IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Ethan Goldberg was trying to be polite. He wasn’t looking to barge into a conversation. He wasn’t looking to be disruptive.
But, the timing of the Highland Park High School senior couldn’t have been any timelier.
On his way out of the school’s gymnasium on Jan. 9 — minutes after the Giants defeated visiting Glenbrook North 47-40 in a key CSL North contest — Goldberg walked by teammate Ziv Tal, who, at the time, was conducting an interview with a couple of sportswriters in the hallway.
And just as he was walking by — his name came up.
Tal, who tossed in a game-high 24 points, was touting the 6-foot-3 forward for his great hustle.
Goldberg, one of the top members of HP’s deep reserve corps, didn’t play a starring role in the game — give that to Tal — but he certainly was a factor in helping the Giants improve to 4-0 in league action and 8-6 overall.
In fact, he was downright disruptive in the waning minutes of the game.
Goldberg not only took a charge, but he also dove on the floor — along with two GBN players — and came up with a critical defensive rebound with 14 seconds left to play.
Goldberg, it seems, is mad about mad scrambles. He came out of the “rugby scrum” with a fist raised — towards the HP bench — and a board smile on his face.
“Ethan loves diving on the floor for loose balls,” said Tal. “He makes a lot of winning plays for us.
“It’s always great to see guys come off the bench and contribute like that,” the senior guard added.
Goldberg may not always stick out on the standard stat sheet, but he’s pretty good with the basketball “sabermetrics”. He earns his points with stick-to-itiveness.
“Stickers are awarded for hustling plays,” said Goldberg, referring to the team’s Hustle Chart, which is also known as the “Guts Board”, according to HP assistant Ross Deutsch. “I love getting the stickers.
“And I think I got a couple tonight.”
Senior Tyler Gussis, who also stars on the school’s baseball team, is atop the leader board.
“He’s got the most [stickers],” Goldberg said.
And the 6-1 Gussis, no doubt, is not intending to relinquish that title any time soon.
Like Goldberg, the undersized center also took a charge late in the game against the Spartans.
Meanwhile, the other player coming off the bench and coming up big down the stretch was junior Andrew Natinsky.
Quiet in the first three quarters, Natinsky hit two free throws with 41 seconds left to extend HP’s lead to four points, 44-40.
“Great job by Natinsky,” said HP head coach Paul Harris. “It was good to see him step up.”
The 6-foot guard has been a valuable extra man. Natinsky scored a season-high 18 points in a win over Timothy Christian at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic on Dec. 28.
Senior Noah Shutan also closed out the game well. The HP senior point guard hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 4:35 of the contest. He finished the game with nine points, five rebounds and five assists.
But the “player of the game” had to be Tal. The senior shooting guard hit a couple of three-pointers in the opening quarter and then pumped in 11 points in period two.
Tal scored in all four quarters.
“When Ziv plays like that, he energizes us,” said Harris.
With Tal leading the way, the Giants went up by 14 points, 33-19, with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
But Glenbrook North (10-5, 3-1) didn’t go down without a fight. The Spartans closed out the third quarter on an 8-0 run.
The game tightened even more in the fourth quarter, when GBN’s Sean Merrigan hit two free throws with 51 seconds left to make it a two-point margin.
“We fought back. We had our chances,” said GBN coach David Weber.
“I’m excited with the way we won this game,” said Harris. “When the game got tough, we got tougher. That’s a sign of a veteran team.”
“We regrouped,” Tal said. “We were able to overcome the adversity.”
Tal could do very little wrong in that 11-point second quarter. Just before the halftime buzzer, he fired up an underhanded desperation shot from behind the half-court line.
It rimmed — and went out.
“I took a chance,” said Tal. “Thought I had it. It almost went in. That was crazy.”