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Illinois prep hoops: What to look for in 2012-13

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Illinois prep hoops: What to look for in 2012-13

The 2012-13 high school basketball season in Illinois shapes up as one of the most promising and entertaining and competitive and combustible in recent memory...great teams, great players, controversial issues...and a lot of questions to be answered along the way.

1. Who will win the Jabari Parker recruiting sweepstakes?

"At this point, we're not sure he will play a second of college basketball," said longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"The Mormon Church has lowered its age limit to 18 for members (Parker is a member of the Mormon Church) to go on a mission. So Parker could opt to fulfill his two-year service as soon as he graduates from Simeon, then could go directly to the NBA."

The Schmidts argue that might be why the 6-foot-8 senior is wavering over his college decision. Sonny Parker, Jabari's father, recently said his son won't sign during the Nov. 14-21 signing period and won't make an oral commitment until December.

"We can't think of any legitimate reason why Jabari would wait otherwise. It is the only logical explanation for waiting until spring," Roy Schmidt said.

If Parker doesn't go on a two-year mission, what will he do? The Schmidts believe he will choose Duke or Michigan State. "We give a slight edge to Michigan State because of the geographical proximity and Jabari's special relationship with coach Tom Izzo," Roy Schmidt said.

Another scenario is Parker will go to college for one year--he always has stated that one of his primary goals is to win an NCAA championship--then go on his mission before declaring for the NBA.

2. Why didn't Parker include Kentucky among his five finalists?

Because he is image conscious. He is worried what his public perception would be in light of all he has laid out from the beginning with respect to the criteria for his recruitment, above Kentucky coach John Calipari's perceived persona. It explains why Illinois isn't in the picture. Jabari never felt a close relationship with coach John Groce.

3. Is any team good enough to prevent a SimeonProviso East rematch for the Class 4A championship?

Yes. Whitney Young with Jahlil Okafor and Paul White and the addition of highly touted transfer L.J. Peak, a 6-foot-5 small forward from South Carolina. Unlike last year, coach Tyrone Slaughter's team has an emerging point guard in Miles Reynolds. Talent-wise, the Dolphins will be in the hunt.

4. How good is L.J. Peak and how much of a difference will he make at Whitney Young?

"He is a huge addition," Roy Schmidt said. "He is a top 50 player nationally. He adds another dimension, an athletic wing who can score in transition and on the fast break. He gives Whitney Young more versatility and athleticism and speed, things they lacked a year ago."

Peak already has scholarship offers from Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, North Carolina State, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia Tech and can be expected to accumulate more once he gains more exposure in the Midwest.

5. Which team will go from the outhouse to the penthouse?

Hinsdale Central. Coach Nick Latorre, in his third year, went from 5-1 to 17-10 last season. His 2012-13 squad should be better. He lost Tom Garvin, an all-conference pick, and Brad Anlauf, his leading scorer, but he has a solid core of returnees in 6-foot-5 junior Ian Bunting, 6-foot-6 sophomore Matt Rafferty, Chase Hamilton and point guard Brian Owens.

6. Who is the unknown, underrated and unappreciated player that will make the biggest impact?

Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic's 5-foot-8 point guard. "He hasn't gotten his just due from a national standpoint, probably because of his lack of size. He doesn't rank in the top 100 nationally but he should. He is the quintessential point guard. We haven't seen a better one in Illinois," said Roy Schmidt.

7. Who is the coach that will make the biggest name for himself?

Marist's Gene Nolan or St. Viator's Mike Howland. "Nolan can make a huge jump. He has been around for a while but he isn't a name that is immediately mentioned in the upper echelon of coaches. Howland is younger and less established," Harv Schmidt said.

Three other coaches who could enhance their reputations are Brett Nishibayashi of Taft, Jim Maley of Kenwood and Bob Vozza of Matea Valley. Nishibayashi has a Division I prospect in 6-foot-5 junior John Joyce. Maley played on Lyons' 2001 team that finished fourth in the state tournament. And Vozza, who reached the East Aurora sectional final last year, returns with 6-foot-9 senior Hayden Barnard.

8. The five best players in the class of 2013?

Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Sterling Brown, Proviso East; Malcolm Hill, Belleville East; Alvin Ellis, De La Salle.

9. The five best players in the class of 2014?

Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, Whitney Young; Cliff Alexander, Curie; Keita Bates-Diop, Normal University High; and Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic.

10. The five best players in the class of 2015?

D.J. Williams, Simeon; Charles Matthews, St. Rita; Jordan Ash, St. Joseph; Prentiss Nixon, Bolingbrook; and Jalen Brunson, Stevenson.

Another player to watch is 6-foot-6 Joseph Toye of Whitney Young, who played so well in the recent Pangos All-Midwest FroshSoph Camp that he landed a scholarship offer from Illinois-Chicago coach Howard Moore. "He has as much upside as any 2015 wing prospect in the state," Roy Schmidt said.

