Bears

Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?

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Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?

The history of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which began in 1926, is filled with great teams, coaches and players from Centralia to Simeon, from Arthur Trout to Robert Smith, from Dike Eddleman to Jabari Parker.

Don Cash Seaton, Pontiac's coach at the time, founded the event because he believed there needed to be something for the high school basketball players to do during the holidays, to help them prepare for the state tournament in March.

Seaton's motivation went further. He sought to attract teams from all regions of Illinois and he especially looked for teams with different styles of play. He was eager to pit teams against teams that normally didn't compete against one another.

Over the decades, Pontiac has attracted virtually all of the most celebrated and successful programs in the state, including Taylorville, Centralia, Quincy, Bloom, Lockport, Peoria Manual, Pekin, West Aurora, Rock Island, Collinsville, Proviso East, La Salle-Peru, Peoria Central, Peoria Richwoods, East Moline, Carbondale and Simeon.

"What I enjoy most," said tournament director Jim Drengwitz, "is that I can recall former principal Roger Tuttlet telling me that the tournament is like homecoming. People show up for the tournament. You don't see them any other time of the year."

Drengwitz, who was principal at Pontiac from 1994 to 2007 and has served as tournament director since 1994, said his mission is to persuade the best teams available from different geographic locations in the state to come to Pontiac for the holidays.

"We don't have the diversity that we had 30 years ago because of the proliferation of holiday tournaments throughout the state," he said. "But this year I'd stack it up with any tournament in Illinois--with Simeon, Warren, Curie and Peoria Manual."

The 81st annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament is scheduled for Dec. 28-30. The opening-round pairings will pit West Aurora vs. Danville, Curie vs. Niles West, Joliet vs. Waukegan and Warren vs. Plainfield North in the upper bracket with East Moline vs. Lockport, Simeon vs. Bloomington, Peoria Manual vs. Pontiac and Oak Park vs. St. Charles North in the lower bracket.

Old-timers remember the way it was. The Palomar Motel, which once housed all the participating teams, closed 20 years ago. But local businesses such as Wright's Furniture, Pontiac Sports, Bank of Pontiac and Pfaff's Bakery have supported the three-day event for years. Local radio station WJEX-FM broadcasts every game live with Mark Myre and his staff doing play-by-play.

"Fans have shown up for years, from the 1960s and 1970s," Drengwitz said. "They appreciate the hospitality of the community and the barbecue sandwiches, always a staple of the tournament. They know we have a good product."

Old-timers talk about Jerry Leggett and his great Quincy teams of the 1980s. They recall how outgoing Leggett was. They still talk about the QuincyProvidence game that pitted Michael Payne against Walter Downing.

They talk about Wes Mason and his outstanding Bloom teams of the 1970s. And they recall Bloom star Audie Matthews, who later played at Illinois. They talk about the coaches, including Will Kellogg of Brother Rice, John McDougal and Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora, Bob Basarich of Lockport, Bob Hambric of Simeon, Dick Van Sycoc and Wayne McClain of Peoria Manual and Jack Margenthaler of La Salle-Peru, who added flavor to the tournament.

No tournament has as much history as Pontiac. Adolph Rupp took his Freeport teams to Pontiac in the 1920s, before he left to become the legendary Baron of the Bluegrass at Kentucky. Centralia's Arthur Trout and Dike Eddleman were there before Trout left to found his own holiday tournament at Centralia in the 1940s.

The A.C. Williamson Award didn't start out as an MVP award. Originally, it was selected by floor officials and presented to the player who best exemplified sportsmanship and leadership. Over time, however, it has become an MVP award that recognizes the best player in the tournament. Simeon's Derrick Rose and Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan are the only two-time recipients. But Simeon's Jabari Parker won last year as a sophomore. So he could be a three-time winner.

The all-time Pontiac team? You could win a few games with Derrick Rose, Howard Nathan, Bruce Douglas, Sergio McClain and Kenny Battle. But you might have to find room for Jabari Parker, Walter Downing, Dike Eddleman, Alando Tucker, Audie Matthews and Bob Bender.

And this is the trivia topper: Seaton invited a friend, James Naismith, the founder of the game and former coach at Kansas, to speak at a post-tournament banquet. Naismith said he was amazed at how his invention had taken off, how people would be so excited to watch kids shooting a round ball at a peach basket.

Drengwitz said the biggest fear for tournament organizers and officials always is weather. But there never has been a cancellation. Another fear is if the top-rated team lost its first two games and was eliminated. But that hasn't happened, either.

Officials always hope that Pontiac will do well so more local fans will attend the event. But Pontiac has won only once, in 1974. "We don't build the tournament around Pontiac," Drengwitz said.

He admits he doesn't see much of the tournament, however. "I'm mainly working, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. But the coaches are fun to work with. I have developed good friendships with many of them over the years," he said.

And he can't pass up a barbecue sandwich.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

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. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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.”