Bulls

It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

676802.png

It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

There certainly isn't a sibling rivalry among the Mroz brothers on Ridgewood's basketball team. It isn't unusual to see a fatherson, coachplayer relationship at the high school level. But a 27-year-old coaching two younger brothers? That's a new twist.

Chris Mroz, who will be 28 on Feb. 27, is the oldest of four brothers. A graduate of St. Patrick in 2002, he played for Mike Bailey, then played at Bradley and Missouri-St. Louis, worked at a bank, assisted at St. Patrick and Ridgewood, then became head coach three years ago.

Pete Mroz is a 6-foot-3 senior guard who is averaging 21 points per game. An outstanding shooter, he won the Class 3A three-point shooting contest last year. In a recent three-game flurry, he scored 41, 22 and 33 points. He converted 11 three-point shots and took only 16 shots in his 41-point effort against Fenton.

Anthony Mroz, the youngest brother, is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who is averaging 11 points per game. He has been rated as one of the top 50 players in the class of 2014 according to one recruiting service. "He will be a special player," Chris Mroz said.

Along with 6-foot-1 senior Andy Mazurczak, who is averaging 24 points and six assists per game, they are the leaders of a 19-6 team that is seeded No. 2 behind North Chicago in the Class 3A sectional at Grayslake Central. A year ago, Ridgewood was 20-10 and lost to North Chicago in the sectional final. In its history, the school has never advanced beyond the sectional.

Ridgewood continued tuning up for its state tournament bid by beating Glenbard South 64-60 last Tuesday, Elmwood Park 61-51 on Friday and Galesburg 50-46 on Saturday. Mazurczak scored 22 points against Glenbard South, 22 against Elmwood Park and 21 against Galesburg. The Rebels will close their regular season against highly regarded Riverside-Brookfield on Friday with the Metro Suburban Conference championship at stake.

"We could be 22-3," Pete Mroz said. "In every loss, we had the lead in the fourth quarter. We led Leyden by 17 in the fourth quarter. We lost to Glenbard South on a 65-foot shot off the backboard at the buzzer.

"We are quick, we play hard and our guards are very good. We play four guards and one post player. No one is bigger than 6-foot-4. Our kids aren't the biggest but they play hard and want to get better. They have good attitudes. Best of all, we're playing well at the right time."

Pete and Anthony Mroz and Mazurczak are complemented by 6-foot-3 junior Adam Krozel (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 junior Mike Lizak (5 ppg). They got a big lift from 6-foot junior Igor Cirkovic, who came off the bench to make three three-pointers in the fourth quarter against Elmwood Park. Anthony Mroz contributed 15 points to the victory over Galesburg.

Saturday's trip to Galesburg was a unique experience for the Ridgewood team. Galesburg is one of the storied high school basketball programs in the state and playing in John Thiel Gym provided an atmosphere that the Rebels won't ever forget.

"To go deep into the playoff, we have to rebound and take care of the ball," Chris Mroz said. "Anthony does a lot for us. He knows the two seniors (Pete and Andy) are the go-to guys. His job is to defend, get after guys, make plays, be an energy and get the ball in the hands of our shooters."

Shooters as in Pete Mroz and Mazurczak. At the moment, the basket looks as big as the Grand Canyon to Pete, who had never scored more than 18 points in a game until he tallied 41 against Fenton. He once had 41 as a seventh grader and 32 in an AAU game last summer. But even he has a hard time explaining his recent hot streak.

"Pete has always been able to shoot. But he's starting to get hot. The basket looks pretty big to him right now," the coach said.

"Every time I shoot it, it feels like it is going to go in the basket. Everything I throw up goes in," Pete said. "I didn't have that confidence before. I was slow getting into the game. But this is the right time, as we're going into the playoff, to pick up my game."

Pete credits his older brother for his improvement. "When he became head coach, I knew he was going to be harder on us than anyone else. But he gives you confidence to shoot the ball and it pays off. Some coaches tell kids not to shoot the ball. But he has confidence in me, what every coach should have in their players. I feel comfortable shooting the ball from the volleyball line," he said.

"He doesn't act like my brother. He played at Bradley. It was cool to see my brother playing on a Division I floor. He always has been a good role model. He wants us to play hard all the time. I wanted to play for him. He taught me the game ever since I was a little kid. He's my idol. I wanted to be as good as him. That was my goal. I wanted to play for him."

Ironically, if Chris hadn't been hired at Ridgewood, Pete and Anthony would be at St. Patrick. Pete transferred from St. Patrick to Ridgewood after his freshman year and Anthony followed.

The coach describes Mazurczak as "one of the most underrated players in the city, our best player, a late bloomer, a special kid, a hard worker." If he weighed more than 155 pounds, more colleges would be interested, Pete Mroz said.

Mazurczak describes himself as a pass-first player who likes to get his teammates involved in the game. He is a natural point guard who has moved to the shooting guard position this season to add more scoring punch to the offense. He likes to get to the basket and the foul line. Most of all, he likes to win. He doesn't keep track of his statistics. He wasn't aware that he is averaging 24 points per game.

Modesty and humility aside, he wants to play basketball in college. He doesn't think he is a major Division I player because he lacks size and strength. But he knows he has played against other highly rated players with Division I credentials and he has held his own. So he hopes college coaches will reassess his skills. Meanwhile, he is more focused on his team and the remainder of the season.

"Our big goal is to get past the sectional," Mazurczak said. "We are a small team but we like to get the ball up and down. We are a bunch of shooters. We like to spread the floor and create plays. We started playing this style last year. We try to get fast break lay-ups and open shots. We know we can't hold the ball or our opponents will catch up to us.

"All summer long, we played against top teams to prepare for March. We played in the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, the Oak Park league and the Glenbard west tournament. We played Bogan, Morton, St. Patrick, Notre Dame, Oak Park, Proviso East, Fenwick, Proviso West and Lyons. We don't see those kind of teams in our conference, athletic and fast and strong. If we can play with them, we can play with anyone."

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

11-24_gsw_matchup_nba_chi_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

chicago-thankful.jpg
USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.