11. Which player will climb the highest on the recruiting chart?

According to the Schmidt brothers, 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara of Benet already is starting to move up the charts but will continue to climb. "He is a true back-to-the-basket post player, which is probably the most coveted position as far as recruiting goes with the possible exception of point guard. He is a hard worker who is physical," Roy Schmidt said. O'Mara is being recruited by DePaul, Notre Dame, Marquette and Iowa State.

12. Which transfer will have the biggest impact?

Peak. However, in terms of making a difference on his team, the Class 2A championship is for the taking at Seton Academy with the arrival of 6-foot-8 Minnesota-bound Alex Foster, who transferred from De La Salle.

"It is up to Foster to finally live up to the hype that was thrust on him from time he was in eighth grade," Roy Schmidt said. "Now is the time for him to rise to the occasion. He has been an underachiever for three years. Now he is a senior. This is his time. Now or never."

The other major underachiever, 6-foot-9 Tommy Hamilton, left Whitney Young for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He is under the tutelage of former Julian and Boys To Men coach Loren Jackson. Bradley, DePaul and Marquette are recruiting him.

13. Will the Illinois High School Association admit that adopting the four-class system was a serious error in judgment?

"They won't ever admit it but it would be nice if we saw some changes in the state format," Roy Schmidt said. "Even if they stick to four classes, they could improve the format by seeding all teams after the regional round to get more balance and not stacking the regionals and sectionals on the basis of geographic proximity."

Remember, Indiana also went from one class to two, then to four. Now it has admitted a mistake and has voted to return to two classes.

"When IHSA administrators continue to see shrinking attendance figures, they will see the error of their ways," Roy Schmidt said. "To them, it is all about giving out as many trophies as possible. The four-class system has been in place for four years. Each year, there are more empty seats. That should be a warning that the system isn't working."

14. What is the No. 1 problem with the recruiting process?

"The aspirations of kids and their parents to go to the NBA. It drives recruits today more than anything else," Harv Schmidt said. "They usually are false aspirations. The kid isn't as good as he and his parents think he is. It explains why parents are more out of control than ever before and explains why there are so many influence peddlers and handlers trying to get involved in a player's recruitment."

15. What would it take for anyone to dethrone Simeon?

"Any team that faces them has to play a perfect game to prevent them from winning another state title, like when Villanova beat Georgetown and Patrick Ewing for the NCAA title, a perfect storm," Roy Schmidt said.

"You have to make sure you have plenty of depth to match Simeon, go 9-10 players deep and keep fresh bodies on the floor at all times. Try to get Simeon to play at a frantic pace, which tends to create more turnovers. Proviso East did it for a while in the 2012 final but couldn't maintain it all the way through."

16. Who will win the Class 3A title?

Favorites are Normal University High, St. Joseph, North Chicago, Marshall, Orr and Washington, Illinois.

17. Class 2A champion?

Seton is the early choice with Foster and guards Mark Weems and Khalil Sashi.

18. What will be the biggest controversy of 2012-13?

This is pure grist for the rumor mill but it is being speculated that considerable changes in the infrastructure of the Public League's sports administration in general and the basketball program in particular are being proposed. Cyrus McGinnis is out as basketball supervisor and former King star Levertis Robinson is in. There are been significant staff cuts. Better officiating and additional security are priorities.

"There used to be 32 to 36 coordinators in the sports administration. Now there are only six," one Public League administrator said. "All of them are overworked. (Sports supervisor) Calvin Davis is doing time sheets. They cut sports administration every time they need to make cuts. They moved the coordinators from 35th Street to an elementary school near the United Center. They fired the stadium supervisors. Now they're being run by part-time people.

"Calvin Davis has been told that he can't make any decisions or even talk to the newspapers. People are working hard but they are spread too thin. They would cut out all sports if they didn't think they'd get such an outcry, especially in football and basketball. It is a shame what they have done to the minor sports like tennis and volleyball. Football players aren't safe. They have no adequate equipment, no trainers. It all has to do with cutting costs."

19. Why are there so many in-season shootouts?

It might not seem like it, but the IHSA still has limitations on the number of games a school can participate in during a season--16 games and three tournaments, 18 games and two tournaments, 19 games and one tournament or 21 games and no tournaments outside the state series.

But a school can play in as many shootouts as it wants to. "It gets back to the fact that you have so many promoters who see it as a "get rich quick" scheme and parents and coaches see it as another opportunity to maximize exposure for their players from a national standpoint. During season, the greater the number of games, the greater chance of national media and scouts showing up," Harv Schmidt said.

20. How could holiday tournaments in Illinois be affected as result of Proviso West's expansion to 32 teams?

Historically, as good as it is, one of the unique things about high school basketball in Illinois has always been the number of high quality holiday tournaments being conducted throughout the state in December. But times have changed. In the past, there were six or seven big-time events that attracted great teams and great players, now only two or three.

"I can't help but wonder because of the expansion at Proviso West that we will see other meets more watered down," Roy Schmidt said. "Look at where other teams came from, from York and Normal. Those tournaments and others could be in trouble."

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.