Bulls

Another winner in the Lenti family

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Another winner in the Lenti family

Gena Lenti considers herself to be a perfectionist. Nothing less than an A-plus is acceptable, whether the subject is AP biology or pre-calculus or Spanish or basketball or softball. Her worst grade in four years of high school? An A-minus in choir as a freshman.

"I am a perfectionist. I always have been more competitive with myself than others," said Lenti, a senior at St. Ignatius College Prep. "I strive for A-plus, not just A on a test. If you look at my grades, you might consider me a nerd. But I can't let myself slack off. I tried this year but I can't do it. I just think of what I can do to make myself better."

She comes from a very competitive family. Her father Eugene coaches a nationally ranked softball team at DePaul. Her mother Candace played on a state championship basketball team at York and played softball at DePaul.

Aunt Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto is athletic director at DePaul. Uncle Frank, the head football coach at Mount Carmel, has won more games and state championships than any coach in state history. Uncle David is Frank's longtime defensive coordinator.

When the big Italian family gathers on Thanksgiving Day at the Ponsetto house near the DePaul campus, there are 27 in all...at least two turkeys, casseroles, stuffing, appetizers, desserts. Before sitting down to dinner, however, they adjourn for a family basketball game. To Gena's regret, the table conversation isn't reserved for sports only.

"The big question after 'How is the season going?' is 'How are the boyfriends going these days?' I try to avoid the question at all costs. I try to keep my family out of my social business as much as possible," she said.

But Gena, who has committed to play softball for her father at DePaul, has added another paragraph to her impressive resume that surely will be a topic of discussion at the next family gathering.

The 17-year-old senior has been named to the Illinois High School Association's 2011-12 All-State Academic Team. She is one of 26 student-athletes selected from among 450 nominees who will be honored at the annual banquet in Bloomington on April 16.

She carries a 4.32 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 30 on her ACT. She was the leading scorer on her basketball team this season and plays shortstop on the softball team. She hopes to improve on last year's .450 batting average, then will take her skills to DePaul.

"She always had a competitive nature in anything she did, sports or academics," her father recalled. "When she was 4 or 5, we'd play any game and I'd have to find a way to cheat so we could go to bed. She wanted to play until she won. I knew when she was 12 or 13 that she had the skill and drive to be successful in college."

When she was 10, her father converted her from a right-handed to a left-handed hitter to use her speed as a slapper, an Ichiro Suzuki-type hitter. She would show up at her father's games to take extra swings. Always fearless, she once broke an arm when diving for a ball in the outfield.

"I never thought I wouldn't play sports in college," she said. "I love basketball. If you gave me a choice, I would play basketball in college. But I'm better at softball.

"Softball can become boring at times. There is a lot of standing. Basketball is full of action. I can see where my work pays off more in basketball. Softball isn't as fast-paced, not as much action. I put more heart into basketball. It's a longer season and there is more time to bond with my team."

But her mother and two sisters played softball. And her father has coached the game for 32 years. She knew she wasn't tall enough to play basketball--and probably wouldn't get any taller. Her father is 5-foot-8 and her mother is 5-foot-5.

"There were times when I was young that I said I would go to DePaul to play softball for my dad. I thought it was guaranteed when I was younger but I knew it wasn't guaranteed," Gena said.

She recalls the day when her father asked her: "Would you want to play for me? We're starting to recruit your class." They were driving home after a game in a travel league tournament and Gena was mad at herself. She had played badly, struck out a few times and couldn't even put the ball in play with runners on base.

"I went off to the car and sat alone. On the way home, it was quiet. I didn't want to talk. My dad brought it up," she said. "After that game, I didn't think he'd be thinking of me. For sure, I'd be interested in going to DePaul. But I didn't think I was good enough.

"I saw there were other girls in my class who were very good, other kids my age, kids who only played softball while I was playing two sports, girls who were faster and stronger and had better arms.

