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Cube is TV site for prep sports

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Cube is TV site for prep sports

HighSchoolCube.com is the best thing to hit high school basketball since the three-point shot, the next best thing to being there.

Imagine sitting in the comfort of your living room and watching live coverage of games from four of the most competitive holiday tournaments in Illinois -- Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South.

Who woulda thunk it?

It's all brought to you up close and personal by HighSchoolCube.com, which promotes itself as "the leading broadcast platform for high schools." Founded in January 2011 by a couple of Texas entrepreneurs, it has established start-up companies from coast to coast.

"It is a way for high schools to showcase everything they do and people can watch it wherever they are," said Jim McAteer, the Chicago executive producer who recruits and schedules crews to cover a multitude of events.

"If you can't attend a game, we will give you an opportunity to still watch it, live or replay. At the moment, 40 schools in the Chicago area are involved. Nationally, too. We have done games in Hawaii, New York and Indianapolis. We have set a schedule through March with 40 schools that have agreed to allow us to do their games."

It isn't ESPN or NBC or CBS or ABC. By their equipment standards, HighSchoolCube.com is primitive broadcasting. A crew consists a play-by-play announcer and a cameraman. The lone camera is situated at mid-court and covers all the action as the state finals were covered on a tiny black-and-white screen in the 1950s at Huff Gym in Champaign.

But it is live and nobody misses a shot. According to McAteer, his four cameras covered 117 games at Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South. And it doesn't get any more exciting that the two semifinal contests between WarrenCurie and SimeonPeoria Manual at Pontiac.

"We knew what viewers want and what makes a good broadcast," McAteer said. "They want a game they can watch from start to finish, know what the score is and who is winning and follow the action and get information from the announcers as if they were sitting in the gym. We're trying to make it the closest thing to being in the gym."

McAteer, 40, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1989, received a journalism degree from St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota. He was a weekend sports anchor for an NBC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, for 10 years. He met one of the founders of HighSchoolCube.com in Chicago and got hooked.

"I recalled in South Bend that the number of people who would watch a 30-second clip of high school football and basketball was off the charts," McAteer said.

He is always looking for people to do play-by-play at games and continues to add announcers, cameramen and schools to their broadcasting platform. He also visits schools, including Fenwick and Benet, to teach broadcasting. Benet has its own students covering the games.

"Last week really helped to get our name out there," McAteer said. "We had over 3,000 views for the Proviso West and Pontiac finals, our highest numbers to date. A year ago, we weren't even out there.

"This definitely is a success. We're still trying to get the word out. We probably would have had another 3,000 people who would have watched Simeon if they knew it was on live. The challenge is to get the word out. If they knew about it, they would watch it.

"It's growing every day. We started doing a couple of games with a couple of crews. Then we did 117 games with four crews last week. We also plan to do football, baseball and volleyball. Also plays and concerts. There is a passion and a following for high school sports. We will continue to grow and get bigger. Our goal? To include every school."

The five play-by-play announcers who were employed to do the four holiday tournaments -- Andrew Braverman (Proviso West), Matt McLaughlin (Hinsdale South), Jim Dragna (Rich South) and Brian Snow and Emil Williams Jr. (Pontiac) -- are typical of the type of people who are getting involved in front of and behind the camera.

"I love working with high school sports," said Braverman, 27, a 2002 graduate of Glenbrook North who has worked as a radio sports talk show host in Nashville, Tennessee, and as a morning drive host at a sports radio station in Denver, Colorado.

"I want to be 100 percent intertwined in high school and college basketball recruiting. I don't want to do play-by-play at the professional level, maybe college. But I love to follow prospects. I love to speak to coaches and athletes and travel around the country to big events like the Super 64 and Peach Jam.

"Getting to call Proviso West is a dream. Basketball is my passion. When I was at Glenbrook North, Chris Collins was a hero. So was Billy Donlan. I loved Glenbrook North basketball in the pre-Jon Scheyer era. It's worth losing my voice over, 20 games in four days."

McLaughlin, 40, a Lyons graduate of 1989, did play-by-play for the Schaumburg Flyers minor league baseball team for four years and currently works for a trade show marketing company. He also free-lances as an announcer for DePaul and Buffalo Grove sports events.

"If the stars align, my ultimate goal would be to get a play-by-play job, hopefully in major league baseball. My dream job? Once upon a time, it was to be the lead voice of the Cubs or do college basketball in the Chicago area. It would be fun to get back into that arena and sharpen my skills.

"As someone who grew up in the western suburbs, it was fun to watch the matchups at Hinsdale South and players from different schools from all over the area. I'm really impressed with what HighSchoolCube.com has done. It seems clear to me that there was some forethought put into it before the launch. There was vision behind it. There is a high degree of professionalism. They arrive at the sites prepared."

