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High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

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High School Lites preview: Conference showdown week

Its Conference Showdown Week on High School Lites. Pivotal games dot the Chicago basketball landscape this weekend. The keys to the West Suburban Gold title could end up going to the Downers Grove South-Proviso East winner. In the Southwest Suburban Red, will Andrew remain undefeated after Fridays tilt at Thornwood? And who takes control of the Mid-Suburban West: Schaumburg or Barrington? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

Thursday games

No. 1 Simeon (16-1) @ Vocational (15-6), 4:00 p.m.

Simeon head coach Robert Smith said that Mondays loss to nationally-ranked Findlay Prep woke the team up a bit. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Wednesdays victory over Urban Prep-Englewood. Jabari Parker had a game high 32 points in the 83-39 victory. That sets the stage for Thursdays game against a Vocational team that took care of Carver on Wednesday, 67-55. The Wolverines will travel to Memphis Saturday for a game against Southwind (TN) in the Penny Hardaway Hoop Fest.

GIRLS: Lincoln-Way Central (10-8) @ Bolingbrook (14-1), 7:00 p.m.

Connecticut-bound senior forward Morgan Tuck is close to unstoppable. She had 32 points and 20 rebounds Tuesday night against Lincoln-Way East (a double-double at halftime) in a 78-48 victory. Lincoln-Way Central has stayed above water this season thanks to the efforts of players like Rachel Post and Autumn Schultz. If the Knights are to improve on their 77-22 loss to Bolingbrook earlier in the season, containing Tuck is a must.

No. 2 Proviso East (14-0) @ No. 10 Downers Grove South (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Not many teams can say that they will face two top-five opponents in one season, much less in one week. And back-to-back. Such is life for the 10th ranked Mustangs, who face the Pirates for first place in the West Suburban Gold Thursday, then turn around to battle No. 4 Warren on Saturday. Souths Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison comprise one of the top backcourts in the state, but Proviso Easts powerful lineup is one that could play in Peoria. Talented St. Louis-bound guard Keith Carter is every bit as good as advertised.

Friday games

No. 15 Whitney Young (8-6) @ North Lawndale (12-5), 5:30 p.m.

Both the Phoenix and the 15th-ranked Dolphins are coming off conference losses on Wednesday, which makes Fridays Red-West contest all the more important. 6-10 sophomore center Jahlil Okafor is coming off a 34 point performance for Whitney Young. Davonte Johnson, Kelvin Grayson and Alonzo Singletary are some of the key contributors for North Lawndale, who are among the teams chasing Marshall in conference play.

No. 5 Andrew (13-0) @ Thornwood (11-5), 6:30 p.m.

The weather forecasters are calling for snow Friday nightbut a thunderstorm might happen in South Holland. Cheesy references aside, the Thunderbolts and Thunderbirds tangle in a game for the outright lead in the Southwest Suburban Red. Both teams stand at 5-0 in the conference. Andrews Adekoya brothers (Jubril and Jawad) will be tested by Thornwood seniors Darrell Combs (G) and Khapri Alston (F). The two teams meet again in Tinley Park on February 21st.

No. 16 St. Ignatius (13-2) @ No. 9 De La Salle (13-2), 7:30 p.m.

Which Catholic North team will be left standing at the top of the mountain? The Wolfpack and Meteors comprise two of the three conference leaders (St. Rita being the other). The game has added significance because it represents a rematch of the Jack Tosh Holiday Tournament championship, won by St. Ignatius in overtime. Iggys Brian Howard hit a clutch three in that game but Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis of De La Salle are eager to answer the call this time around.

St. Patrick (7-7) @ No. 19 Notre Dame (14-4), 7:30 p.m.

Its one of the classic rivalries in the state. The visiting Shamrocks have won three of their last four, including Saturdays 62-45 triumph over Niles West. They have a pair of talented seniors in forward Ismar Seferagic and guard Royale Ewing. The Dons have won three straight and have wins this season over Crete-Monee, Brother Rice and Marist to their credit. And its all about balance with Notre Dame. No player on their roster is averaging in double figures, but keep an eye on junior guard Matt Mooney.

Niles North (12-5) @ Glenbrook North (13-3), 7:30 p.m.

The Spartans don't have to worry about Abdel Nader on the Niles North roster anymore. However, they have to be concerned about the Vikings' 5-6 point guard Malachi Nix. He is quick on both sides of the floor and has range with his shot. Niles North can tie Glenbrook North for first in the Central Suburban North with a win, but look for head coach Dave Weber and company to respond. Guard Kurt Karis and forward Mark Johnson have been on fire of late.

Glenbard West (11-2) @ Oak Park-River Forest (10-4), 7:30 p.m.

Now that Ka'Darryl Bell is back, look out. The Bradley-bound guard has returned to the OPRF lineup after missing a month with an injury to his right wrist. But this game might come down to the big men. The Huskies feature three players 6-7 and above, including Gabe Levin (16 points, 12 boards against Lyons on Saturday). The Hilltoppers boast twin towers Michael and Matthew Mache (both 6-6) and 6-8 center Pat Mazza.

No. 4 Warren (12-2) @ Lake Zurich (11-9), 7:30 p.m.

The Blue Devils continue to keep their foot on the gas in 2012. Their last two wins have been by a combined 49 points (Libertyville and Lakes). Seniors Nathan Boothe (C) and Darius Paul (F) continue to dominate opponents. But Lake Zurich has been sneaky-tough this year. They have nice wins over Barrington and Stevenson. Their go-to guy is 6-6 Mirko Grcic, a versatile player who can do damage in the paint and from beyond the arc.

Schaumburg (13-4) @ Barrington (12-6), 7:30 p.m.

First place in the Mid-Suburban West is up for grabs Friday night in Barrington, with the host Broncos coming off a 61-41 rout of Fremd. Future Western Illinois forward John Schneider is back in their lineup. He will be playing in his third game of the season after breaking his finger. The Saxons will counter with senior forward Christian Spandiary and junior point guard Kyle Bolger. Barrington took the December 16th contest at Schaumburg, 45-44.

Every Friday night at 10:30, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This week's episode will air just after the Blackhawks-Panthers game and SportsNet Central. We'll also have in-depth feature stories and take a look back down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment. This week, be sure to check out CSN's Muscle Milk Team of the Week, Crane High School. The Condors have several college prospects, including 6-9, 230-pound sophomore Cliff Alexander. Could they play in Peoria this March? Curie has only lost to one team: the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on CSNChicago.com.

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

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”