Mundeleins Robert Knar, here driving to the hoop last season, is back in action after what seemed like an interminable injury rehab.
Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer
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That was Robert Knars latest victory.
His life, for the last six months, has been measured in similarly small increments.
Its the small victories that keep you going, Knar said. Those are what Ive been living for lately.
Weeks ago, when Knar bent his knee again for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, it was a victory. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
When he eventually walked again, it was a victory. When he swam, and biked, and jogged and shot baskets again it was victory after small victory in his quest for the big return he is so desperately hoping for.
Knar should be back on the Lake County basketball scene in a couple of weeks, just in time for the state tournament. His absence this winter has been unmistakable.
Knar would have been the headliner of all the top returning boys basketball players in the area this season. But the sharp-shooting Mundelein guard blew out his left knee on July 29 during his final AAU game of the summer at a national tournament in Florida.
Surgery to reconstruct his torn anterior cruciate ligament followed. Ditto for weeks and months of grueling rehab.
While diligently moving through each and every stage of his recovery, Knar has missed all but four seconds of his senior season.
Those four seconds blindsided Knar on Saturday, almost as much as his injury did.
Knar had been healthy as a horse before his injury. A three-year starter at Mundelein through his junior year, he averaged 22 points per game last season and was poised to obliterate Mundeleins all-time scoring record of 1,920 points held by former star guard Kyle Kessel. Knar stands just 24 points shy of surpassing that mark.
Knar was also set to lead what could have been, and what still could be, one of Mundeleins most successful teams in years. The Mustangs returned four college-bound scholarship players, including two Division I signees in Knar (Northern Iowa) and Sean OBrien (Southern Illinois) from a team that went 26-8 and advanced to the sectional championship game last season.
But instead of racking up points and wins, Knar has been riding the bench, watching longingly from the sideline game after game after game.
Then on Saturday, Knar earned another small victory.
In Mundeleins North Suburban Conference tilt against Warren, he finally got to exchange his spot on the bench for a spot on the floor.
Knar did so for only four seconds, but, for him, they were the most glorious and most prized four seconds of his life, the biggest small victory of his six-month journey to recovery.
I was in awe, said Knar, who is able to do most drills in practice, but is waiting to get clearance for full contact participation. All I kept thinking was, Im back on the court, Im back on the court!
The plan by Mundelein head coach (and Knars father) Dick Knar was to use Robert as a decoy in the half-court set. Mundelein and Warren were tied at 60-60 with 14.6 seconds remaining. The Mustangs had the ball and Knar set up in the corner along the baseline in the hopes of stretching the Warren defense with the threat of his 3-point shooting skills.
Knars presence helped as Mundelein weaved a nice pass inside to Chino Ebube, who got fouled.
Knar, who never touched the ball during the quick sequence, left the game at that moment perched on Cloud Nine. But he then watched in agony as Ebube missed his free throws and Aarias Austin hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the other end to give Warren a 63-60 victory.
The moment was certainly bittersweet for Knar, who seems to take losses from the bench just as hard as he does from the floor. Yet, he will never forget how great he was feeling just seconds before Warrens buzzer-beater went down.
Fans in the stands stood up and gave Knar a standing ovation while he was checking in at the scorers table.
I was trying to be all cool and act like I didnt notice that, but I did, Knar said. Its was an amazing moment, one of those feelings you cant replicate. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.
I was just excited to be going into the game. It was a shock to me that I was going in because it wasnt planned. I had no idea that would happen. So I was just trying to take it all in as much as possible. Then, I saw people standing up as I took my warmup off. That was so cool, pretty unbelievable. I have gotten so much support from all of those people as Ive been on my six-month journey. Its really helped me through.
Knar has been cheered on the most by his teammates, who visited him in the hospital after his surgery and brought him ice cream while he sat at home recovering in bed. He says theyve vigorously encouraged him during each and every step of his rehab.
Also offering plenty of support has been older sister Toni, who blew out her knee just weeks before her senior season at Mundelein. She missed every single game that year.
Now a successful college player who is climbing the record books at Missouri S&T for 3-point shooting, Toni has proven to Robert that life goes on, and can go on quite well, after major knee surgery.
I know I can come back strong. I just have to get used to the contact and Ive got to get back in basketball shape, Knar said. The first time I went hard at practice, and started doing some fast break drills, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack.
Im getting there, though. It will probably be that Im back in time for a few regular season games and then the tournament. I want to go out with a bang.
If not with the fireworks of a deep run in the tournament, Knar will certainly leave high school with plenty of valuable lessons learned. He says his injury has been not only a bad part of his senior year, but a good part as well.
The good thing is that its been life-changing for me, Knar said. It let me step back and see how blessed I was. Ive seen how many good friends I have through all the support Ive gotten, and Ive learned to really appreciate basketball.Getting to play in the Warren game was kind of a tease. But its made me even more excited than I already was to get back on the court. Im champing at the bit because I miss it so much. I want to feel that feeling again. I know it wont be right away, but its going to be soon.