Blackhawks

Foster lets his play do his talking

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Foster lets his play do his talking

Alex Foster apparently is tired of hearing from critics who claim he isn't playing up to expectations. So De La Salle's 6-8 junior, one of the top-rated prospects in the class of 2013, is letting his play on the floor do his talking for him. And he is delivering a very persuasive argument.

Foster came to De La Salle with a reputation as one of the leading eighth grade prospects in the state, even better than Simeon's Jabari Parker. But critics argue he let his hype go to his head and he began to acquire a less-than-desirable reputation as an underachiever.

No longer.

"Foster is playing well. He has had four double doubles in a row," De La Salle coach Tom White said. "Some people said he wasn't finishing but he is explosive. He is our most consistent player. He just dominates."

Longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye agree with White's assessment. "Foster has been playing much better of late and it appears that what others have said regarding his inconsistency is now motivating him. As a result, he is now letting his game do the talking," they said.

"As long as he continues to do that, there is no question that he is a high major prospect. We have always said that when he comes to play that he sports as much upside as any player in Illinois from the class of 2013 with the exception of Jabari Parker."

Not everybody is convinced, however. Veteran national recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com has dropped Foster to No. 130 on his list of the top 150 players in the class of 2013.

In fact, Coleman ranks nine Illinois products ahead of Foster -- Parker (1), Simeon's Kendrick Nunn (22), Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton (28), Morgan Park's Bill Garrett (43), Belleville East's Malcolm Hill (67), St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens (78), Proviso East's Sterling Brown (111), Simeon's Jaylon Tate (116) and Hope's Jalen James (123). Leo's Russell Woods is rated No. 142.

"I dropped Foster because of inconsistent spring and summer play and the overall development of others we observed over the spring and summer," Coleman said. "He can jump back into the top 50-75 if he shows an ability to face, score with a 15-17 footer or dribble drive.

"Foster was mostly a face up player when I watched him and since he hasn't added inches, he needs to add versatility and consistency to move back up in the rankings. Remember that Jabari Parker was about to start losing spots in the rankings when he dropped the 15-20 pounds that he had gained to re-establish himself at the top of the class of 2013."

Foster has offers from Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern, Purdue, Minnesota, Texas A&M and Colorado State. He has interest from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Indiana, USC, Butler and Harvard. He is very interested in Harvard and coach Tommy Amaker has been a frequent visitor to De La Salle's gym, along with Illinois' Bruce Weber, USC's Kevin O'Neill, Oregon State's Craig Robinson, DePaul's Oliver Purnell and Minnesota's Tubby Smith.

Foster isn't the only one they are looking at. In fact, some college coaches aren't scouting Foster. Instead, they are evaluating 6-9 junior Gavin Schilling and 6-4 junior Alvin Ellis.

They are the focal points of a 7-1 team that will meet Perspectives in the opening round of the York Holiday Tournament on Tuesday in Elmhurst. Foster is averaging 15.5 points and eight rebounds per game. Schilling is averaging 14 points and 8.7 rebounds. Ellis is averaging 13.7 points and 5.5 assists. He also is a 90 percent free throw shooter.

Schilling is from Germany. His family moved to the United States and he enrolled last June. He turned 16 on Nov. 10. He still is recovering from major surgery on his left wrist. He has offers from Illinois, Oregon State, USC, Colorado State, DePaul, Texas Christian, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He has visited Notre Dame.

Ellis has come on strong since the departure of Tate to Simeon. A prototype of a two guard, he is explosive, can handle the ball, can elevate and shoot from beyond three-point range. He has offers from Oregon State, Colorado State and Northwestern.

The other starters are 5-8 juniors Marcus White (8 ppg) and Demarcus Richardson (6 ppg), who already is being recruited by Marquette and several Division II schools.

The bench is headed by 6-4 senior Josh White, the coach's son, and 5-8 freshman point guard Martez Cameron. White, the only senior on the 15-man varsity, is an excellent passer who delivers the ball to Foster and Schilling. "He doesn't have to score to be noticed," the coach said.

But De La Salle would like to be noticed more in February and March. The Meteors have won the conference title two years in a row and four times in the last five years. They also have won the regional for the last six years but haven't been able to advance beyond the sectional.

"With 14 juniors, it is a process. We just have to keep getting better," said Tom White, who is in his 27th year of coaching, the last 17 as De La Salle's head coach.

"Potentially, this is the best team I've had. It is better than the Mike ShawAndre Henley team of last year and the Earl BrownMike BaileyDeon Tolliver team from my first year. The strength of this team is it plays old-school basketball...inside, crashing the boards, high percentage shooting. It is power basketball. We have shot over 50 percent for the last three games in a row.

"We have size. They share the ball. They play team ball. They are unselfish. Different people step up each night. They like each other. They eat lunch together. They hang out together. They improve every week."

But is there anything he can do about the state pairing? There is no doubt that De La Salle has the toughest route to the state finals. All of the city schools are packed into one sectional. Only one team can survive and earn a trip to Peoria.

"I haven't had a good pairing in the state in the last five years," White said. "We always have a crazy route. Before it was through Whitney Young and Proviso East. Now all city teams are in one sectional...Simeon, Young, Curie, Bogan, Hyde Park, the best teams and the best players. Only one Class 4A team can get out. Why not us?"

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

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USA TODAY

Jean-Francois Berube impressed in his first Blackhawks start

Jean-Francois Berube got his first start of the season on Friday night, and it couldn't have gone any better.

The 26-year-old goaltender stopped 42 of 43 shots, a career-high for him in saves, in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

Since Corey Crawford went down with a head injury last December, the Blackhawks have been searching for consistency in the crease. 

The pair of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass — who was assigned to Rockford on Feb. 15 and replaced with Berube — have had their ups and downs since then. With the Blackhawks out of the playoff picture, Berube had an opportunity showcase his skills, and he didn't disappoint.

"We were very happy with him," said coach Joel Quenneville. "I thought he did a great job. He was comfortable. I thought he was very patient in his net. Absorbing a lot of pucks with people in front of him was good. Closed some gaps and got … of the top of the paint. Rebound control was effective. Nice response from a long absence."

Berube's last — and only — appearance with the Blackhawks prior to Friday's game came on Dec. 6, relieving Forsberg in a game against the Washington Capitals. He recorded 12 saves of 14 shots. 

When Crawford got injured, Berube was the primary candidate to become the team's backup goaltender. The only problem? He was injured too, so the Blackhawks promoted Glass.

"I didn't want to sit and think about it," Berube said of his injury. "At the same time, it was great for Glasser. He was one of those guys that probably deserved it earlier in his career and he finally got his chance. Sometimes you need a guy to go down to have your chance. So I was mostly happy for him.

On Friday night, he got his chance.

"You always want to have a good impression for your first game," Berube said. "I know what I can do at this level, so it was just a matter of getting the opportunity to play and showing people what I can do."

Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. Artem Anisimov scored an empty-netter.

"It's a lot more fun coming to the rink when you're winning, enjoying each other, playing well as a team," Schmaltz said of the Blackhawks' win, which have now won three of their last four games. "Hopefully we can keep that good energy and bring it to the rink every day, and build off of that.

"You never know where this team can go, a lot of great players, lots of guys that have had a lot of success. Hopefully we can continue to put together solid efforts."