White Sox

Bolingbrook ranks No. 1 in preseason

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Bolingbrook ranks No. 1 in preseason

Bolingbrook wasn't even ranked among the top 15 teams in Illinois at the outset of the 2011 high school football season. So the Raiders went on to win 13 of 14 games and the Class 8A championship. That's what can happen when there are no expectations and no pressure to live up to them.

No such luck in 2012, however. Bolingbrook figures to be rated No. 1 in the preseason and coach John Ivlow wouldn't have it any other way. His team has earned as much celebrity as Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin.

"We are the team to beat. We still wear the crown. We have what it takes to win again," Ivlow said. "We're excited for the challenge. We're tired of the summer. We want to start the season.

"Personally, I feel better going into this season than last year. I know the offensive firepower we have. If we can slow people down on defense, I don't feel anyone can keep pace with us on offense."

Bolingbrook, which hosts Plainfield South in its opener on Aug. 24, returns eight starters on offense, including Illinois-bound quarterback Aaron Bailey, whom Ivlow touts as the best player in the state. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder with 4.51 speed rushed for 1,983 yards and 30 touchdowns and passed for 1,039 and 10 touchdowns last season.

In the state final, Bailey rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns and completed 8 of 13 passes for 140 yards as second-ranked Bolingbrook upset top-rated Loyola 21-17. His 33-yard scoring dash with 5:01 to play overcame the Ramblers' three-point lead.

"He can be a lot better," Ivlow said. "We will showcase his arm more this season. We live on big plays and he has the ability to break big plays. He has the ability to turn nothing into something. People will come out just to see him play."

Bailey will be surrounded by several other difference-makers and game-breakers--junior cornerback Parrker Westphal, one of the most celebrated defensive backs in the nation, running backs Omar Stover and Jaden Huff and wide receivers Chandler Piekarski, Brandon Lewis and Quincy Woods, whose father once quarterbacked at Rich East and committed to USC.

Ivlow also predicts future stardom for freshman linebacker Tuf Borland and Huff's identical twin brothers, safety Jacob and linebacker Julian, a pair of promising sophomores.

"Offensively, we can be better than last year," Ivlow said. "Defensively, we must replace nine starters. We graduated some great defensive players (including Florida-bound linebacker Antonio Morrison). But we have 11 kids who can play defense somewhere. It is a matter of getting them in the right places."

To prepare for the 2012 season, Ivlow met with new Illinois coach Tim Beckman and fellow high school coaches Dan Sharp of Joliet Catholic, Andy Bitto of Carmel and Craig Buzea of Homewood-Flossmoor to pick up some tips. "We have grown as a coaching staff. Now we know what it takes to win a championship," he said.

"I'm still a rookie. I'm constantly learning. I met with coaches who do similar things. I wanted to learn how they do things, how they structure their programs. I have good assistants and kids. It's a constant learning process. Now we are more confident than ever before."

According to Ivlow, the key to Bolingbrook's success is the weight room. "It has been the sole key to us maintaining our level of competition. Our kids are in shape with a coat of armor and muscle. This could be the best conditioned team I have had in 11 years. They spend as much time in the weight room as they do on the practice field," he said.

A few years ago, Ivlow noticed that his players weren't strong or big or physical. He looked at successful programs, high school and college, and realized that their work in the weight room was the answer to their success, a confidence-builder that turned a so-so program into a champion.

So when he gathers his varsity squad together for the first practice on Wednesday, Ivlow won't have to deliver a "win one for the Gipper" speech. His program is all about getting down the business. It takes a great effort to reach the top but it takes an even bigger effort to stay there. And once you get there, you like the feeling.

"In the summer, we don't get rah-rah. It's all about teaching," Ivlow said. "Some kids won't come out in August. We started with 75 and ended up with 60. Football isn't for everybody. We're dead serious. We don't take anything for granted.

"We don't do a lot of teaching in August. We've already formed our opinions about the depth chart. This is my first year doing it this way, after winning last year. Like it or not, we still are No. 1 until the playoff comes around.

"The work ethic has always been there. Our kids are so competitive. We have competition in some key spots...running back, offensive line, receivers, linebacker, defensive back. We didn't have that in the past. Kids can't sit back and get by with what they accomplished last year."

Bailey is the team leader and Ivlow predicts he will surpass USC-bound running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic as the premier player in the state. He looks for Bailey to become a more accurate and reliable passer. Last year, he completed only 44 percent (58-for-131) of his passes.

"He touches the ball on every play," Ivlow said. "Isaac is great. But he doesn't touch the ball every time."

Bailey will be even more difficult to defend this season. Ivlow has expanded the shotgun package in his offensive playbook so Bailey won't take as many snaps under center as he did a year ago.

"This group eats and sleeps football," Ivlow said. "If you tell them to be in the weight room at 3, they are there at 2. They put in more extra work than any other team I have had, not just 4 or 5 guys but 20 to 30 consistently.

"This isn't a big team but it is quicker. We have a lot of kids who can run. And don't be surprised if 5 or 6 or 7 sophomores start on both sides of the ball.

"We have that elusive state title. We have a great appreciation for the time and effort it takes to get there. We have worked at so many aspects of the game to try to get better. For example, we're better at kickoff returns this year. And that's my job. I handle that. I didn't feel I did a good job of it last year."

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.