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High School Lites Preview: Championship weekend

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High School Lites Preview: Championship weekend

739 Illinois high school boys basketball teams had dreams of playing in Peoria in March. Only four of them get the right to call themselves state champs. Two schools have already been crowned. Two more will take home first place trophies on Saturday night. Who will get the honor? Will Hillcrest win their second title in three years? Can Simeon win their third state championship in a row? Will Proviso East finish off an undefeated season?

High School Lites will air on Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. this week and will feature highlights from the 3A & 4A championship and third place games.

The following capsules will be for Fridays semifinal games, which can be seen on NBC Chicago Nonstop (Digital Channel 5.2, Comcast 341, RCN 50, WOW 130 and AT&T U-Verse 1742). Rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by the Marines:

No. 7 North Chicago (24-6) vs. Springfield-Lanphier (28-3), 3A State Semifinal, 12:00 p.m.

The North Chicago Warhawks, who are making their second consecutive trip to Peoria, are putting up point totals that would make some college programs blush. N-C is averaging close to 80 points per game in the postseason. They put 91 on the board versus Marshall on Tuesday, 32 of which came from Illinois-state bound Aaron Simpson. The 5-10 senior guard can score from anywhere on the floor and is especially deadly from behind the arc. The key for Lanphier will be containing Simpson. Everett Clemons, who is the son of former Illinois guard Rennie Clemons, is their go-to guy, racking up close to 20 points per game. Larry Austin Jr. is also a threat. He is coming off a 24-point performance which helped his Lions defeat East St. Louis in the supersectional.

No. 5 Hillcrest (26-5) vs. Peoria (26-3), 3A State Semifinal, 2:00 p.m.

If Hillcrest is to advance to the state championship this weekend, they will have to focus on closing out the opposition. The Hawks, who are looking for their second state title in three years, let a 21 point lead slip away against DuSable in Tuesday's supersectional. But the Hawks survived, winning 47-44. Hillcrest does have balance and a few scorers who can create instant offense, namely Jayone Troutman, Jovan Mooring and Jalen Loving. But they could face matchup problems with Peoria High School. Four of their regular contributors are monsters. Seniors Shamar Hill (6-6), Trey Kellum (6-7), Kevin Jordan (6-10) and 6-5 junior Josh Augusta can overwhelm opponents. Kellum had 14 points and eight rebounds in the Lions' 77-59 supersectional victory over Rockford East on Tuesday.

No. 2 Proviso East (31-0) vs. Rockford-Auburn (31-2), 4A State Semifinal, 6:30 p.m.

Aside from a slim three-point victory over Glenbard North in the regional final, all of Proviso East's playoff victories have been by double-digit margins, including Tuesday's 62-51 triumph over West Aurora. Is Proviso East just that good or have they not been thoroughly tested yet? Whatever the case, they're going to face a major challenge against Rockford-Auburn. The Knights feature one of the top point guards in the state, Wichita State-bound Fred Van Vleet. He scored a game-high 27 points in Auburn's 49-43 supersectional win over Warren. That said, Proviso East is one of the deepest teams in the state and already own a victory over Auburn at the Proviso West Holiday tournament. First-year head coach Donnie Boyce, St. Louis-bound Keith Carter, Sterling Brown, Paris Burns, Paris Lee and Trashaun Carroll have had a dream season thus far. Carroll, though, will miss Fridays semifinal due to an ejection during the supersectional.

No. 1 Simeon (31-1) vs. No. 4 Bloom (28-3), 4A State Semifinal, 8:15 p.m.

A lot has been said about Simeon's offensive weapons this season --namely phenom Jabari Parker, who had another double-double to help his team take down Evanston in Tuesday's supersectional-- but their defense has been the proverbial x-factor in the playoffs. They held an upstart Evanston team to only 34 points in that victory and have defeated their playoff opponents by an average of 23 points. Their semifinal opponent, Bloom, has a lot of similar characteristics. They have scoring power with Donald Moore, but they also can put the clamps on the opposition. Blazing Trojans head coach Jasper Williams has said that this year's team has the best defense he's seen in his two decades-plus of coaching. But will it be enough to take down nationally-ranked Simeon?

High School Lites will also feature highlights from Saturdays semifinals of The Illinois State High School Hockey Championship, presented by Hinckley Springs." The boys championship will air on Comcast SportsNet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday March 23rd.

This week, we head to Glen Ellyn to feature our Muscle Milk Team of the Week, Chicagos Wheelchair Warriors state champion basketball team. The Warriors just won their fourth consecutive state championshippart of seven overall. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than. This week's segment will feature behind-the-scenes footage of their sectional win against Marist, and their supersectional victory over Evanston.

High School Lites streams live on CSNhicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Check us out at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: