Bulls

Du Sable recalls the good old days

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Du Sable recalls the good old days

Theo Williams remembers the way it was when Du Sable was one of the most successful basketball programs in the city. A graduate of 1998, he played point guard on a team that lost to Quentin Richardson and eventual state champion Whitney Young in the semifinals of the Public League playoff.

But Williams, 32, concedes that his players don't know very much about the history and tradition of a program that finished second in the state in 1954 and has produced such outstanding players as Sweetwater Clifton, Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown, Shellie McMillon, Mike Lewis, Maurice Cheeks, Sam Gowers, Larry Cross and Stephfon Butler.

"The kids know very little," Williams said. "I knew it all. When we went to the Final Four in the city playoff in 1998, that's when it all came out, newspaper articles about how powerful the basketball program was in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

"These kids don't know about the tradition. Sweetwater Clifton (the first African-American to play in the NBA) and Maurice Cheeks (a former NBA coach and future Hall of Famer) graduated from Du Sable. But they don't know them. They see the 1954 trophy and know the history of what happened when that team went Downstate.

"Even when I played, there was no atmosphere like the 1970s. Not today, either. The gym used to be rocking. Now kids just sit and watch the game. We can't get them fired up. In fact, our team plays better on the road. But there is a buzz around the school about what we are doing. And alumni are coming back to watch the team."

Williams' players may not be aware of the history and tradition of Du Sable basketball but they are listening to their coach's daily sermons about defense. And Williams insists man-to-man defense is what has propelled the Panthers to within two victories of earning their first trip to the state finals in nearly 60 years.

Williams played for Larry Lewis, another former Du Sable player. After starting for four years at Du Sable, he attended Eastern Arizona and Minnesota StateMankato, then graduated from Robert Morris in Chicago. After college, he assisted coach Richard Morgan at Du Sable, then became head coach when Morgan became principal six years ago.

Last year's team finished 19-11, losing to Harper in the regional final. With three starters returning, Williams was optimistic about this season...if only his players would learn to play defense.

"The kids weren't ready to play defense for me. That's why we lost early in the season," Williams said. "I was a defensive stopper when I played. This team can't score that well so we have to play defense to generate offense. Defense and free throws will win for us. I told the kids: 'If we don't play defense, we can't compete.'

"Good teams will pick-and-roll and get any shot they want. If we don't make them uncomfortable, it will be a long night for us. We must force them to do what they don't want to do and force them outside so they can't run their offensive sets."

Now 15-9, Du Sable has won six games in a row after upsetting top-seeded St. Ignatius 51-44 on Tuesday night in a Class 3A sectional semifinal at St. Ignatius. The Panthers will meet Dunbar for the championship on Friday night.

Malik Williams, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, came off the bench to score 11 points in the second quarter 6-foot-5 junior Christopher Galbreath had 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks as Du Sable pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the state tournament to date.

"We may look sluggish on offense," Williams said, "but we play hard on defense and as a team and rebound the ball. I never question our effort on defense. Our kids are now committed to defense."

The Panthers finally got their coach's message loud and clear after beating Crane 62-52 on Feb. 21, the team's Senior Night.

"Everybody thought we'd lose to Crane," Williams said. "But we forced them into a lot of turnovers. And those turnovers translated into easy offensive points. It make our kids realize that defense translates to easy baskets."

The converts are Malik Williams (8 ppg), Galbreath (10 ppg, 10 rpg), 6-foot-1 senior Evance Gayles (13 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot-4 senior Andrew Richmond (5 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot-1 senior James Scott (6 ppg) and 6-foot-2 senior Jermayne Akons (9 ppg).

Williams likes to put the ball in Gayles' hands late in games because he is makes good decisions and is an effective finisher. He describes Richmond as "the heart of the team" because he takes two or three charges in each game and the team feeds off his energy. Akons, also a gifted football player, has offers to play quarterback in college.

But Williams still has issues. "I never know who will show up or won't show up. The problem is to get everybody on the same page all the time and be ready to play," he said.

Just like they did in the 1970s.

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

On today’s edition of STL Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by Mark Schanowski, Nick Friedell and Vincent Goodwill to talk all things Bulls. Will the Bulls complete “The Process” as well as the visiting 76ers have so far? Our panel discusses the tank watch, recaps the epic Women’s Hockey Gold Medal game and much, much more.