Horse Racing

At 5-foot-6, Niles North's Nix thinks big

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At 5-foot-6, Niles North's Nix thinks big

Malachi Nix is only 5-foot-6 but he thinks big. Niles North's junior point guard wants to play college basketball and his dream schools are Kentucky, Kansas and Baylor. He is anxiously waiting for his first telephone call from a major Division I coach.

"As a freshman and sophomore, I used to wish I could grow to 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4," Nix said. "As a sophomore, I was 5-foot-6. I think I'm taller now. My mother thinks I will grow. I wear size 12 shoes.

"What would I tell college coaches who think I'm too small? I say I have great leadership qualities, I can score, I can distribute the ball and I try to emphasize intangibles. I work harder every day to get better and I help my teammates to get better."

Nix is averaging 18.5 points and 2.3 assists for an 18-7 team that started 3-4 but has won 15 of its last 18 and its last 11 in a row in the wake of last Friday's 55-51 victory over Deerfield.

The Vikings, who are seeded No. 7 in the Glenbrook South sectional, will meet top-seeded New Trier on Tuesday night in their regular season finale. Last year, they were 24-7 and lost to Warren 56-50 in the supersectional.

Niles North coach Glenn Olson doesn't think Nix is day-dreaming. "He will be a scholarship basketball player. And there is a great possibility it will be at the Division I level. He has great skills. He can break down defenders and distribute the ball," Olson said.

"His height is a hindrance in coaches' minds. But if they watch him over an extended period of time, they will see his positives more than make up for his lack of size. He is a tough kid. His competitive edge separates him from others."

How tough is Nix? In elementary school, he played football, basketball and baseball. At Niles North, he was a 5-foot-4, 110-pound running back on the freshman football team. He was pretty good, too, running for 15 touchdowns to tie the freshman record.

"I loved football but I lost my passion for it," Nix said. "I love basketball and what coach Olson is doing with the program. Last year, I averaged 10 points per game. My role was to score when I could but mostly distribute the ball and get it to Abdel Nader (who averaged 25 points per game last season and currently is a freshman at Northern Illinois).

"But this is my team. At the beginning of the season, the coach told me it is my team. He said I have to be a better leader, more vocal. I've been in the system for three years. I have to show others what they should be doing. I let them know I have been there, I've been to the supersectional, I've done what we want to do as a team. They sit and listen to me."

In his third year as head coach, Olson has put together a solid program at the Skokie school, which had won only one other regional in its nearly 50-year history prior to last year. A 1994 graduate of Rolling Meadows, Olson, 35, grew up as the son of a coach and later coached baseball at Maine South. In fact, his father is now his assistant.

"I fell in love with the game of basketball as a kid. I grew up in the great age of ESPN and I read about Indiana high school basketball," said Olson, who was a freshman B basketball coach at Maine East in 2000, then the head coach in 2007-09 before moving to Niles North.

"I was impressed with what was going on athletically at Niles North, the emphasis on strength and conditioning," he said. "These kids play hard. They are undersized and inexperienced. Only two of them saw the floor last year. But they have accepted their roles. And we have skilled guards who can make plays."

Nix and 6-foot-1 senior Michael Henley (12.3 ppg), who missed the first seven games with a broken hand, and 5-foot-9 senior Jaylen White operate in the backcourt. Up front are 6-foot-4 junior Billy Voitik (5.9 ppg) and 6-foot-1 junior B.J. Beckford (10 ppg).

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-10 senior Eron Washington, who is the backup center, and 6-foot-1 junior guard Lorenzo Dillard, a transfer from Evanston who only recently became eligible.

"If we are going to go deep into the playoff," Olson said, "we must play with great energy and share the ball, which is our strength. We must recognize what a good and a great shot is and play at our pace regardless of the defense. We like to get up and down the floor."

Meanwhile, Nix has learned to deal with his limitations.

"The 5-foot-6 thing is in their (college coaches) minds. It doesn't bother me. I have learned to deal with it," he said. "The most difficult thing on the court is when I get to the lane, I have to be crafty to score against 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-5 opponents. I have to work on floaters and pull-up jump shots, different ways to get the ball to the basket."

Nix watches 5-foot-9 Pierre Jackson of Baylor and 5-foot-11 Ryan Boatright of Connecticut on TV and admires what they do and how they do it. He takes careful notes in his mind. He hopes to be as successful as they have been--and hopes to play at their level.

"They are vocal on the court and get their teammates in good positions to score and be successful," Nix said. "They also are versatile. They can score and pass and are great defenders. They are very coachable, too. I like locking a kid up on defense and I get my adrenaline up when I get a steal and make a basket."

He already has attracted the attention of some colleges. He will attend Cal Poly's elite camp in August. Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wayne State, and Western Illinois also have been recruiting him.

But he wouldn't mind getting a call from John Calipari or Bill Self.

There's no rainouts in horse racing

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There's no rainouts in horse racing

It is playoff time here in Chicago. The hometown Cubs are back to their third consecutive NLCS. The Bears have played in gorgeous weather to open their season. The Bulls and Hawks get optimal conditions indoors. In racing, this isn’t always the case and last Saturday was one of those instances. 

After nearly two months of drought conditions in the Chicagoland area, racing at Hawthorne Race Course to close out the summer harness season was optimal. While the sprinklers were used constantly to keep the turf course green, the pond at Hawthorne had nearly dried up.

All of that came to an end last week at Hawthorne as Mother Nature was not quite as generous to open October. With the fall thoroughbred season commencing, the skies opened as well, with rain falling on numerous occasions to kick off the season. That was clearly the case last Saturday, when over five inches of rain came down during the course of the Hawthorne racing card.

