Bulls

Hales prevails: Spartans claim Class 2A title

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Hales prevails: Spartans claim Class 2A title

Sunday, March 13, 2011
12:20 a.m.

By Steve Tucker
Yourseason.com

PEORIA Call it two the hard way for Hales Franciscan.

To win its second state titles, Hales had to knock off two unbeaten teams in just over 24 hours and the Spartans did, capped by a 61-47 victory over Murphysboro in the Class 2A championship game Saturday night at Carver Arena.

It feels great, Hales coach Gary London said. These guys have been focused since the start of the season. This is what they wanted, and all I can say now is, mission accomplished.

For Hales (29-4), this state title served as redemption after the Spartans were upset in last years semifinals and finished third.

This is great, and its something Ive wanted for four years, Hales senior Aaron Armstead said. After last year to come back and get it done is the best feeling in the world.

We knew that (Murphysboro) would make its runs, but we weathered the storm and pulled through.

After Murphysboro (35-1) closed to within 32-31 early in the third quarter, the Spartans used an 8-0 tear to go up 40-31 before Orlando Jarrett made two free throws for the Red Devils with 1:32 to play in the quarter. In the Hales run, Aaric Armstead scored four and Cameron Johnson and Eddie Alcantara two each.

Hales started the fourth quarter with a run-out slam by Aaric Armstead, a free throw by Jerry Humphrey and a tip by Dominique Walls to go ahead 47-35 before two Muphysboro baskets by Pierre House.

Aaric Armstead led the Spartans with 18 points. Alcantara had 15 and nine rebounds, and Aaron Armstead added 12 points for Hales. Murphysboro got 16 points from Jarrett and 11 from House, who fouled out. Hales also forced 18 turnover while committing 11.

Winning this means everything to us, Alcantara said. Especially after all the running we had to do to get ready for this.

After Hales went up 8-5 on a three-pointer by Aaric Armstead, the Red Devils closed the first quarter and opened the second with a 10-2 run to go up 15-10. Four players scored for Muphysboro with Jerrod Stanton getting four points and Eben Brooks, Dylan Craig and House each adding a basket. Alcantara had Hales lone basket.

But down 19-16, an Alcantara three-pointer ignited a 10-0 burst for the Spartans, who went up 26-19. Aaron Armstead scored five in the run, including a three-point play, and Aaric Armstead, whose powerful slam early in the second quarter that appeared to inject fire in Hales, had a basket.

Murphysboro got within 26-23 before an Alcantara slam sent the Spartans to the break up 28-23.

The teams came to the state finals ranked 1-2 in the state in Class 2A. Murphysboro was No. 1 but Hales had seven votes for No. 1 to three for the Red Devils, who on Friday made their fourth state appearance since 1947 and won their first game. It was Hales fifth trip. The Spartans won Class A in 2003 finished second in 1993 and third last year.

Rockford Christian (32-1) got 29 points from Brayden Teuscher and 12 from Art Ford in a 44-38 victory over Pittsfield for third place. Brad Hamilton scored 14 for the Saukees (28-7).

John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music

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USA TODAY

John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music

It’s what every fan base deserves, along with players on a roster where tough conversations must be had to set a course for the present in order to secure a better future.

Transparency.

It’s ugly and while not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, everyone can see what the Bulls are doing for the remainder of the NBA season. For the paying customers who still fill the seats at the United Center, it’s a “cry now so hopefully you laugh later” proposition.

Bulls Executive-Vice President John Paxson addressed the media Tuesday and said what we all knew to be true, what everyone knew what was coming.

He didn’t stand up in front of cameras and tape recorders and ask, “Do you like Brazilian music?”

They’re tanking.

They’re putting a little bit more sugar to go with it but it’s old-fashioned ‘tussin for the next several weeks.

All of this is due to sight unseen—unless you watch college basketball or cue up European basketball highlights.

When you see Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson take two hard dribbles from the top of the key, spin and dunk while being fouled, it makes sense.

When Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton help on a driving guard to cut off a lane, recover to block a 3-point shot and run the floor for a layup in a six-second span, it makes sense.

When Duke’s Marvin Bagley III seals his defender with one arm, catches with his left hand and finishes on the opposite side of the rim with ease, it all makes sense and kudos to the Bulls for not trying to fool a smart public with useless rhetoric.

Every loss counts, of course, but the key thing about the NBA is this: No matter where a team picks, bad franchises make the worst of a good opportunity and good franchises make the best of any situation.

If the Bulls are the latter, it’ll show itself whether they pick fourth or second or sixth. This draft’s best player went 13th, Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. Lauri Markkanen is in competition for best player after Mitchell and he went seventh.

This was inevitable from the moment the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night. Although Kris Dunn has turned out to be a revelation and Markkanen could be a superstar, none of the micro wins should take away from the macro vision of this franchise, chief reason why Paxson has reasserted himself in the last year.

Paxson just framed it in the vein of long-term evaluation in announcing Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup, while Jerian Grant will see his playing time cut for Cameron Payne.

“Seeing some of our young guys play consistently, we’ve learned a lot about them,” Paxson said. “The hard thing when you do things like this is you’re asking certain people to sacrifice roles and minutes. And oftentimes, it’s veteran guys. That’s what we’re asking some of our vets to do right now—sacrifice some time on the floor and roles they’ve been very good in. That’s never an easy thing.”

Lopez and Holiday have been good soldiers through this process, especially helping navigate a fragile locker room after the crazy start to the season when Bobby Portis had enough of Nikola Mirotic in a practice and unleashed holy hell on a season that was supposed to be a quiet, boring losing season.

“I know what it’s like to be asked to take a lesser role,” Paxson said. “Players have pride. So it’s hard. I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s just the position we’re in as a young team, 20-37 with a lot of young guys and several who we haven’t really had the chance to see play much this year. For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do.”

Lopez has had a solid season, with career-highs in scoring and assists. Holiday’s scoring has nearly doubled this season and he’ll garner some attention around the draft in the trade market.

But with the Bulls being eighth of the eight bad teams, they need to get Super Bad (with a nod to James Brown) in the next several weeks. It’s not that the rebuild is steps ahead, it’s that other teams are better at being incompetent than the Bulls—and they’ll also be doing whatever’s necessary to secure a draft position.

At least the Bulls’ competence has come in the form of long-term answers. Certainly at the end of the year, one can lament Zach LaVine saving the Bulls from losses to the Timberwolves and Magic with late-game plays that cements the belief he could be a front-facing player—especially with restricted free agency coming this summer.

If Payne happens to be a useful NBA player in the process, it’s gravy but the Bulls aren’t really expecting it.

Fred Hoiberg has been pumping up Payne publicly by referencing him playing the role of Isaiah Thomas in the playoff preparation last spring, but he hasn’t played NBA level basketball in over a year.

And when he was on the floor, for that ill-fated period after last year’s deadline when Hoiberg was playing 11 guys without a real plan to win, Payne looked overmatched and overwhelmed.

“We want to see him as a point guard, especially when you’re running with the second unit, and the way Fred wants to play, play with pace, defend your position, compete every night and stay within yourself,” Paxson said. “His role is to get us into offense quickly and efficiently and make the right play with the ball.”

Felicio has taken a step back in terms of his development after steady improvement over the last two years, but in the big picture they’re casualties in the NBA’s cost of doing business.

And if you believe it’s anything else besides what you’re seeing, you might believe Paxson is truly asking if you like Brazilian music.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”