks has been consistently good at rebounding. He's averaging about 8 rebounds a game and had back-to-back double-figure rebound games against Cary-Grove (12) and Antioch (10).
"The great thing about that is that David is very active on the offensive boards," Grunloh said. "About half the rebounds he gets are on the offensive end."
Sharp elbows: Call it eye candy for the elbow.
It's what so many NBA and college players are wearing over their elbows these days, the slick, stretchy sleeves that often cover the entire length of the arm.
Some players seem to wear them as a trendy accessory while others wear them for support or as protection for an injury.
Interestingly, arm sleeves are actually banned in high school basketball by the IHSA.
That's why Grant guard Jordan Villarreal had to get special permission to wear his. Same for Grant forward Jerry Gaylor.
"They both got notes from their doctors," Grant coach Wayne Bosworth said. "They both have elbow problems."
Villarreal has a bad case of tendonitis in his elbow after taking a nasty spill in a game against Richmond-Burton earlier this season and Gaylor has been getting fluid in his elbow.
"Jordan's fall was pretty bad and his arm was actually stuck in one position for awhile," Bosworth said. "He missed our games against North Chicago and Vernon Hills."
Villarreal has now been cleared to play and the Bulldogs are hoping he's able to function with the arm sleeve as well as Gaylor. Gaylor leads Grant in scoring with about 20 points per game.
"Jordan is just a sophomore but he was playing really well (before the elbow injury)," Bosworth said. "He wasn't starting for us yet, but he was shooting up there real quick.
"He's our best ball-handler and he is leading the team in assists. It will be nice to have him back."
Comes with the territory: Grant's new up-tempo offense puts a lot of points on the board. Far more than the Bulldogs are used to.
"We were averaging 50 points per game last year. If that," said Grant coach Wayne Bosworth, whose team is 3-3 on the season. "Now, we're averaging 70 points per game. We've had a lot of guys in double-figures this season. It's been nice."
What hasn't been so nice is that with the extra points have come extra turnovers.
The Bulldogs are averaging more than 20 turnovers a game and had a 30-plus turnover game earlier in the season.
"You kind of figure that's going to happen when you're getting up and down the floor like we are," Bosworth said. "You're going to have some turnovers. But you still can't have as many as we've been having.
"That's something we are working on. I'd really like to see us down more around 12 turnovers a game. We've been working on not rushing and on making better decisions with the ball and we're hoping that will help cut down on our turnovers."
Tall team: As a former post player, Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe is in heaven.
He loves the makeup of his team this year: big, bigger and-
"This is the biggest team we've ever had since I've been at Grayslake Central and knowing what we've got coming up, it'll be the biggest team we have here for awhile," Moe said. "It's fun getting to coach all these big guys."
The Rams boast four players who are 6-foot-5 or taller in 6-foot-8 Casey Boyle, 6-foot-6 CJ Stempeck and Sean Kirby and Tim Abbott, both of whom check in at 6-foot-5.
"I'm not sure what kind of good tips I have for them," said a humble Moe, who is about 6-foot-6 and played in the post at Augustana. "I just try to work with them on all the little things, like footwork and post passing and setting picks and making good (interior) seals. It's just really nice having four big post players to work with."
Moe says it's even nicer to have four big post players to play in games. Stempeck and Boyle get the most playing time and are in starting roles, but Kirby and Abbott see plenty of action. That way, Stempeck and Boyle can stay fresh.
"We really use a four-man rotation in the post and that's huge because it is so tiring in the post," Moe said. "We can give CJ and Casey good rests and we also have options when any of those guys gets in foul trouble."
Tim time: Need a basket in the clutch?
At Carmel, it's time to call on guard Tim Hendricks.
Coming up big at the biggest moments seems to be his specialty this season.
Hendricks hit a shot that sent Carmel's game against St. Viator into overtime. He also hit 2 three-pointers and was 5-for-5 from the free throw line in that game.
And against Lake Forest, Hendricks scored 7 fourth-quarter points to keep Carmel in the game late.
"He's also done a great job of handling the ball for us in those pressure situations and he's come up with some big plays on the defensive end at key times," Carmel coach Tim Bowen said. "Tim has really carried us. We knew he was going to be a key player for us this season, but he's kind of surprised me in that he's taken on even more than we expected."
Hendricks is averaging 14.2 points per game for the Corsairs, who are trying to get back on track. After a 2-0 start, Carmel has lost eight of its last nine games.
"We just need a couple of other guys to step up like Tim has," Bowen said. "We've got the guys. They're there. It's just a matter of time before it happens."
Making the rounds: The North Suburban Conference. The Fox Valley Conference. The Mid-Suburban League. The East Suburban Catholic Conference.
Carmel coach Tim Bowen has coached in each one of those leagues: at Warren, Grayslake Central, Waukegan and now Carmel, respectively.
He says he has great respect for all of those conferences but that the East Suburban Catholic Conference has been a huge eye-opener so far.
His Corsairs have dropped games to Notre Dame, Nazareth and St. Viator, which had just one loss between them heading into the weekend.
"I knew this was a tough conference, I just didn't know it was this tough," Bowen said. "I've coached in a lot of different conferences around here and there are some tough teams, but the ESCC might just be the toughest conference.
"The teams in this league play a completely different style of basketball. It's rough. It's tough. It's physical. Every night is a test."
Nazareth and St. Viator are undefeated and Notre Dame has one loss. But that one loss is to unbeaten Benet, which is also in the ESCC.
On top of all that, Carmel's nonconference schedule has been rough. Another loss came to Vernon Hills, which is also undefeated.
"We've had a very tough schedule," said Bowen, who is in his first year at Carmel. "We're not where we want to be. But part of that is that we're still trying to learn stuff and we're playing teams that are just really good.
"Unless our kids let the losing get to them, I think in the end, this is only going to make us better."