Bulls

Foreman's Daniels makes his mark

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Foreman's Daniels makes his mark

After his sophomore year at Foreman, following his first full season of football competition, Johnny Daniels approached coach Peter Grazzini with an intriguing question.

"Have you ever produced a Division I player?" Daniels asked Grazzini.

"Yes, in volleyball," Grazzini said. "But not in football."

"I'll be your first football player," Daniels said.

The question captivated Grazzini. Had Foreman ever produced a Division I football player? The coach did some research. No, as far as anyone knows, the school has never sent a football player to a Division I program.

Daniels could be the first. He came to Foreman to play basketball, but Grazzini took one look at the chubby, 287-pound freshman marching in a ROTC class and projected him as a big-time lineman.

College coaches think so, too. They have never made Foreman a must stop on their recruiting trips into Chicago in the past. But Daniels, now a 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior, is attracting attention like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

"He is the best kept secret in the city of Chicago," Grazzini said. "He isn't on anybody's top 30 list. But I wouldn't expect anyone to know anything about Foreman football because we haven't done anything yet. Our job is to put (Daniels) on the map."

From the moment Grazzini discovered Daniels in an ROTC class, he has been grooming the youngster for stardom. "I liked his physique. He was more built for football than basketball. He is very strong and very athletic. As a defensive tackle, he will be a nightmare for everybody," he said.

Daniels quit playing football in seventh grade. He aspired to be a basketball player. Coaches told him he had potential to be a basketball player. But Grazzini persuaded him to try out for the sophomore football team. Soon he was starting on the varsity as a defensive end. As a junior, he forced 13 fumbles.

"He got some interest when people saw his size. I invested in some Huddle software and began sending his highlight film to a lot of colleges," the coach said. "Northern Illinois liked what they saw, came in to see him and then everybody came...Big Ten, MAC, Ohio Valley.

"They like his size and explosiveness and his good feet. He has the wingspan of someone who is 6-foot-11 14. He is being recruited as an offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Class 1-AA schools don't think they can get him. They think he is above them. It's a big process for us, finding the right fit."

Daniels has no scholarship offers yet, but he has strong interest from Northern Illinois, Toledo and Eastern Illinois. Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and South Dakota State also have shown interest. Toledo visited Foreman four days in a row with four different coaches.

"Offers should be coming by the end of the month," Grazzini said. "At the moment, he is enjoying the process of being recruited. This isn't a race; it's a process. Our goal is to get him to 270 pounds to go to college. Now it's all about homework, nutrition and lifting weights."

Daniels has taken an unofficial visit to Northern Illinois. He liked the campus and the coaching staff and is anxiously looking forward to attending the Huskies' summer camp. "They want to see him go up against other big-time players, the kind of competition he doesn't get in the Public League," Grazzini said.

"I like Northern Illinois a lot," said Daniels, who also plans to attend camps at Northwestern and Illinois. "I hope they will offer. I felt comfortable there. I'd like to play closer to home. But my family understands I will go anywhere to play."

In fact, Daniels has two dream schools--Miami (Florida) and Michigan. They haven't shown any interest to date but the youngster hopes they'll be among the major Division I programs that figure to evaluate him during his senior year.

"I was always a Miami fan growing up," he said. "Once I understood the game, I liked Miami's style of play. And the stadium at Michigan is so big. Tom Brady went there. He's my favorite player. I can throw the ball pretty good. In 7-on-7 games, I play quarterback. I can throw the ball more than 50 yards. And everybody knows I like the New England Patriots."

"Johnny wears jersey number 52," Grazzini said. "But he'd wear number 12 (Tom Brady's number) if he could."

Grazzini, 33, is preparing for his second season as Foreman's head football coach. Last year's team was 7-3, losing to Glenbard South in the first round of the state playoff.

A 1997 graduate of Morton in Cicero, he played and coached volleyball before he took a liking to football. He didn't want to play baseball in high school but his father said he had to do something so he chose volleyball. His high school team finished fifth in state on one occasion and lost twice in the supersectional. At Eastern Illinois, he played club volleyball for four years.

After graduation from EIU in 2005, he was an assistant football coach at Foreman for two years, then got out of coaching to pursue a career in the restaurant business for two years. All the time, he was a full-time teacher at Foreman. When the pizza business went bust, he returned to coaching and became head football coach last year.

"I was always interested in football but I was more schooled in volleyball," Grazzini said. "It is more fun coaching football than volleyball. The dynamic of taking 11 kids to make one play successful makes it one of the most intriguing sports I've ever been a part of. It builds character and toughness."

Daniels might not be the only Division I player that he will produce. Kentral Brown, a 2011 graduate, is a highly promising safety at Butte Junior College in Chico, California, the same school that produced Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Brown red-shirted last year after beating out 100 other players for a spot on the 50-man roster.

Now it is Johnny Daniels' turn. "I'm still not successful. The coach always says nothing is good enough. I always try harder until it is good enough. I want to learn the game better," he said.

The game plan for the remainder of the summer is clear. He has begun a 7,000 calories-a-day diet that includes a lot of protein, carbohydrates, meat and chicken. He squats 300 pounds and power cleans 225. His goal is to lift 185 pounds at least 20 or more times. His personal goal is to weigh 260 pounds before the season opener.

And he wants to do more pushups than his coach. "I want to get stronger. The coach can do 80 pushups. I can only do 45. My goal is to beat him by the end of the year," Daniels said.

"I feel good about myself," he said. "This has been a blessing. The coach said if you put in hard work, you'll get noticed and colleges will want you if you stand out and perform. For the colleges to tell him that I'm good enough to play for them...well, that is amazing, a dream. I never knew how far football could take me. As a kid, you only dream about going to the NFL."

Will he play offense or defense in college? "He is very physical and disruptive. He has a mindset to be a nightmare on defense. He will snap a lot of heads back with his initial punch. He likes to get after the quarterback and chase running backs," Grazzini said.

"I love football. It's unexplainable. I love everything about it," Daniels said. "But I prefer defense. My work ethic is pretty good for defense. I love playing violent. When college coaches ask me which position I prefer, I say defense. I have more passion for defense than offense."

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.