Bears

High school hoops: South side vs. West side

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High school hoops: South side vs. West side

A documentarian came to see me the other day. He is doing a study on high school basketball in Chicago, specifically the heated competition between the West Side and the South Side, and he wanted to get my impressions dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

The subject raises several questions about how the game was played and who played it, how the game has changed in the city over the last 60 years, before the demographics changed, before blacks began to immigrate from the south to Chicago in the 1950s.

Prior to 1953, when Al Willis, then the executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, desegregated the state basketball tournament, the Chicago Public League was rarely represented. Most of the star players in the city were white. There was one significant exception, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton of Du Sable.

In fact, there were so few opportunities for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s that some of the elite players opted to compete on semipro or traveling teams. One of them eventually evolved into the Harlem Globetrotters.

Until Willis forever changed the complexion of the state's signature event, the all-black schools in southern Illinois had formed their own conference and conducted their own state tournament. The championship game was played between the IHSA's semifinals and finals on Saturday afternoon in Huff Gym. Hardly anyone noticed.

But all of that changed in 1953. The 1950s were a breakout decade for city schools. Du Sable finished second in the 1954 state tournament with three All-Stater players, Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin and Shellie McMillon. The Public League also produced Abe Booker, Tommy Hawkins, Art Day, Mel Davis, Frank Burks and Bernie Mills. And Marshall, led by sophomore George Wilson, became the first all-black team to win the state title in
1958.

CraneMarshall was the most exciting rivalry on the West Side. On the South Side, it was DunbarDu Sable. Carver, which was a state runner-up in 1962 with Cazzie Russell and won a state title in 1963, also emerged as a power.

In later years, Westinghouse, Collins, Farragut, Whitney Young and Manley emerged as powers on the West Side. Westinghouse featured Mark Aguirre and Eddie Johnson. Manley, led by 6-foot-10 Russell Cross, won a state title in 1980. Whitney Young, behind Quentin Richardson, won a state title in 1998.

On the South Side, Hirsch, Phillips and Morgan Park won state titles in the 1970s. Harlan won three city titles. CVS also was a factor. SimeonKing dominated the 1980s and King extended its mastery into the 1990s while Simeon has been the state's premier program over the last 10 years.

There were great players, to be sure, but they were molded by great coaches who were able to blend talent and egos and create winning teams. Tony Maffia, Eddie O'Farrell and Bill Postl got the ball rolling in the 1940s. Jim Brown and Spin Salario followed in the 1950s.

Larry Hawkins came along in the 1960s and Herb Brown, Lee Umbles, Wardell Vaughn, Harvey Hartenstein, Charles Stimpson, Willie Little, Jim Foreman, Frank Lollino and Bill Warden made their mark in the 1970s.

The 1980s were dominated by Bob Hambric and Landon Cox, who turned the SimeonKing rivalry on the South Side into a high school version of LakersCeltics. Roy Condotti and Luther Bedford did the same for WestinghouseMarshall on the West Side.

Today, Simeon's Robert Smith, who played and coached under Hambric, has turned the Public League into his own private fiefdom. The Wolverines, with Derrick Rose and now Jabari Parker, have won four state championships in the last six years and are heavily favored to win again this season.

What happened to King? It was converted into one of eight selective enrollment schools in the CPS, which means its 900 students must apply for acceptance based on academic achievement and test scores. It no longer is a basketball power.

The same thing happened to Westinghouse, which was converted into a selective college preparatory school with a college to careers program. Like King, it no longer is a basketball power.

On the West Side, Whitney Young has emerged as the pre-eminent program under former coaches George Stanton and Lamont Bryant and current coach Tyrone Slaughter. Stanton produced a state champion in 1998, Slaughter in 2009.

Young is a highly selective public school that opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. Admission is based on an entrance exam and elementary school grades and is open to all residents of Chicago. Each year, 10,000 apply for 450 freshman openings.

Marshall and Crane, two of the oldest and most storied programs in the city, are seeking to restore their old glory under coaches Henry Cotton and Chris Head, who won a state title at Westinghouse in 2002.

In fact, until Simeon's recent domination, Westinghouse enjoyed the most success of any Public League program until its reconstitution. From 1992 to 2005, Westinghouse won seven city titles.

While Simeon and Whitney Young have emerged as the city's strongest programs in recent years, they haven't become a rivalry a la MarshallCrane and SimeonKing or even KingWestinghouse.

From 1984 to 1990, King won four city titles, Simeon three. From 1955 to 1982, Marshall won four city titles, Crane three. In the 1980s, King beat Simeon twice and lost once. In the 1990s, King beat Westinghouse twice and lost once.

It isn't like it was for many reasons. In the old days, kids shoveled snow off the playgrounds to play at Gladstone, Murray Park, Davis Park, Meyerling, Beasley, LeClaire, South Park, Garfield Park and Altgeld Gardens. Today, they play on AAU teams that travel from coast to coast and are subsidized and sponsored by shoe companies.

"Teams in Illinois aren't half as good as they used to be...not the players, either," said veteran girls coach Derril Kipp of Maine West, who has won more than 600 games and a state championship in 1988.

"There isn't as much interest in basketball as before. There are too many other things for kids to do. For many of them, it is too much hard work. Schools aren't pushing basketball as they once did. There aren't as many good players or teams as before. It isn't as competitive."

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.

How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

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How to watch and/or stream the IHSA football state finals this weekend

It's Thanksgiving weekend, which among other things, means the IHSA football state finals are taking place.

NBC Sports Chicago has live coverage of the finals of all eight classes and is streaming every telecast, including surrounding pre/postgame coverage, to be made available to authenticated subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive and via the NBC Sports app.

Check out the action taking place in Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday with the Class 1A final and concluding Saturday night with the Class 8A final and a special recap edition of High School Lites following the final game. Highlights from each of the games will be available on our website throughout the weekend.

The live streaming service is currently available to customers of Comcast/Xfinity, DIRECTV, DISH Network, AT&T U-verse, Mediacom, RCN, WOW!, Time Warner Cable and Charter among numerous other carriers.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago is also available on numerous digital streaming services including DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, fuboTV, Sling TV, CenturyLink Stream, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV.  For a full list of carriers and more information about NBC Sports Chicago’s live streaming service, viewers are urged to visit nbcsportschicago.com/live-faq.

Here is the full schedule for the weekend's games and broadcast coverage:

Friday, November 24

LIVE NOW: Class 1A: LENA-WINSLOW (Lena) [13-0] vs. TUSCOLA [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 2A: GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY (Gibson City) [13-0] vs. MAROA-FORSYTH (Maroa) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 3A: IC CATHOLIC (Elmhurst) [12-1] vs. PLEASANT PLAINS [10-3]

7:00 PM – Class 4A: MORRIS [11-2] vs. ROCHESTER [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Saturday, November 25

10:00 AM – Class 5A: PHILLIPS (Chicago) [13-0] vs. DUNLAP [13-0]

1:00 PM – Class 6A: PRAIRIE RIDGE (Crystal Lake) [13-0] vs. NAZARETH ACADEMY (LaGrange Park) [12-1]

4:00 PM – Class 7A: BATAVIA [12-1] vs. LAKE ZURICH [13-0] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

7:00 PM – Class 8A: LINCOLN-WAY East (Frankfort) [13-0] vs. LOYOLA ACADEMY (Wilmette) [12-1] (NOTE: This game will air on NBC Sports Chicago+; please visit our CHANNEL FINDER for the exact channel location in your area)

Further information is available at this link. Edgy Tim previewed each of the eight games here and has players to watch for the weekend.