"But my dad treated me like other recruits. I got letters in the mail signed 'Coach Lenti.' I was invited to visit the campus. I made unofficial and official visits. I toured the campus, saw the dorms for the first time, the science building, the quadrangle.

"He knew I was coming. I wasn't thinking of anywhere else. I chose DePaul because it is the best softball school I could go to. I didn't seek out anyone else. I looked at myself and felt I was going to the best school I could go to. And I wanted to stay close to my family."

Gena loves Chicago, especially the Downtown area. She rides her bicycle to North Avenue beach two or three times a week during the summer. She also prefers the Flat Top Grill at Southport and Belmont.

"I am the kind of person who doesn't like free time," she said. "I don't want a lot of TV and I don't go to movies. I have to balance school and sports and my social life."

Gena's day begins at 6 a.m. on school days. Breakfast is eggs or cereal. She car pools with two friends and arrives at St. Ignatius at 7:30a.m. Classes begin at 8 a.m. AP Biology, her favorite. Dance, pre-calculus, film, journalism, religion, Spanish. Then basketball or softball practice for two hours after school. Afterward, during the basketball season, she went to DePaul for a shootaround. During the softball season, she takes extra swings at a homemade hitting station in her basement. Then homework for at least two hours.

"I push myself too hard in sports and academics," she said. "Going into my senior year, knowing I was going to DePaul, my parents suggested that I should ease off. They gave me permission not to take a lot of AP classes, to enjoy myself more. But I am a perfectionist. I can't let myself slack off. I tried but I can't do it."

But she concedes that it is more difficult to be a perfectionist in softball. Her father reminds her that hitting is a losing battle, that you're always below .500, that the majority of the time you won't hit the ball safety, that major league baseball players with .300 batting averages are in the Hall of Fame.

"It is a mental game," she said. "You have to come back the next game if you strike out five times in the past game. You have to be mentally tougher. My dad said I have to have a swagger. My goal this spring is to hit higher than .450 and focus on fewer errors and more stolen bases."

So she'll have something to talk about next Thanksgiving.

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA playoffs are finally here for all of boys basketball as regionals begin this week in the Class 3A and 4A. Since Class 2A only has one team in the top 25, defending champion Orr, most of the focus on the Power Rankings falls on teams in the Class 3A and 4A fields. 

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- The heavy favorites in Class 4A, the Wolverines start the playoffs against Hubbard or Reavis before potentially facing Sandburg or Crete-Monee for a regional title.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- The Spartans won a regional in Class 2A as they move on to play Uplift in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday. The Titans might be the toughest team Orr faces in its quest to repeat as 2A champions. 

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The No. 1 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional of Class 4A, the Condors could face York or Riverside-Brookfield for a regional title as that could be a tough matchup. 

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- The defending Class 4A champions are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could face St. Joseph or St. Ignatius for a regional title next week. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) -- The Mustangs will try to repeat in Class 3A as they might face Vocational or Perspectives/Leadership for a regional title. Now that Ayo Dosunmu is healthy and back, Morgan Park should be the favorites once again.

6. Fenwick (19-7, 8-0) (6) -- Catholic League champion Fenwick is up in Class 4A this year as they're a No. 4 seed in a loaded Riverside-Brookfield Sectional. The Friars might have a showdown with Proviso East for a regional title if both teams win earlier in the week. 

7. Evanston (21-5, 8-2) (8) -- The Loaded Maine East Sectional will be tough but Evanston is the No. 1 seed. The Wildkits could have a tough regional title game ahead of them as Maine West and Notre Dame are both capable of making it a close game.

8. Oak Park-River Forest (22-5, 12-0) (9) -- Knocking off Hinsdale South for the West Suburban crown, the Huskies have a lot of positive momentum entering the Class 4A playoffs. OPRF is the No. 3 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could play Lincoln Park for a regional title.

