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Mundelein’s Big Four focus on bright collegiate futures
By Patricia Babcock McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

The Mundelein boys basketball team has four players headed for full college scholarships. From left are Sean O’Brien, Robert Knar, Cliff Dunigan and Chino Ebube.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/6/2012 11:54 PM

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Grade school boys tend live in the moment. They’ll talk about their favorite video games, or what they’re going to trade for at lunch.

Robert Knar, Sean O’Brien, Chino Ebube and Cliff Dunigan were a little bit different at that age. They liked to envision the future, and think more “big picture.”

“We’d go to the varsity basketball games right after our feeder games and we’d talk about getting taller and how we’d all be studs in high school,” Knar laughed. “We talked about how we were all going to play in college someday.”

Now seniors at Mundelein, Knar, O’Brien, Ebube and Dunigan have made their hoops dreams a reality. They’re a perfect 4-for-4.

Last month, the longtime friends put pen to paper and signed their official NCAA letters of intent to play college basketball. Knar and O’Brien will be playing at Division I mid-major powers Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, respectively. Ebube and Dunigan are going the Division II route. They both signed on at Missouri S&T.

All four also got full scholarships, which makes their story all the more unique.

Rarely are there four college basketball signees on the same high school team, let alone four players from the same high school team and in the same class who all earn full-ride scholarships.

“I think one of the biggest things is Coach (Dick) Knar,” Dunigan said of his head coach. “He sends out so much tape on us. He contacts coaches about us. He really works hard for us.”

“It is a tribute to Knar,” O’Brien agreed. “He got us going at a young age, he got us working hard and he helped us get onto a lot of AAU teams where we’d get seen by the right college coaches. It’s paid off. I can’t remember the last time in our conference four guys got full rides from one team, all in the same year.”

In Lake County, you might see one kid from a team get a full scholarship. Then maybe some of the other players on his team get partial scholarships or walk-on offers. Anything beyond that simply doesn’t happen all that often.

“I’ve been coaching high school basketball for 16 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m sure it’s happened, but you just don’t hear about it much,” said Dick Knar, who is also Robert’s dad. “This is a special group. You could kind of see it coming when these guys were in feeder basketball and as they were coming up through junior high and into high school. They’re talented, they work hard, and they play so well together.

“The other neat thing is that they’ve been able to do all of this together. They came up together and now they’re all going to be taking that next step together.”

Ebube and Dunigan could literally end up being roommates.

They say they didn’t plan on going to the same school, but they’re glad it worked out that way. Both of them fell in love with Missouri S&T on their visits.

“I’m ecstatic to be playing with Chino for four more years,” Dunigan said. “I think we do a good job of pushing each other to get better and I think we play well together, too. We know each other’s tendencies and have pretty good chemistry. We’ve been playing together for so long, in high school, in AAU, and before that.”

Pretty soon, Knar and O’Brien will be playing against each other.

Their colleges are in the same conference, the Missouri Valley Conference.

“Seeing Robert twice a year will be great,” said O’Brien, who remembers dreaming about playing in college since first grade. “And I think it’s pretty cool that Cliff and Chino get to play together. I think we’re all excited that we got these scholarships that we’ve been dreaming about. But I know we want more. When we were younger and we talked about playing in college, we also talked about winning a state title as seniors.

“We’d really like to do that.”

They’ll have to do it while trying to downplay all the hype.

With four full-scholarship players on the roster, much is expected of the Mustangs, even though Knar is out until at least late January with an injured knee that he has been rehabbing since the summer. When he gets back, the pressure will be turned up even more.

“I don’t know if other teams are looking at us any different,” Ebube said. “But I know they want to try to compete with us. We just need to keep working hard and proving ourselves every day.”

Sometimes, the hardest place to do that is in practice. With so much talent on the floor at the same time, the competition can be brutal.

Not that the Mustangs are complaining, though. They’re the ones who made each other so good in the first place.

“People wonder how we function when we have four college guys on the floor at the same time. They wonder if there are enough (basketballs) to go around,” Robert Knar said. “It has nothing to do with the egos for us. Being together has made us all better and we love that. From my standpoint, we’re the best team in Lake County because of it.

“I think our program has become one of the best, too. We’ve got some guys out there playing college basketball right now. And having four more college guys coming through says that we’re a legit program that is producing really talented players.”