Dragna, 54, a St. Laurence graduate of 1976, majored in journalism at Arizona State, was a bike messenger in Chicago and once served as a mascot for the Chicago Cubs in spring training. His only regret? His two scheduled gigs for CubsWhite Sox games were snowed out.

A substitute teacher, he graduated from the Illinois Center for Broadcasting in 2011 and did play-by-play for the Benet basketball team on the school's website last season. He did the SimeonBenet game that attracted over 4,000 views.

"My goal is to try to get work with a radio station to do play-by-play. That's been a dream of mine since they put Walter Cronkite's name on the journalism school at Arizona State, the opportunity to talk on camera, all I want to do I life," Dragna said. "I did a five-day tournament in Arizona. At Rich South, if they had asked me, I would have done eight games a day. Rich South was nirvana for me, what I was cut out to do."

How far can HighSchoolCube.com go? "I think it's goal is to become the ESPN of the Internet. They think one day that everything will come through the wire, even newspapers," he said.

Snow, 39, a 1990 graduate of Fenger, started his own Internet broadcast company in 1995, called Interscholastic Sports Network Chicago. With good friend Alvin Washington, he covered Chicago State basketball and Public League schools. At the moment, while free-lancing with HighSchoolCube.com, he is trying to raise funds to stabilize his company.

"I'm having the time of my life, especially after being hooked up with HighSchoolCube.com," Snow said. "For the first time in six years, I'm really have fun again. For a while, it became how much money I could make, how many games I could to, to pay my bills. But why did I get into this business in the first place? I've done 35 games for HighSchoolCube.com so far. I want to establish something like the Cube, have a fully company of my own to do high school sports and continue to do play-by-play."

Snow said he was influenced by former Chicago Bulls announcer Jim Durham. "He gave me the bug. He was the main reason I got into play-by-play. I loved to listen to him, such timing and detail," he said.

"People who say it's just a high school event don't understand how much fun it is and how these kids grow up playing it. I've been covering high school sports for 16 years and I've never seen a tournament go down the way it went down in Pontiac. And I enjoyed every minute of it."

Williams, 27, a 2002 graduate of Lane Tech, majored in radioTV in college. A bowler at Lane Tech, he earned a bowling scholarship to Lindenwood College in St. Louis. and currently is working in media relations for the National Bowling Congress. But his goal is to be a full-time play-by-play announcer in the NBA or college basketball.

"At Lane Tech, I took a radioTV production class as a junior and liked it. When I went to Lindenwood, I started to do color commentary, then play-by-play for a radio station on campus. Last August, I was looking on Google and came across the Cube."

Williams and Dragna worked together at Pontiac. They weren't Pat Summerall and John Madden or Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall but they were entertaining and informative, all you could ask for.

"I've seen a lot of high school basketball but nothing I've ever seen was on that level...the environment, the gym, the fans, fantastic games. It felt like a movie, a great presence. Something magical was happening,"
Williams said.

"I want to get more repetitions. I want to make a name for myself in this kind of market. The Cube can help me out with that. It is really taking off. I'll stay with them as long as they will have me. They have a perfect vision for high school athletics. Chicago has so much talent but no outlet until the Cube to let people see it."

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The postseason begins in the latest Preps Power Rankings

The IHSA playoffs are finally here for all of boys basketball as regionals begin this week in the Class 3A and 4A. Since Class 2A only has one team in the top 25, defending champion Orr, most of the focus on the Power Rankings falls on teams in the Class 3A and 4A fields. 

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- The heavy favorites in Class 4A, the Wolverines start the playoffs against Hubbard or Reavis before potentially facing Sandburg or Crete-Monee for a regional title.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- The Spartans won a regional in Class 2A as they move on to play Uplift in the sectional semifinals on Wednesday. The Titans might be the toughest team Orr faces in its quest to repeat as 2A champions. 

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The No. 1 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional of Class 4A, the Condors could face York or Riverside-Brookfield for a regional title as that could be a tough matchup. 

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- The defending Class 4A champions are the No. 2 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could face St. Joseph or St. Ignatius for a regional title next week. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) -- The Mustangs will try to repeat in Class 3A as they might face Vocational or Perspectives/Leadership for a regional title. Now that Ayo Dosunmu is healthy and back, Morgan Park should be the favorites once again.

6. Fenwick (19-7, 8-0) (6) -- Catholic League champion Fenwick is up in Class 4A this year as they're a No. 4 seed in a loaded Riverside-Brookfield Sectional. The Friars might have a showdown with Proviso East for a regional title if both teams win earlier in the week. 