9. Benet (23-4, 8-1) (10) -- With a 14-game winning streak entering the playoffs, the Redwings are red hot. Benet is the No. 2 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional in Class 4A as they could match up with Naperville Central or Glenbard West for a regional title. 

10. West Aurora (21-4, 10-0) (11) -- Winners of 13 straight, West Aurora is the No. 2 seed in the Romeoville Sectional. The Blackhawks could face Andrew or Plainfield North for a regional title at Plainfield South. 

11. Marist (24-4, 7-2) (12) -- An impressive 24-win season has Marist as the No. 2 seed in the Thornton Sectional as they host a Class 4A regional. The RedHawks might play Thornwood or Bloom to win that regional on Friday night. 

12. Niles North (24-4, 6-4) (13) -- The Vikings took down New Trier to pick up a great win right before the loaded Maine East Sectional in Class 4A. Niles North, a No. 3 seed, might have to face ESCC champion St. Viator for a regional title, which would be one of the most-anticipated matchups in Class 4A. 

13. New Trier (22-5, 8-2) (7) -- Dropping two games during the week, New Trier is limping into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Maine East Sectional. It won't get any easier for the Trevians as they might face Mid-Suburban champion Prospect for a regional title.

14. Naperville North (24-2, 15-1) (15) -- The top seed in the Glenbard East Sectional, Naperville North hosts its own regional in Class 4A. The Huskies might play Geneva or Downers North for a regional title. 

15. DePaul Prep (21-6, 5-3) (16) -- The No. 1 seed in the North Chicago Sectional, DePaul Prep hosts its own regional in Class 3A. The Rams could face Foreman or Sullivan for a regional title as DePaul Prep has a winnable sectional. 

16. Loyola (22-6, 5-3) (17) -- Loyola is the No. 4 seed in the Maine East Sectional. The Ramblers could have a tough regional final against host and No. 5 seed Maine South as that would make for a great matchup.

17. Marian Catholic (20-5, 5-4) (14) -- A No. 1 seed in the Pontiac Sectional of Class 3A, the Spartans will be one of the teams to watch in that field. Marian Catholic could potentially take on Thornridge or Rich Central for a regional title during the week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (18) -- The Hawks are a No. 2 seed in the Pontiac Sectional in Class 3A as they try to make another deep run in March. Hillcrest could face Rich East or Oak Forest for a regional title.

19. Homewood-Flossmoor (19-6, 9-1) (20) -- The Vikings had some close wins during the week preparing for the Class 4A field. Homewood-Flossmoor could play Oak Lawn for a regional title at T.F. South this week. 

20. St. Viator (23-5, 9-0) (22) -- The unbeaten champs in the ESCC, the Lions are on a six-game winning streak. A No. 6 seed in the Maine East Sectional, St. Viator could have a major test against Niles North for a Class 4A regional title. 

21. Bolingbrook (19-6, 7-3) (23) -- Top seed in the Romeoville Sectional, the Raiders have been a major threat in the postseason the past few years. Bolingbrook might play Lemont or Plainfield East for a regional title.

22. Maine South (21-7, 6-4) (24) -- The Hawks have the recent win over Niles North as they're the No. 5 seed in the Maine East Sectional. As the host in the regional, Maine South could get a home game against No. 4 seed Loyola.

23. Hinsdale South (20-6, 10-2) (21) -- Hinsdale South dropped a close one to OPRF right before the postseason. The Hornets might face Willowbrook for a regional title as the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional as the two teams split the season series. 

24. Willowbrook (23-5, 9-3) (25) -- The Warriors had an outstanding season as they are in the tough Glenbard East Sectional. A No. 5 seed, Willowbrook could face Hinsdale South for a regional title, which could be the best title game of the entire week. 

25. Jacobs (24-3, 16-0) (NR) -- Winners of the Fox Valley for the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles are on a roll as they're a No. 2 seed in the Jacobs Sectional in Class 4A. If Jacobs gets senior Ryan Phillips back from hand injury they could be dangerous.