Donnie Boyce has had some time to reflect on his first year as head basketball coach at his alma mater, Proviso East, and his team's 50-48 loss to Simeon in the Class 4A championship game.So he finished 32-1. If you had it to do over again, what would you do? What did you learn as a rookie coach? How will it affect you as a second-year coach?"I'm already planning for next year," Boyce said. "I will assign an assistant coach to every three or four players to work with them over the summer. I want to build a trust with the staff. I want to allow each player to have a buffer to go through. As a player, I felt more comfortable going to an assistant coach rather than the head coach. I think it will help our team chemistry to grow."Boyce predicts his 2012-13 team will have a chance to go back to Peoria and be competitive in the Class 4A tournament. Two returning starters, Sterling Brown and Paris Lee, will be the team leaders. And he will have help from a 24-4 sophomore class, including 6-foot-4 Jesse Shaw and point guard Malik Carter, brother of this year's star, Keith Carter.But Boyce still can't help but look back on the state final and reflect on what might have been. He admits it took a week after the game before he could bring himself to look at the film. But he only watched it once."At the end of the game, some calls could have gone our way but didn't," he said. "We missed a lot of shots we normally make, Keith Carter particularly. He normally makes shots but he didn't. We also missed so many easy layups."Their length had a lot to do with that. If we finished stronger at the basket, it could have been a difference. I wanted the game to be in the 70-80 range. But we didn't attack as much as possible. They did a good job of controlling the tempo. I felt we had control of the game except for the last three or four minutes of the fourth quarter."But it wasn't the end of the world. In the championship game, we were in position to win. That's all you can ask for as a coach, that the players execute the game plan and have a chance to win late in the game. Simeon made some free throws or we could have been 33-0."If he had it to do over again, however, Boyce admits he would have substituted another shooter and played more zone defense. He should have switched Sterling Brown on Simeon's Steve Taylor, he said, but he didn't do it because Sterling had such a good rhythm going on offense and he wanted the youngster to have more energy left for the final push."In hindsight, you can always look back and think of things you might have done," Boyce said. "I thought all year, for the first time, we were able to handle any pressure that was handed our way. But for a minute or two in the fourth quarter, for the first time, we got gun shy and didn't pull the trigger on three-point shots and played tight for a stretch."But I liked our chances. We had a good game plan and we executed it. It came down to who makes the most plays and they made more than we did. Their experience was the difference. When I thought we had them rattled, they kept their composure. The tough games they played all year paid off for them. We went ahead by five points and had the ball going into the fourth quarter. Then Sterling missed a layup. I thought he got fouled. If we make it, we put a lot more pressure on them."So it's over. Wait til next year. What did Boyce learn as a rookie that will make him a better coach in 2012-13? How does he characterize his first season as the boss of one of the state's most storied and successful programs?"I had a lot of ups and downs. I made a lot of mistakes," he said. "But when you have as uch talent as we had, they made up for a lot of mistakes. The guards (Keith Carter, Paris Lee, Paris Burns) did a great job of playing together and sacrificing their game for the betterment of the team."It was a remarkable season. I couldn't have imagined in my first year going 32-0 and being four minutes from a perfect season. It was like baking a cake. I like strawberry shortcake. We put all the ingredients together and added the icing. The only thing we didn't do was put a cherry on the top."Grateful for the opportunity to return to the Maywood school that launched him on his path to success as a basketball player on Proviso East's state championship team in 1991, Boyce said he wants to thank school board president Chris Welch and athletic director Milton Patch for "showing a lot of faith and trust in bringing me in." Patch told him: "Run the program the way you feel like." Boyce couldn't ask for more support than that. "What I learned most as a rookie head coach is to not think as a player but think more as a coach," Boyce said. "There was a progression as a coach. I let my frustrations as a player affect me early in the season. I rode officials too much. But I got only one technical all year. It was a learning experience for me, a game within a game you have to play with the referees. And I learned to have more input with my coaching staff during games."
2017 grade: B+
Level of need: Medium
Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)
Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley
This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year.
Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league.
But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:
“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”
Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field.
And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein.
It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff.
“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”
Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman.
Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.
Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.
Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman.
There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.
“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”
With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.
“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.
New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.
But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.
“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”
Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.
It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.
It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.
LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.
Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.
Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?
“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”
LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.
“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.
“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”
“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”
LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.
Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”