White Sox

Grant seeks first regional title since 1989

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Grant seeks first regional title since 1989

Grant is 19-7 after a 4-4 start. The Fox Lake school has won 10 of its last 11 games. So what did coach Wayne Bosworth's Bulldogs get for all of this recent success? The No. 12 seed in the 21-team Barrington sectional. Some consolation prize.

"Our kids felt like it was a slap in the face. We feel we deserved better. So now we're playing with a chip on our shoulder," Bosworth said. "Our goal is to keep improving every day. We can be a dangerous team as the No. 12 seed."

Jared Helmich, Grant's 6-foot-2 senior forward, said he and his teammates are happy with the No. 12 seed. "It puts us in an underdog situation. If we play together, we have a good shot at winning the regional," he said.

Helmich and his teammates are in a familiar position. In a mock preview of the sectional, Grant was seeded No. 16. "Teams don't give us much respect. But the last 17 games is who we really are. We've learned to mesh. We know each other's strengths. And we also have stepped up on the defensive end," he said.

"I was shocked when I saw us seeded No. 16 in that mock preview. Teams we had beaten were rated a lot higher than us. Other teams look at us and say we don't play in as tough a conference as they are in. They don't look at what we are actually doing."

Grant has lost twice to highly regarded North Chicago but has beaten Barrington, Stevenson and Rolling Meadows. In their last two outings, the Bulldogs beat Round Lake 52-41 last Friday and Libertyville 55-54 on Tuesday night. They will open regional play against Wheeling on Monday.

"We have a bunch of good players, no stars, four seniors who average in double figures," Bosworth said. "They have bought in to what we are preaching--defense first, man-to-man. Our goal always has been to win the regional for the first time since 1989."

Grant has known success in basketball. In 25 years, coach Tom Maple won 368 games. Bosworth, a 2000 graduate of Grant, played for Maple. He served as an assistant coach at North Chicago and Grant before becoming head coach four years ago. At 30, he is young and ambitious and optimistic.

His starting lineup includes Helmich (15 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-foot senior guards Allen Lewis (11 ppg, 5 assists) and Sean Wells (12 ppg), 6-foot-4 senior Ilya Kadushin (11 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-2 junior Brandon Lombardino (4 ppg, 4 rpg). Helmich was an All-Lake County selection last year.

"Someone will score for us. At one point this season, every one of the four seniors have scored 20 or more points in a game. I have been impressed with our seniors stepping up and having huge games," Bosworth said.

Kadushin had 17 points and 18 rebounds against Rolling Meadows. Helmich had 29 points and 16 rebounds against Lakes in the final of Grant's Christmas tournament. Wells had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists against Barrington. Lewis had 26 points and eight assists against North Chicago. Helmich scored 20 and Wells added 17 against Libertyville.

"And our defense needs to be where it has to be, holding opponents to one-and-out, keeping them in the low 50s," Bosworth said.

The coach also praised Helmich. "The best thing about him is teams have been keying on him in the last month and his numbers have been down because they are doubling and tripling on him. But he has done a great job of getting others involved, spreading the wealth," he said.

"When we played Rolling Meadows, they double teammed me every time I touched the ball. And every time I got the ball against Lakes, there was a guy on every side of me," Helmich said. "Even when I don't get double-teammed, I try to look for someone who has a good shot before I take a shot. If someone is wide open, I will kick out before I do a jump hook from within five to eight feet of the basket."

While basketball is Helmich's favorite sport, he admits he is more proficient at baseball. He hopes baseball will pave the way to a college education. A first baseman and pitcher, he has scholarship offers from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, Augustana, Upper Iowa, North Park and Edgewood.

"But I love playing basketball. You can get friends together and play whenever you want, at the Libertyville Sports Complex or our gym or our neighborhood park," Helmich said. "I used to dream about being 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 so I could play college basketball. I like the environment, the fans cheering you on, pumping you up. It's good to see when a teammate has a good night, good to see when all the teamwork pays off."

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.