In baseball, there would be a rain delay or cancellation. Youth sports teams get the day off. Outdoor attractions closed as flooding was prevalent in numerous locations. Here at Hawthorne…..we race.

At any racetrack, the equine stars are the showcase, but there are so many others necessary to put on the show. The folks brave the conditions and have to be well prepared.

Five stories above the racetrack, Hawthorne track announcer Peter Galassi provides the play-by-play for the racing action. With over 65,000 races called on his career, Peter has seen it all.

“I’ve called races in every weather condition possible and what we raced in Saturday was one of the tougher conditions to call in,” Galassi said. “When I announced races at Balmoral Park, fog would be my biggest concern. Fog was the worst. We had an occasion where myself, and our track stewards had to go from our location on the roof down to trackside for a race because the fog was so bad. We had to get below the fog to get a vantage point. Here at Hawthorne, dealing with the rain, especially at the rate it came down last Saturday, is very tough. Consider the windows of my announcer’s booth being the windshield of a car, but without window wipers. Streaks of water rolling down the panes of glass in your direct view. Add to that the glare of the lights off the glistening racetrack and thoroughbreds and riders covered in mud. It isn’t always the easiest, but what these athletes deal with on the track and in those conditions are far worse than what I am subjected to.”

Moving trackside, the race begins at the Hawthorne starting gate. Veteran assistant starter Bill Fultz and crew are responsible for safely loading the horses into the gate and keeping the horses calm in preparation for a fair start. While the job is complicated and dangerous on a clear day, the focus needed on a day where the weather conditions are menacing only increase.

“When the weather is tough and we are dealing with rain or snow, additional clothing and gear for our crew is needed,” Fultz said. “This is a physically demanding job as we are in the mud, working with horses, making sure they are safe, while also focusing on our safety. Fortunately we have an experienced crew that takes a lot of pride in their job and I feel it shows in the horses’ clean starts and performances.”

On horseback, the jockeys are limited in numerous aspects. On a good day, a rider has to not only worry about maintaining their weight, but also controlling a 1,000 lbs. thoroughbred, racing at 35 MPH, while balancing on a pair of two inch wide metal stirrups. In harsh weather conditions, limited additional clothing is allowed as the jockeys goggles become one of the most important pairs of equipment. Last Saturday was a good day for Hawthorne’s second all-time leading rider Chris Emigh as he won a pair of races in the monsoon.

“I figure you can either go out there and be miserable or go out there and have fun,” said the affable Emigh. “A lot of dirt and water gets thrown back at you and you just have to find a good spot in between the sprays of water and mud. Goggles are the key, a normal race I may have three pairs on, but on Saturday that amount doubles. We are controlling our mount, keeping balance, and trying to flip down to a clean pair of goggles numerous times each race. I get concerned when I come to that last pair and still have a quarter of a mile to go. When that happens, we just focus on what visibility we have and your finger becomes your window wiper.”

As all of the action takes place, cameramen positioned in towers around the track televise the action. Positioned at the finish line are Ryan Thompson and Nicole Thomas, the track photographers for Four Footed Fotos that work tirelessly to capture the Hawthorne action. When others may choose to wait until the last minute to capture to winner on the finish line, Ryan and Nicole take the weather as an opportunity to capture great images.

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

Predicting Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 5: 'Why not us?'

"NOT IN OUR HOUSE!" a Cubs coach yelled as he walked through the media throng awaiting entry into the clubhouse.

There was Kyle Schwarber standing at his locker, emphatically saying, "we're not gonna go down quietly."

There was Jake Arrieta, already making plans for what he would do to celebrate after the Cubs beat the Dodgers in the NLCS.

What a difference a day makes.

The Cubs looked completely beat and worn down after Game 3 Tuesday night. Kris Bryant echoed the same line — "why not us?" — he delivered last fall when the Cubs were down three games to one in the World Series, but this time, it just didn't feel the same.

Bryant looked shellshocked and admitted the team was drained after the NLDS and traveling across country to get steamrolled by the Dodgers in the first two games of the NLCS.

Wednesday night, things were different.

Even though the offense still hasn't broken out. 

Even though all the Cubs' runs still came off early homers — they have yet to score in this series not off a longball.

Even though Wade Davis is unavailable for Game 5 Thursday — the Cubs haven't won a game this postseason in which Davis did not pitch.

Even though the best pitcher on the planet — Clayton Kershaw — awaited the Cubs Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

The belief was back in the home clubhouse at Wrigley, even if it was just for one day.

But was it just for one day? 

I've been saying it all fall — the only time this Cubs team has played up to their potential is when they've had their backs against the wall. Your back couldn't possibly get more against the wall when down 0-3 in the NLCS, a deficit only one team in baseball history has come back from.

Conceivably, yes, the Cubs can pull this off. They can climb all the way out of this hole and make a second straight World Series.

If any team can do it, it's the group that erased the longest championship drought in American sports history and did it in the most dramatic way imaginable.

Will the Cubs be able to pull it off? 

I have no idea, honestly. I know that's a cop-out, but screw predictions at this point of the postseason. 

There's a very real possibility the Cubs offense finally breaks out and takes one more step toward writing this team's entry into the baseball history books.

There's also a very real possibility Kershaw comes out and slams the door on any talk of Cubs magic and finally pitches his way into the World Series for the first time.

Either way, the build-up to Thurday night around Wrigleyville is gonna be fun as hell.