Bears

Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

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Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

Lamon Dawkins used to play football. He was a running back and wide receiver on his father's youth team, the Little Eagles, who played at Hamlin Park. He still plays football from time to time. He wishes St. Benedict had a football program. If it did, he'd be suiting up in helmet and pads.

But it doesn't. Dawkins enrolled at St. Benedict to play basketball and get a good education. In his view, it was the "obvious choice."

"I like football but I like basketball more," Dawkins said. "I get more excited with basketball. I like running down the court, dunking on people and shooting. And it's even more fun this year because we're running all the time, run-and-gun."

Dawkins is a 6-foot-1 junior guard who is averaging 21.5 points per game for a St. Benedict team that is 17-5 and seeded No. 2 behind highly rated Hope Academy in the Class 1A sectional at Hope.

Last week, St. Benedict defeated Gordon Tech 59-53 as Dawkins scored 32 points and 6-foot-3 senior Henry Mireku contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The Bengals meet Roycemore on Wednesday and Providence-St. Mel on Friday. With an enrollment of 230 students, the school has slipped to Class 1A. St. Benedict hasn't won a regional title since 1992. But coach Tom Horn thinks his current squad is primed to make history.

"This is my best team," Horn said. "This team is averaging 80.5 points per game, most in school history. It is a high risk, high reward team. We play a 1-3-1 trap and 2-2-1 defense. If you score, we try to outscore you. Our goal is to get the ball up quickly and take the best shot."

Horn has known success at St. Benedict. A 1977 graduate, he was a sophomore on a 24-3 team that was ranked No. 8 in the Chicago area. Indiana coach Bob Knight came to scout two of Horn's teammates, Steve Scales (who went to TCU) and Bob Middleton (who went to Texas A&M).

Horn attended Wright Junior College for one year, then transferred to Northeastern Illinois and walked onto the basketball team. He has been teaching in the Chicago public schools for 29 years. After stops at Schurz, Lane Tech and Northside Prep, he landed at St. Benedict four years ago.

Last year's team was 17-8 and lost to Hope Academy in the regional. Afterward, he decided it was time to make a change in his philosophy.

"We have a lot of talented kids," Horn said. "Later in your career, after you reach a point where you have won 230 games...well, I talked to my staff and we felt we had to change to a run-and-gun offense because I wanted to see these kids go to college and I wanted them to put up big numbers.

"Early in your career, you think about your ego. But now it's all about the kids. They want to run. They run all summer with AAU. So I changed my philosophy. At Northside Prep, we won 23 games one year, beat Notre Dame and lost to Marshall in the city playoff. But this team has more talent."

But can they beat Hope Academy?

Three weeks ago, St. Benedict had a 10-point lead over Hope Academy in the third quarter but lost 75-70 for the conference championship.

"To beat Hope, we must guard them," Horn said. "They had too many easy baskets. We can score with anyone. We lost 92-87 in double overtime to Jones. We aren't afraid to match basket for basket. But we can't give up easy baskets. We can play with them."

Dawkins, who has a 36-inch vertical jump and is described as a Division I prospect by his coach, and Mireku, who averages 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per game, are the key contributors. Very athletic, Mireku plays in the paint for the Bengals but likely will be a two-guard in college.

Other starters are 5-foot-9 senior point guard Ray Busch (five points, nine assists per game), 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior Earl Briggs (eight points, five rebounds per game) and 6-foot-3 senior Leon Brown (seven points, five rebounds, four blocks and three assists per game).

"Briggs clears the boards. If the other team beats our press, he is back there to defend," Horn said. "Brown is long-armed and guards the best player on the other team."

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-2 freshman point guard Marshawn Williams and 6-foot senior guard Jacques Lewis.

Dawkins accepts his role as the go-to guy. "I'm supposed to lead the charge down the floor," he said.

He recalls St. Benedict's opening game against St. Gregory. The Bengals were trailing by two points in the second quarter when Horn decided it was time to start the track meet.

"In practice, (Horn) told us we would run and gun. He wanted to see us run with the ball. We were surprised. Sometimes we get tired but we were excited to run, run and gun," Dawkins said.

"Then against St. Gregory, in the second quarter, he said to run and gun and we took off. We ran away from them. We liked (running) more. What is run and gun? Every rebound we grab, we go, we attack the basket, we don't wait, the whole team goes to the basket."

Dawkins hopes to play basketball in college. His dream schools are Memphis and Butler. To earn a scholarship to one of those schools, he acknowledges that he must continue to improve, as he has since last season when he averaged 15 points per game.

"I worked hard all summer," he said, recalling trips to Illinois' camp and frequent sessions at the Carter Club at 2919 N. Leavitt. "I woke up every day and played basketball. I went one-on-one with family members all the time, people I didn't know, kids at the boys club, anyone. I just wanted to get better at everything I did."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma (670TheScore.com) and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.