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New group of Mustangs has hit basketball court running

Nate Williams is key returning player for Mundelethis winter. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

Nate Williams is a key returning player for Mundelein this winter. | SUN-TIMES MEDIA FILE PHOTO

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Last year: 18-14 (5-7 North Suburban Conference Lake Division); lost to Stevenson 78-68 in 4A sectional semifinal

Lost 7 players who will be playing in college this year: Robert Knar (Northern Iowa). Sean O’Brien (Southern Illinois). Chino Ebube (Missouri S&T). Cliff Dunigan (Missouri S&T). Quinn Pokora (Augustana). Dylan Delaquila (Roosevelt). Jose Silva (Crown College).

Mundelein has won 18-plus games 4 years in a row, and 6 of the last 7.

New coach is longtime assistant Corey Knigge, who moved up when Richard Knar took job as athletic director at Grant High School in Fox Lake.

Return one player with starting experience, 5-9 senior point guard Nate Williams, who will be playing his third year of varsity ball.

Guard Derek Parola saw action off the bench last year and could be a go-to player for the Mustangs as well.

Adam Turner and J.T. Michalski saw limited action in reserve roles.

Williams doesn’t have great size or a consistent shooting touch, but he’ll be one of the top guards in the North Suburban Conference next year when it comes to attacking the rim. Because of his experience, Mundelein will depend on him to be their leader on the floor. Williams “gets it,”,but he’ll need players to step up around him.

One of those players could be his own brother, Pierre Bailey. The sophomore guard showed a knack for creating play in the paint as well as hitting from the outside as he and Williams led the Mustangs back from a huge deficit in a 47-42 summer league loss to a talented Barrington team. At one point in the first half, Mundelein trailed 25-9, but a 21-point effort from Williams and a 12-point effort from Bailey helped cut the lead to four in the final minute. Barrington hit four free throws down the stretch to ice the game.

Updated: July 25, 2013 6:28AM

Right off the top, Corey Knigge is not new to this head-coaching thing.

The Mundelein Mustangs’ new leader was coach for two seasons at AlWood High School back in the days before Richard Knar became Mundelein’s boys basketball coach and turned the program into the area’s most entertaining and one of its most successful.

When Knar was hired as head coach, he reached out to Knigge, and the two were in lockstep on the Mundelein bench for a lot of victories during the last nine seasons.

And now that Knar has left the building to become athletic director at Grant High School in Fox Lake, the coaching mantle has been passed from the successful head coach to his reliable assistant.

For the record, AlWood High is a school south of Moline that draws students from the towns of Alpha and Woodhull.

Chances are there are more boys playing summer basketball for Mundelein this month than there were boys in all of AlWood High School when Knigge was there.

And one of those playing this summer is Mustang senior Nate Williams, who was a varsity player the last two years and will be voice of experience next winter after seven of his former teammates graduated and will be playing college hoops.

“I love Coach Knigge. Him and I have always gotten along,” Williams said. “He and Coach Knar expect the same things, but Knar was more of an intense guy. Knigge is more laid back, and he focuses a lot on the specifics of the game. On defense, if I’m not in the passing lane, he’ll make a point of telling me during the timeout that I have to be in the passing lane.”

When Williams looks around the Mundelein gym, he sees a lot of new faces — and one very familiar one.

His brother, Pierre Bailey, is a sophomore who just might develop into a PTPer by the time he graduates.

“It really different for me not having those guys around,” said Williams of his old teammates. “I think the new guys are stepping up. We have four sophomores playing Varsity 1 (in summer league). They’re still getting used to the faster pace of the varsity level, but they’re coming along.

“They play really hard. We don’t have the same talent with shooting as we’ve had, but when guys buy into playing hard, that’s going to help us in the long run.”

For his part, Knigge is feeling good about how smoothly the baton has been passed between coaches.

“Things have been going well. I think the transition was fairly seamless,” he said. “We’re not going to change a whole lot of what we do. I’ll put my own twist on things here and there, but it’s worked pretty well for nine years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Indeed. The work will be finding which players fit best with Williams.

“Nate has some experience, obviously. He’s been on varsity for three years, so he’s logged a lot of minutes. He’s a veteran. Other than that, Derek Parola got some minutes here and there last year, but that’s about it,” Knigge said. “Any time you graduate 11 seniors and over half of them are going to play college basketball, they’re going to be tough to replace, but these guys we have. They’re working hard. We have some guys who I believe can be pretty good, but they need some time to develop.”

The key might be the four sophomores now working with the varsity.

“Pierre (Bailey) is coming along. Thomas Gonquoi is another sophomore who has been playing with us. It’s just going to take some time,” the coach said. “It’s such a huge leap from sophomore to varsity basketball, let alone freshmen to varsity basketball. The first couple of games we played ... the speed of the game, the physicality of the game, it takes some time to get adjusted to that.”

This coming weekend, Mundelein will caps its summer action by hosting a huge tournament that will serve as a guidebook for where everyone is heading into the fall.

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