This was Kobe being that other Kobe … if just for a while.
Kobe Mandell, one of the unheralded bench players on the Highland Park High School boys basketball team, received some extended minutes in his team’s 46-33 victory at Deerfield on Feb. 3.
The senior was not taken in by the bigness of the game. He suffered no stage fright.
During a five-minute stretch at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter, Mandell did some things in Kobe Bryant-like fashion. The 6-foot-1 guard drilled a clutch three-pointer from the right corner, and he later completed a three-point play to give his team a seven-point cushion, 31-24, with 7:23 left in regulation.
“I love his willingness and his courage to take tough shots,” HP head coach Paul Harris said.
“I just focused on what I had to do,” said Mandell, who finished the game with six points. “I tried to block everything out.”
The place was loud and the stakes were especially high in this District 113 showdown. With the win, the red-hot Giants improved to 12-9 overall and moved into a tie for first place in the CSL North (6-2) with Deerfield. They have won six of their last seven games.
And, along the way, Highland Park snapped a mystifying — and troubling — losing streak against their archrivals. Over the past three seasons, they had lost six straight games to the Warriors.
“They’ve been controlling it [the series] for a while,” said Harris.
Tal led all scorers with 19 points to go along with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks.
Zeidler hit some big baskets in the fourth quarter to finish with eight points. He added four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Michelon hit a couple of three-pointers and ended up with eight points, while Shutan had five points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals.
But the game, according to Harris, was won on the defensive end.
“Defensively, I thought we were in sync,” said Harris.
Both teams struggled to get anything going in the first half. The Giants led 10-5 after the first eight minutes and 18-13 at halftime.
“The game started out like a boxing match,” said Harris. “Both teams were trying to get a feel for each other. The big crowd and the anticipation of this kind of game might’ve had something to do with that.”
The first four minutes of the fourth quarter were telling. Zeidler and Shutan followed up Mandell’s three-point play with three-point baskets to push HP’s lead to 10 points.
Tal then put the game completely away by scoring the team’s final seven points.
It also should be noted that Tal came up with some excellent passes. His best “look” of the night came, when he threaded in an underneath pass to Mandell on that three-point play.
“Ziv’s willingness to share the ball led to some big points,” said Harris.
Meanwhile, the HP coach loved what he got from Mandell.
“Kobe has been doing a great job for us since the summer,” said Harris. “He’s a kid that understands the game. Understands his role. He plays to his strengths.
“He’s a low-maintenance, high-output guy,” the coach added. “He’s a wonderful teammate and a great student of the game.”
Having a first name that’s pretty much synonymous with basketball, is it any wonder that Mandell developed a love for the game?
“I’ve been playing basketball since kindergarten,” he said.
And, prior to his retirement from the NBA last season, Kobe Bryant was one of Mandell’s favorite players.
“He obviously was a great player,” said Mandell. “But I liked him pretty much because of his name.”
Highland Park Game Balls: Ziv Tal
Deerfield Game Balls: Alex Casieri
Player of the Game: Tal
HP Stat Leaders: Tal (19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks), Jack Zeidler (8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals), Daniel Michelon (8 points, 2 assists), Kobe Mandell (6 points), Noah Shutan (5 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, 3 rebounds)
Deerfield Stat Leaders: Casieri (14 points), Ben Bizar (11 points)
Unsung Hero: Mandell
Notable: It was a milestone night for Eli Harris. Son of Highland Park head coach Paul Harris, the seventh-grader completed his 200th game as bench manager for the Giants. “It’s been great experience. He’s played a major role in our basketball program,” said the HP coach. “As a father, it’s been special.” Eli is scheduled to miss Saturday night’s game against Buffalo Grove. He’ll play in a Deerfield Feeder game instead. … For the second time this year, Highland Park assistant coach Ross Deutsch had a chance to go up against his son, Robbie, in a varsity basketball game. Robbie was hired as a Deerfield assistant prior to the 2016-17 season. “Robbie’s a great kid,” said Harris. “And I’m hearing from Dan [McKendrick] and Joel [Kessler] that he’s doing a great job.” McKendick is the Deerfield head coach. Kessler is a long-time assistant for the Warriors. … Clutch buzzer beaters helped Deerfield to stay close. Senior Ben Bizar knocked down an off-balance three-pointer to end the first half. And William Murphy came up with a three-point curtain-closer just before the horn blasted to end the third quarter.