Bulls

Egofske set the tone for the Big Dipper

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Egofske set the tone for the Big Dipper

Rich South's George Egofske was a trend-setter, a visionary, a mover-and-shaker, whether he was coaching football or directing all of his school's sports programs or overseeing the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament.

In 1970, while serving as football coach at Rich East, Egofske scheduled his season opener against perennial power Evanston. His players worked hard all summer with one objective in mind: beat Evanston. Egofske was matched against one of the most successful coaches in state history, Murney Lazier, and he was determined to win the moment. He did.

In 1973, Egofske seized another moment. He founded the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament. To steal some glitter from the high celebrated Proviso West Holiday Tournament, he wanted to conduct a community oriented event where teams could enjoy great competition and still be close to home during the holidays.

"It was a great chance to keep the local talent at home and give fans access to it," said Kevin Kelly, a tournament historian who has been involved with the event since 1984.

"When George was involved, it was mostly south suburban schools. Rich South is the only school that has been in the field for every year. Crete-Monee missed only the first tournament."

Egofske, now 81 and retired after serving as Rich South's athletic director from 1973 to the mid-1990s, also was an innovator. In 1983, he introduced the three-point shooting line and the 35-second shot clock to the tournament. And he also introduced a coach's box before the National High School Federation thought of it.

"The Big Dipper is in its 39th year and it has had only three tournament directors -- Egofske, Ron Ray and Mark Hopman," Kelly said. "And each has put his own fingerprints on the tournament."

Egofske brought a Class A team, Watseka, to the tournament. To be more competitive with Proviso West, Ray lured Class A powers Leo and Hales Franciscan and two perennial south suburban powers to join the field. He wooed Bloom away from Pontiac and Thornton away from Centralia. Hopman brought in a major sponsor, McDonald's.

Egofske also brought in Kelly, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1980 who was a sportswriter at the Chicago Heights Star for 15 years before becoming the public relations director and assistant athletic director at Marian Catholic. A figure filbert, Kelly was just what Egofske was looking for in a promoter for the tournament.

Last year was the first year that McDonald's sponsored the event. So it is now called the Rich South Mc-Dipper Tournament. Melvin Buckley, a former Thornwood player who coached at Marian Catholic for two years, owns several McDonald's franchises in the south suburbs, including one directly across the street from the Richton Park school.

This year's opening-round pairings will pit Seton vs. Rich Central, Thornton vs. Leo, Rich East vs. Evanston and Tinley Park vs. Crete-Monee in the upper bracket with Corliss vs. Bloom, Bolingbrook vs. Marian Catholic, Joliet Central vs. Rich South and Lincoln Park vs. Hales Franciscan in the lower bracket.

Kelly recalls many fond memories of past tournaments:

The run that coach Ron Brauer had in the mid-1980s with his Rich Central teams led by Kendall Gill. And their matchups with Phil Henderson and Crete-Monee, which won in 1986 and 1987 with overtime victories over Oak Forest and Tinley Park.

Bloom coming to the Big Dipper in 1993 after a long and successful run at Pontiac. But the Trojans have won only once, in 1995.

Thornton coming to the Big Dipper in 1996 after a long and successful run at Centralia. Thornton has won seven titles, Rich Central nine.

The great St. Laurence teams led by Kevin Boyle and Jim Stack in the late 1970s.

Evanston is returning to the Big Dipper after a long run at Proviso West. The Wildkits, led by Everette Stephens and Mike Cobb, won Big Dipper titles in 1983 and 1984.

The all-time Big Dipper team? How about St. Laurence's Steve Krafcisin, Oak Forest's Phil Collins, Evanston's Everette Stephens, Thornton's Joevan Catron and Shepard's Mike Smith?

That's a pretty good lineup, Kelly agrees, but how about Rich Central's Kendall and Eric Gill, Homewood-Flossmoor's Chris Dillard and Crete-Monee's Phil Henderson and Weldon Williams?

"Now we're getting packed houses on most nights, so much so that we have to bring in more security," Kelly said. "But the tournament is committed to keeping ticket prices at reasonable rates. Sessions are 5 for four games."

That's not to mention the other perks that make the Big Dipper a premier event -- the pre-tournament dinner for coaches and media to announce the pairings and the hospitality room that annually draws raves from coaches, media and officials for its tasty cuisine and specialty items.

Kelly points out all the credit for running a smooth ship in the hospitality room goes to Nancy Adduci, who has served as secretary for all three athletic directors. She is the true MVP of the tournament.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.