Rick Malnati's inaugural season as head coach of the Fenwick High School boys basketball program has already hit some roadblocks in the form of injuries, but the former assistant coach at Loyola University is optimistic his Friars will be at a much better place as they march further and further into their 2013-14 campaign.
About five months after being hired to replace John Quinn, who was let go after 28 years at the helm of the program, Malnati was informed that his star player, Scott Lindsey, had suffered a broken leg.
"It was devastating news, not just from a team standpoint but for him personally," he said. "He's a great kid and you hate to see anything like that happen to anyone."
Lindsey, who has declared he'll play for Northwestern next season, was on an unofficial visit at Vanderbilt in early September when he broke both the tibia and fibula in his left leg while playing a pick-up game. Malnati said his 6-foot-5 guard/forward has yet to be able to put weight on the injured leg, therefore a timeframe for Lindsey's return remains unpredictable. Malnati did say the senior is not in the team's early season or Christmas tournament plans. "Could be February, but there's no real timeline," he said.
Senior forward Ben Peterson suffered a concussion during Fall league play and has been out eight weeks. Malnati was hoping he'd be back sometime this week. Another player who has yet to practice with the team is senior guard Keshaun Smith, who is also a football player and was tied up with the Prep Bowl playoffs as of this writing.
"Keshaun was our best leader throughout the summer," said Malnati. "So we're missing the best player and missing our best leader. We're not going to be completely on the rails to start, not until we get all the pieces back."
The early season setbacks will add depth to the team and help develop younger players, added Malnati. "It has its benefits," he said, "and it will make us stronger."
Malnati will be relying heavily on his two senior big men in returners Tom Planek (6-foot-5, forward) and Dan Dwyer (6-foot-8, center) as well as sophomore guard Mike Smith and newcomer Jamal Nixon.
Both Planek and Dwyer, mainly interior players, have the ability to step out and shoot from the 17-foot range. Mike Smith saw extensive playing time as a freshman on varsity last season, and Malnati said Nixon, a 6-foot-3 perimeter player, "plays with a lot of maturity for a freshman and brings the gift of making others around him better.
"In a perfect world, I would bring him around a little slower, but with Scott out he'll get thrown into the mix right away."
Changes to the schedule this season include plenty of roadtrips as the Friars will only host six games at Fenwick, including against cross-town rival OPRF on Dec. 21 (7 p.m.). They open the season in the Lyons Township Thanksgiving Tournament this week, taking on Morton (Nov. 27, 6 p.m.), Argo (Nov. 29, 3:30 p.m.) and Lyons (Nov. 30, 5 p.m.).
Other tournaments throughout the season include the Elite Classic at UIC, the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, the Hoops Showdown at Hinsdale Central and the new Chicago Catholic League Tournament in February before the state playoffs begin.
"Hopefully, we'll have all the pieces in place by then," said Malnati.