White Sox

Have you ever heard of Universal?

600388.png

Have you ever heard of Universal?

Mahmood Ghouleh and Omar Mansour had important decisions to make. That both of them ended up at Universal School in Bridgeview, a small and private Islamic institution governed by Muslim professionals and designed to turn Muslim children into well-rounded individuals, wasn't surprising.

Ghouleh, a 2004 graduate of Reavis High School in Burbank, was playing basketball at Morraine Valley Community College when he received a telephone call "out of the blue" from athletic director Bill Finn.

"I could go to New York to play basketball for a Division II college or I could coach basketball at Universal School," Ghouleh said. "I had no idea how he knew about Universal. I had never heard about Universal. But I'm Muslim. I don't like to be very far from home. So I took the job."

At 26, Ghouleh is in his fifth year as Universal's head basketball coach. After beating College Preparatory School of America, another Islamic school in Lombard, 92-48 last Friday, the Stars are 10-0. They'll play at Reavis on Tuesday and at Bremen on Dec. 28.

"I promised them that we would do nothing but win," Ghouleh said. "Previously, the program was new. They won only two or three games a season. But they've never been under .500 since I came.

"When I came in, I promised we would win conference titles and be a very good team. They looked at me as if I was crazy. They were missing structure and organization and fundamentals. To them, basketball was recreation previously.

"It was funny because I had never run across people who knew nothing about basketball before. They only knew how to throw the ball at the hoop. They had no technique. My reaction was: 'What have I got myself into? Maybe I made a mistake here.' I didn't know if I had made the right decision.

"But I couldn't go wrong because I was still around basketball. It's my life. When they started to believe in themselves, that's when I knew this would be a good club. They are very smart kids. It was a matter of teaching. I saw progress in the first half of the first year."

Meanwhile, while Ghouleh was sorting things out and trying to stamp his fingerprints on the program, Mansour was trying to make decision of his own: Should he stay home and enroll at Carl Sandburg in Orland Park? Or should he go to Universal?

After graduating from eighth grade, Mansour trained with Sandburg's basketball team during the summer prior to his freshman year. But his parents wanted their son to attend a private school. He talked to Ghouleh, friends who were attending Universal and teammates on an Indiana AAU team that also attended Universal.

"They convinced me that it was a great school," said Mansour, who is an Egyptian. "A good percent of my decision was based on academics and religion. I have no regrets. I'm enjoying my experience. I enjoy our team. It's like a family. I'm happy I made the decision I did."

Mansour, a 6-foot sophomore point guard, is the epitome of a student-athlete. He is averaging 22 points per game and carries a 3.6 graduate point average on a 4.0 scale. He had 31 points and eight assists in Universal's victory over CPSA.

"I'm trying to get a full-ride scholarship to a Division I school. That's my goal," Mansour said. "And we're trying to build a good team. Last year, we were pretty good (18-4, losing to St. Benedict in triple overtime for the regional title). But we have a really good team this year."

To date, Universal, a Class 1A school with an enrollment of 220 boys and girls, hasn't been tested. But upcoming games against larger Reavis and Bremen will give Ghouleh, Mansour and everyone else in the program a good idea of where they stand, if they are as good as they think they are.

Mansour is surrounded by 6-2 senior Hossan Sudek (20 ppg), 6-3 senior Ahmet Sakiri (10 ppg, 13 rpg), 5-11 senior Ahmad Ahmad (8 ppg) and 6-3 senior Suheib Boundai (12 ppg). Seniors Maher Hamadeh and Musa Musleh and junior Saphe Falaneh come off the bench. Against CPSA, Sakiri had 24 points and 16 rebounds.

"I love their dedication and hard work from the off-season," the coach said. "Their goal after last year was to hit the gym every day and add muscle and weight. They wanted to come back hard and try to make some noise. What I think this team will do if we stay focused is get to the sectional this year. I am there to push them. As far as I can push them is as far as we're going to go."

Mansour and his teammates love to be pushed. Last summer, he and his parents went overseas. Omar usually goes plays with an Egyptian team during the summer. But last summer, he chose to stay home.

"I had my own personal trainer and my coach worked with me all summer," Mansour said. "We went one-on-one. I worked on my dribble, my shot and my vertical leap. I took 1,000 shots a day.

"(Ghouleh) won't let anything get in our way. He will do anything to help you to get better. We're trying to build our program. We want to set a tone so everyone knows who Universal is. We want to build a tradition, an identity, a reputation."

Until then, Ghouleh will continue to raise eyebrows. "I get it all the time. 'You're head coach of where?' I love to see the surprise on people's faces when they see what this program is all about," he said.

It took awhile to put the pieces all together. He still has a way to go. Only 14 kids showed up for his first practice. Only seven were there at the end of his first season. He could get the gym for only three days a week for practice. So he took his team to the Bridgeview Park District gym and the Oak Lawn Pavilion or outside courts.

"It's a religious and academic school first. Sports was the last thing on their minds," Ghouleh summed up. "But we've come a long way. Come watch us play to see who we are and how dedicated these kids are."

Minor league infielder and Lincoln-Way East alum Dean Anna tweets he's signing with hometown White Sox

0123_white_sox.jpg
USA TODAY

Minor league infielder and Lincoln-Way East alum Dean Anna tweets he's signing with hometown White Sox

Playing for the team you grew up cheering for is a dream for many baseball players.

Dean Anna is getting a chance to live that dream with the White Sox.

A 31-year-old infielder born in Glenwood, Anna has played in numerous minor league systems, including those of the San Diego Padres, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. Tuesday, he tweeted that the White Sox will be his next team.

Anna, a Lincoln-Way East alum and Ball State University product, was a 26th-round pick of the Padres in the 2008 draft. He spent six years in the Padres' organization and has spent the past four years at the Triple-A level with four different organizations.

Most recently, he played 112 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers, a Royals affiliate, last season, where he slashed .285/.364/.376 with 53 runs scored and 33 RBIs. Anna played 64 games at second base and 26 at third base last season.

Anna has played a few big league games, too. He played 12 games with the Yankees in 2014, picking up three hits including a home run in that stint. He also played one game with the Cardinals during the 2015 season.

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

0123_marvin_bagley.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.