Bulls

Class of 2013 could be best since 1985

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Class of 2013 could be best since 1985

Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and other football analysts and historians claim that the class of 1985 was the most talented group ever produced in the Chicago area. And it's hard to argue against the evidence.

According to Lemming, 141 graduates earned Division I scholarships. The elite list included St. Rita linebacker and Player of the Year John Foley (Notre Dame), Whitney Young lineman and No. 1 NFL draft choice Russell Maryland (Miami), Simeon lineman Bobby Wilson (Michigan State), St. Laurence linemen Tim Grunhard (Notre Dame), Paul Glonek (Iowa) and Jeff Pearson (Michigan State) and Forest View linebacker Brad Quast (Iowa).

Also Sandburg linemen Jeff Alm (Notre Dame) and Dave Postmus (Illinois), Bogan end Frank Hartley (Illinois), Libertyville lineman Brian Wilcox (UCLA), Lockport lineman Brad James (Illinois), Mount Carmel receiver Chris Calloway (Michigan), St. Laurence defensive back Stan Smagala (Notre Dame), Schaumburg quarterback Paul Justin (Arizona State) and New Trier halfback Charlie Young (Stanford).

The class of 2013 won't approach that number but Lemming argues that this year's crop of juniors, led by running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic, offensive lineman Ethan Pocic of Lemont and quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook and Matt Alviti of Maine South, could be the most talented group since 1985.

"Isaac and Pocic are the two best players in the Midwest," Lemming said. "There are six or seven players in the class of 2013 who could rank among the top 100 in the nation."

Lemming said offensive lineman Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis isn't far behind Isaac and Pocic. He rates Crete-Monee's LaQuon Treadwell as the best receiving prospect in the Midwest and Bolingbrook's Bailey as one of the best athletes. He also is high on Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti and Glenbard West running backreceiver Kendall Johnson.

Other highly regarded prospects in the class of 2013 are safety Jesse Bobbit of Palatine, tight end Nathan Marcus and defensive end Ruben Dunbar of Glenbard West, defensive lineman Colin Goebel of Naperville Central, tight end Danny Friend of Morris, running back Matthew Harris of Lyons, tackles Brandon Stanfel of Libertyville and Blake King of Minooka and linebacker Caleb Bailey of Romeoville.

But the headliners are Isaac, Pocic and Bailey.

Isaac, a 6-3, 215-pound running back with 4.5 speed, set a state record by rushing 26 times for 515 yards and six touchdowns in a 70-45 loss to Montini in the Class 5A final. He also set a school single-season record by rushing for 2,629 yards, surpassing the mark of 2,624 set by James Randle in 1996.

He has 13 scholarship offers -- Illinois, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana, Arizona, Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Toledo -- with more to come.

"He is the best player I have coached," said Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp. "He is one of the greatest ever to play in Illinois."

Lemming said Isaac is the best running back to come out of the Chicago area since Niles West's Rashard Mendenhall. "He is the best I've seen this year. He looks like (NFL Hall of Famer) Eric Dickerson," Lemming said.

Pocic, a 6-7, 285-pound offensive tackle, is being touted in some circles as the next Jake Long or Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, comparing him to two of the best left tackles in history.

He has offers from Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, Purdue, West Virginia and Arizona and can be expected to attract more during his senior season. His older brother Graham was a standout center at Illinois.

Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen said Pocic is "the best offensive lineman I've seen this year." He ranks Pocic in a class with former Lemont star David Molk, who earned All-America recognition as the best center in college football at Michigan in 2011.

Bailey, a 6-2, 215-pound quarterback with 4.5 speed, led Bolingbrook to the Class 8A championship last season. He rushed for 1,986 yards, passed for 1,000 and accounted for 40 touchdowns. Very athletic, he could be a quarterback, running back or wide receiver in college.

He has offers from Illinois, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Boston College and Colorado State. Look for the list to grow as college coaches continue to evaluate his all-around skills.

Alviti, a 6-foot, 195-pound quarterback, led Maine South to the Class 8A championship while passing for 3,150 yards as a sophomore. As a junior, he led the Hawks to a 10-1 record and passed for 2,220 yards. He has passed for 54 touchdowns in two years. He has indicated that he will attend either Northwestern or Notre Dame.

Treadwell, a 6-3, 183-pound wide receiver, caught 75 passes for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He has offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan and Indiana.

Bosch, a 6-5, 290-pound tackle, is described by Wheaton St. Francis coach Greg Purnell as "the best young offensive lineman I've coached in 30 years. He has the most big-time potential of anyone I've seen. He can play on Sunday."

He has more offers (14) than any Illinois product in the class of 2013 -- Alabama, Arizona, Boston College, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford and West Virginia.

Bosch has been on the radar of Lemming and other recruiting analysts and college coaches since he was an eighth grader. As a sophomore, many longtime observers of high school football in the Chicago area said that Bosch was the best young prospect since running back Howard Jones of Evanston in 1970.

Jones was a two-time All-Stater and three-time state champion in the 100 and 220-yard dash events. Evanston coach Murney Lazier, who lost only 17 games in 18 years, said Jones was the best player he ever produced.

Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly, a nephew of former Illinois and NFL star George Donnelly, said Bobbit is the best player he has produced in 18 years. A punishing tackler, he could be a linebacker or strong safety in college. He has attracted interest from Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Northern Illinois.

Proviso East has a pair of promising juniors who have been flying under the radar because the Maywood school's football program isn't as celebrated as its basketball program. But defensive end Anthony Greenhow and offensive tackle Rashad Williams are academic qualifiers who should receive plenty of attention from college recruiters this fall.

