Bears

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."

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.”