Cubs

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?"

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.