Blackhawks

Doyle unknown quality at Marshall

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Doyle unknown quality at Marshall

You might not remember Milton Doyle. He had an outstanding sophomore season at Marshall but suffered a broken hand and was forced to sit out his junior year. So he fell off everybody's radar screen. Well, everybody's except Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, who recruited him.

Doyle, a 6-foot-4 senior, is committed to Florida International in Miami. It is the site of Thomas' latest coaching venture and the former St. Joseph, Indiana and Detroit Pistons star is eager to turn the program into a national power. Doyle is anxious to be part of it.

"An assistant coach from Florida International came to Marshall in September. I was surprised. He told me that the head coach was Isiah Thomas. I knew who he was. I had seen highlights of him. I knew he was a legend in basketball," Doyle said.

He talked to some other schools, including Loyola, Chicago State, Western Illinois and Eastern Illinois, but he committed to Thomas in November. How could he resist playing for one of the best players ever to play the game?

"When I went for a visit, I liked the school and the team -- and I liked their offense," Doyle said. "I felt I fit in good with the program and I liked the coach. I was impressed with how much he knows about basketball and how far his career has taken him. I'm looking forward to playing for him."

Doyle averaged 22 points per game as a sophomore. "It was a breakout year for me. I was really looking forward to my junior year," he said. Then he broke his hand during a summer softball game while diving into second basket trying to stretch a single into a double. Scratch the basketball season.

"It was very disappointing to sit out the basketball season," he said. "I went to all the games and sat and watched. It was very frustrating. It was hard to watch my teammates go through the playoffs and not be able to help them."

Last summer, he played for coach Chris Head's AAU team, the Illinois Hawks. He participated in a Reebok tryout in Chicago and was so impressive that he was invited to Reebok's national camp in Philadelphia. That's when Florida International discovered him.

"I wanted to turn heads and show off my skills and show off my game," Doyle said. "I wanted to show that I can play with the best players in the country. I felt I was doing it all. I had to get used to playing with people I hadn't played with and adjusting my game to them. I was determined to play as hard as I could and make up for last year.

"After it was over, I was proud of myself. But I felt I could be even better. What I want people to know is I can play every position and guard every position. And I have scoring ability from any angle and anywhere on the floor."

Marshall coach Henry Cotton's phone started ringing off the hook. "People ask: 'Why didn't you tell us about him?' A lot of people still don't know about him. But there isn't anything he can't do on the floor. At first, I thought he'd wait until after the season to make a commitment. But...how can you turn down someone like Isiah Thomas?" Cotton said.

If Doyle is a surprise this season, so is Marshall. Only one starter returned from last year's 18-11 finisher. But the Commandoes are 9-1 going into Tuesday's game against Gateway in the opening round of the Normandy Holiday Tournament in Saint Louis.

Last week, Marshall swept Red-West rivals Raby 83-61 on Wednesday and North Lawndale 71-60 on Thursday. Doyle had 22 points and 13 rebounds against Raby and 23 points and 10 rebounds against North Lawndale.

Cotton, 44, a 1985 graduate of Austin, is in his fourth year as head coach at Marshall. He was an assistant when Courtney Hargrays guided the Commandoes to a state championship in 2008. Previously, he was an assistant under Roy Condotti, Frank Griseto and Chris Head at Westinghouse.

"Doyle is our best player. When things get tight, he can play point guard," Cotton said. "But we have several unknown kids who can play well. You can't key on one kid. We don't have a lot of size. We compensate with speed and man-to-man pressure defense."

Doyle is surrounded by 6-1 senior Korbin McClain (14 ppg), the lone returning starter; 6-foot junior Derrick Miles (11 ppg); 6-1 sophomore Citron Miller (9 ppg); and 6-foot-1 junior Chris Crieg (10 ppg). Tony Lewis, a 6-foot-3 junior, is the sixth man.

"They have shown me commitment," Cotton said. "They work hard every day. They go through a wall for me. They show up and accomplish something every day. They improve game by game. We need to get stronger on rebounding and be more consistent on defense. We need to pressure the ball for 32 minutes instead of 27 or 28. We can't take a break on defense."

Doyle is glad to be part of Marshall's tradition. He saw Darius Smith and the 2008 state championship team. He is aware of the 1958 and 1960 state champions and all of the other trophy winners. And he knows who George Wilson was. He hopes future players will remember who Milton Doyle was.

"I like everything about this team," Doyle said. "We fight hard. We have all the tools to beat anyone we face. We have speed and chemistry and
defense. Everybody goes hard. Nobody gives up."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.