Marian Central coach Ed Brucker has produced several big-time Division I players in recent years and quarterback Chris Streveler is his latest. He passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for 900 while leading his 11-1 team to the state quarterfinals last fall. "He is potentially the best all-around quarterback I've coached in 40 years," Brucker said.

The DuPage Valley is one of the most competitive conferences in Illinois and offensive lineman Colin Goebel of Naperville North figures to be one of the leading prospects in the Midwest in 2012. He was the conference's offensive lineman of the year as a junior, a rare distinction. His cousin, former Montini star Garrett Goebel, is a stater at Ohio State.

Chad Hetlet has restored the glory at Glenbard West that Bill Duchon built in the 1960s and 1970s and Jim Covert sustained in the 1980s. Hetlet's 2011 squad was led by Ohio State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, who was rated as the state's No. 1 player in some circles.

The 2012 Hilltoppers will feature at least three Division I prospects -- running backreceiver Kendall Johnson, defensive end Ruben Dunbar and tight end Nathan Marcus.

Interestingly, Schutt wasn't selected as the defensive player of the year in the West Suburban Silver. That distinction went to Proviso West junior linebacker Jamaal Payton. He had 100 tackles in 10 games and had a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown against Hubbard.

Top 30 (Class of 2013)

1. Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic, RB
2. Ethan Pocic, Lemont, OT
3. Aaron Bailey, Bolingbrook, QB
4. Matt Alviti, Maine South, QB
5. LaQuon Treadwell, Crete-Monee, WR
6. Kyle Bosch, Wheaton St. Francis, OT 7. Colin Goebel, Naperville Central, DL 8. Jesse Bobbit, Palatine, DB 9. Kendall Johnson, Glenbard West, RB 10. Brandon Stanfel, Libertyville, OT 11. Blake King, Minooka, OT 12. Danny Friend, Morris, TE 13. Matthew Harris, Lyons, RB 14. Ruben Dunbar, Glenbard West, DE 15. Chris Streveler, Marian Central, QB 16. Jamaal Payton, Proviso West, DB 17. Anthony Greenhow, Proviso East, DE 18. Rashad Williams, Proviso East, OT 19. Devon Sanders, Robeson, RB 20. Tate Briggs, Montini, OT 21. Nathan Marcus, Glenbard West, TE 22. Jabari Winston, Simeon, DB 23. Kendall Moore, Simeon, OT 24. Bruce Holder, Streamwood, WR 25. Adam Kulon, Jacobs, LB 26. John Peltz, Wheaton North, QB 27. Caleb Bailey, Romeoville, LB 28. Jalen Banks, Thornton, DB 29. A.J. Fish, Grayslake North, QB 30. Jake Lemming, Lemont, DB

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

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USA TODAY

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

Only an errant punch that missed the face of Serge Ibaka prevented Robin Lopez from suiting up for the Bulls since arriving in the summer of 2016, but his availability streak will come to an abrupt end as the Bulls are sitting and Justin Holiday for the foreseeable future.

Lopez didn’t dress for the Bulls’ game against the 76ers, as he and Holiday were replaced by Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba. Although he was jovial, cracking a few jokes when meeting with the media in pregame, it was clear he was disappointed.

“It was rough for me. I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”

With the Bulls being eighth in the lottery standings, Lopez understands the long-term objectives of the organization and said the conversation with the front office went as expected.

“I think pretty much what everybody else has heard,” Lopez said. “I was pulled aside. They told me they wanted to evaluate a few other guys, a few of the young guys. So I get it.”

Starting 138 of 139 games makes his streak ending a bit tougher to stomach, especially considering he didn’t find out about his certain inactivity until right before leaving for the United Center.

“I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit,” said Lopez of sadness concerning the streak. “I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about 5 minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”

Not only will he be armed with better wardrobe but he’ll be bringing a positive disposition to the sidelines that made him loved amongst his teammates.

“All my teammates, whether they’ve been playing with me or sitting on the bench and not dressing, they’ve all supported me,” Lopez said. “I don’t think I’d be too good a person if I didn’t do at least the bare minimum of the same.”

Lopez represented stability and veteran leadership in a tumultuous season, a solid performer when losing was the early norm and upheaval has been constant. It was a reason the Bulls hoped he would garner some interest in the trade market but after hitting for a draft pick in the Nikola Mirotic deal, they had no such luck with Lopez.

Naturally, he was asked about the prospect of being traded over sitting as a healthy scratch.

“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know what situation I could have potentially been in once I had been traded,” Lopez said. “Yeah, it’s … I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys right here.”

Considering how uncertain things will be for the future, it isn’t a guarantee Lopez won’t be around for the 2018-19 season.

“Yeah. It seems like they still like me. How could they not?,” he joked.

He’s due $14.3 million next season, the last of a four-year deal he signed with the Knicks in 2015. Averaging 12.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, he’s productive and valuable on the floor. He’s easy to dismiss with the hoopla surrounding the youth on the roster and the way things clicked when Mirotic stepped on the floor, but seven footers like Lopez aren’t easy to find—even as the game changes.

“I’m a team player. I like to think my play is tied to how the team plays,” Lopez said. “I think we had some really great stretches. The young guys really developed and found a rhythm once we all got healthy. I think we played pretty well.”

With 25 games remaining, he’s unsure of how long his inactivity will last but it’s hard to see him missing the remainder of the season. It would be a bad look for the Bulls and the league to have a healthy player miss two whole months, and Lopez claims no knowledge about that ugly “T” word.

“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.

At least he’s keeping his sense of humor.

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”