It ended in disappointment for Mundelein and its all-time leading basketball scorer.
Man, it’s been 19 years, amazingly.
And it was déjà vu all over again Wednesday night.
Robert Knar splashed his 2,000th career point, but that’s not what the senior wanted most. When he walked off Waukegan’s gym floor following Mundelein’s 78-68 loss to Stevenson in a fast-paced, fun, talent-packed Class 4A sectional semifinal, the man who he surpassed atop the Mustangs’ scoring chart, Kyle Kessel, stood from his front-row seat in a corner near Mundelein’s student fans and made his way toward the exit.
“First time back,” Kessel said.
The punch-in-the gut pain from 1994 is long gone, but the memory will never go away.
When Kessel last showed up in Waukegan’s cozy ol’ gym, he and his Mustangs teammates played — and lost — maybe the greatest Mundelein-Libertyville battle of all-time. In a sectional final featuring a pair of senior guards who would become high-school hoop legends in Lake County, Libertyville and Matt Heldman edged Kessel and Co. 84-83 in triple overtime.
Chad Lee set off the hysteria for the Wildcats with a buzzer-beating bucket.
Welcome back, Kyle.
“I definitely had flashbacks of Chad Lee making the shot and just being devastated,” said Kessel, who scored 1,920 points for Mundelein from 1990-94. “I was a little surprised when I saw the crowd (not capacity) because I remember when we walked in (for the sectional final in 1994), it was sold out when we got here.
“It definitely brought back memories,” he added, “and not really positive ones, either.”
Kessel is now 36 and busy applying his basketball knowledge with Kessel Heat.
“A lot of these kids from Mundelein and Stevenson have played for me in my AAU program,” Kessel said. “It’s always good to go out and watch these kids. Plus, I coach a lot of kids that are in the Mundelein feeder program, so I came with a bunch of kids and their parents. It was fun.
“I was excited to come back. I knew tonight would be a good game, but Mundelein fell short. Brunson’s a very good player. He’s tough.”
Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson’s game-high 28 points (five 3-pointers) led Stevenson. Knar, who vaulted ahead Kessel on Mundelein’s all-time scoring list last month, scored 7 points. He came in 4 points shy of 2,000 for his career and hit the milestone when he knocked down a 19-footer from the left wing with 5:12 left in the fourth quarter.
The sweet shooter later buried a long 3-pointer to finish his four-year varsity career with 2,003 points.
“That’s a lot,” said Kessel, who would know. “That’s a heck of a feat. He should be proud of that.”
Knar missed Mundelein’s first 20 games this season while recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery in August. He made an amazing return to the court from an injury that figured to wipe out his entire season.
Kessel’s reaction to Knar breaking his scoring record?
Good for Knar, who, had he not gotten injured last summer, would have had a great shot at passing Deerfield’s Ryan Hogan (2,490 points from 1993-97) as the county’s all-time leading scorer.
“I’ve known Robert since he was in sixth grade,” Kessel said. “He’s a phenomenal scorer, and I really wish he didn’t hurt himself so he could have gone on to break a lot bigger records, (including) career scoring for Lake County. I talked to Coach Knar (Mustangs coach Dick Knar) and I congratulated him.”
Throw in Stevenson assistant coach Mike Kolze, who scored 1,962 points for Lake Zurich from 2002-05, and Waukegan’s gym wasn’t lacking for Lake County basketball greats.
His brilliant prep career over, Knar now heads to Northern Iowa.
“It was great to see,” a classy Kessel said of Knar busting his record. “Best of luck to him going to college.”
Great stuff from a great.
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