7. Evanston (21-5, 8-2) (8) -- The Loaded Maine East Sectional will be tough but Evanston is the No. 1 seed. The Wildkits could have a tough regional title game ahead of them as Maine West and Notre Dame are both capable of making it a close game.

8. Oak Park-River Forest (22-5, 12-0) (9) -- Knocking off Hinsdale South for the West Suburban crown, the Huskies have a lot of positive momentum entering the Class 4A playoffs. OPRF is the No. 3 seed in the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional as they could play Lincoln Park for a regional title.

9. Benet (23-4, 8-1) (10) -- With a 14-game winning streak entering the playoffs, the Redwings are red hot. Benet is the No. 2 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional in Class 4A as they could match up with Naperville Central or Glenbard West for a regional title. 

10. West Aurora (21-4, 10-0) (11) -- Winners of 13 straight, West Aurora is the No. 2 seed in the Romeoville Sectional. The Blackhawks could face Andrew or Plainfield North for a regional title at Plainfield South. 

11. Marist (24-4, 7-2) (12) -- An impressive 24-win season has Marist as the No. 2 seed in the Thornton Sectional as they host a Class 4A regional. The RedHawks might play Thornwood or Bloom to win that regional on Friday night. 

12. Niles North (24-4, 6-4) (13) -- The Vikings took down New Trier to pick up a great win right before the loaded Maine East Sectional in Class 4A. Niles North, a No. 3 seed, might have to face ESCC champion St. Viator for a regional title, which would be one of the most-anticipated matchups in Class 4A. 

13. New Trier (22-5, 8-2) (7) -- Dropping two games during the week, New Trier is limping into the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Maine East Sectional. It won't get any easier for the Trevians as they might face Mid-Suburban champion Prospect for a regional title.

14. Naperville North (24-2, 15-1) (15) -- The top seed in the Glenbard East Sectional, Naperville North hosts its own regional in Class 4A. The Huskies might play Geneva or Downers North for a regional title. 

15. DePaul Prep (21-6, 5-3) (16) -- The No. 1 seed in the North Chicago Sectional, DePaul Prep hosts its own regional in Class 3A. The Rams could face Foreman or Sullivan for a regional title as DePaul Prep has a winnable sectional. 

16. Loyola (22-6, 5-3) (17) -- Loyola is the No. 4 seed in the Maine East Sectional. The Ramblers could have a tough regional final against host and No. 5 seed Maine South as that would make for a great matchup.

17. Marian Catholic (20-5, 5-4) (14) -- A No. 1 seed in the Pontiac Sectional of Class 3A, the Spartans will be one of the teams to watch in that field. Marian Catholic could potentially take on Thornridge or Rich Central for a regional title during the week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (18) -- The Hawks are a No. 2 seed in the Pontiac Sectional in Class 3A as they try to make another deep run in March. Hillcrest could face Rich East or Oak Forest for a regional title.

19. Homewood-Flossmoor (19-6, 9-1) (20) -- The Vikings had some close wins during the week preparing for the Class 4A field. Homewood-Flossmoor could play Oak Lawn for a regional title at T.F. South this week. 

20. St. Viator (23-5, 9-0) (22) -- The unbeaten champs in the ESCC, the Lions are on a six-game winning streak. A No. 6 seed in the Maine East Sectional, St. Viator could have a major test against Niles North for a Class 4A regional title. 

21. Bolingbrook (19-6, 7-3) (23) -- Top seed in the Romeoville Sectional, the Raiders have been a major threat in the postseason the past few years. Bolingbrook might play Lemont or Plainfield East for a regional title.

22. Maine South (21-7, 6-4) (24) -- The Hawks have the recent win over Niles North as they're the No. 5 seed in the Maine East Sectional. As the host in the regional, Maine South could get a home game against No. 4 seed Loyola.

23. Hinsdale South (20-6, 10-2) (21) -- Hinsdale South dropped a close one to OPRF right before the postseason. The Hornets might face Willowbrook for a regional title as the No. 4 seed in the Glenbard East Sectional as the two teams split the season series. 

24. Willowbrook (23-5, 9-3) (25) -- The Warriors had an outstanding season as they are in the tough Glenbard East Sectional. A No. 5 seed, Willowbrook could face Hinsdale South for a regional title, which could be the best title game of the entire week. 

25. Jacobs (24-3, 16-0) (NR) -- Winners of the Fox Valley for the fourth straight year, the Golden Eagles are on a roll as they're a No. 2 seed in the Jacobs Sectional in Class 4A. If Jacobs gets senior Ryan Phillips back from hand injury they could be dangerous.