Knights established unique history on Chicago’s NBA floor
KANELAND—Getting a chance to play on New Year’s Eve would be a special opportunity for any high school basketball squad.
On Dec. 31, 2008, the Kaneland High School basketball team took the occasion to compete on a special floor.
It was that meeting with then-conference rival Geneva that kicked off a relationship with the one and only United Center, as part of the Chicago Bulls’ agreement with suburban basketball programs.
Fast approaching the fourth occasion for KHS boys to take the same court as Jordan, Pippen, Rose and Noah, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015, marks the first occasion for Kaneland to battle St. Charles North, a switchup from the previous three against Geneva.
“This is just something that I felt the players really liked to do. They get excited for the fact that they are playing on the same floor that the professionals play on. Also, it is a unique experience for them and something that they can look forward to,” KHS coach Brian Johnson said.
“Walking through the tunnel for the first time against Geneva, and you look up at the stands and see your family, that’s great,” Tyler Carlson said.
Carlson, who helped represent Kaneland back on Jan. 4 in a close, 54-51 loss to Geneva, scored 21 points to lead an almost-comeback against the Vikings, but still had some adjustments to make.
“Straight ahead, the sightlines weren’t too bad, it was when you were taking corner shots that you kind of had to get used to them,” said Carlson, now an Aurora University Spartan.
Class of 2014 standout Drew David, point guard from the last Knights’ UC effort, can identify with the somewhat off-kilter surroundings.
“The fact that the ceiling is so high gets you, and also that the stands go all the way around,” David said.
“Once the game starts, at least for me, nothing changes from playing on a normal court,” Johnson adds. “The kids still need to do the little things to execute.”
“It’s really something special, and as you’re playing, you just have to keep calm,” Carlson said.
The game 11 months ago at the Madhouse of Madison marked the first venture to the 20,500-seat arena since Feb. 20, 2010, a 49-40 loss that also marked KHS coach Brian Johnson’s first foray to the Tom Thibeadoau-manned sideline.
“It’s fun to see the kids’ reactions when they first get on the floor. I love the 5th quarter that we play for the kids that might not get into the first game. My first year, David Dudzinski played extremely well, and you could tell he was ready to play on that type of stage in college. Last year, I thought we played one of our best games of the year,” Johnson said.
The first venture to Chicago for Kaneland, right before the calendar turned to 2009, was a 57-40 setback to the Vikings.
David, who will attempt to see younger brother Ryan play in his second United Center game, thinks it’s best to take the good with the bad.
“We were able to shoot around about an hour before the game started, and you tried to get comfortable, and in one of my first shots, I shot an airball that missed by two feet. I was kind of nervous, but the floor is the same,” David said.
Paired with the chance to see the Bulls take on the Boston Celtics, Kaneland fans buying tickets will hope not only for a Bulls win, but for a first-ever Knights win on the hallowed floor.