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Maine South has high expectations...in basketball

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Maine South has high expectations...in basketball

In the 1950s, when Bud Wilkinson's Oklahoma teams won a record 47 games in a row and dominated college football, the university president used to joke that his goal was to "build a university that the football team can be proud of."

Maybe he wasn't joking.

Fast forward to 2012. At Maine South, basketball coach Tony Lavorato Jr.is building a program that the Park Ridge community, the high school and its football team can be proud of. Maine South has won five state football championships since 1995, three in a row in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and Lavorato has a plan to be every bit as competitive on a state level.

It won't be easy. Maine South hasn't won a conference title since 1999. Even old-timers are hard-pressed to remember the 1979 state championship team. But seeds have been planted. The Hawks were 28-6 in 2010 and lost to Whitney Young in the supersectional. They won 21 and 19 games in the last two seasons. They currently are 7-0 going into Thursday night's game at Glenbrook South.

"We are proud of where we are at," Lavorato said. "But it's early in the season. There is a lot of basketball to play. What is exciting is the kids are dedicating themselves to basketball. We have structured the program where we put kids in a position to be successful.

"Can we play basketball at a football school? We have a winning tradition in many sports at Maine South, not just football. We have a winning culture. Is this the best team we have had? Our 2010 team has been our standard-bearer. We'll compare other teams to that one until we have a team that surpasses it."

In his 10th season as head coach, Lavorato has taken a while to fuel his engine and put it on the right track. For example, he had to figure out a way to tread water while waiting for the football season to end so the football players, like 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior John Solari, would have time to get into basketball shape.

He installed a unique matchup defense that is difficult for opponents to prepare for and to execute against, then organized a feeder system in which lower level coaches lay a solid foundation by teaching youngsters to play the defense from the first time they lace up their Michael Jordans.

"What is the key to our success?" Lavorato said. "I have never had a Division I player in my 10 years. We need to keep playing as a team, control the tempo and keep the points down. Our opponents are only averaging 34.7 points per game. If we keep people under 50 points per game and keep getting better as a team offensively, we can compete with the top teams in the state."

Which is exactly why, after participating in the York Holiday Tournament for the last nine years, Lavorato decided to switch to Proviso West this year. After Thursday's game against Glenbrook South and games against Lane Tech at the Benedictine Shootout on Sunday and at Waukegan on Dec. 21, Maine South will meet Hillcrest in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament on Dec. 26 in Hillside.

"We are going there to play teams like Hillcrest and test ourselves," he said. "I am looking at the big picture. We're trying to get over the hump. We're looking to play teams that are ore athletic and will make us better in January and February.

"Every since we lost to Whitney Young in 2010--we were trailing by two points at halftime, then lost by 18--I thought if we could put our program in a position to where we could see that type of team and athlete before the state tournament, we could finish that game and be competitive with any program in that state.

"That's why we decided to go to Proviso West--to test teams with great athletes and Division I players. That is the next step for our program to take."

Danny Quinn has watched Lavorato's program develop since he was playing quarterback and wide receiver for the Park Ridge Falcons youth football program from second to eighth grade. And he recalls when his father took him to Proviso West to watch Marcus Jordan, Wayne Blackshear, Dave Sobolewski, Frank Kaminsky and other Division I players.

But Quinn never had the passion for football that he had for basketball. In fact, he dropped football and baseball to concentrate on basketball. In sixth grade, he played on a Junior Hawks team was 80-13. And he played with future Maine South teammates Frank Dounis and Andrew Palucki on the Chi-Town Diablos.

"I wanted to become better at basketball," said Quinn, a 6-foot-6 senior forward. "You have to sacrifice to be good at it. I wanted to dedicate myself to basketball. I had a passion for it. I liked the fast tempo. It isn't always about who is biggest and strongest. You can be a good shooter or ball-handler or be versatile and contribute in a lot of ways."

Quinn never had a doubt that Lavorato would develop a winning basketball program at Maine South. "We always had good talent. It was never a question of if but a matter of when. We have plenty of athletes. We are proud of the football team. We aren't trying to take anything away from them. But we know we can be successful, too," he said.

Quinn (9.4 ppg, 4 rpg), Solari (9.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Dounis, a 6-foot-3 senior (10.9 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.4 assists) are the most experienced players in the program. Solaris, a four-year varsity player and three-year starter, was a tight end on Maine South's 11-1 football team and likely will play football in college. "Everything starts with them," Lavorato said.

They are returning starters from last year's 19-13 regional champion. With five of his top eight players returning, Lavorato had several reasons to be optimistic about 2012-13.

The other two starters are Palucki (5.7 ppg), a 6-foot-2 guard, and 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard Caleb de Marigny (5.7 ppg, 3 assists). The sixth man is 6-foot-7 sophomore George Sargeant (3.9 ppg).

Lavorato split the season into six parts--Thanksgiving tournament, six games between now and Christmas, Proviso West tournament, four games in five days before the King tournament, the home stretch, then the postseason. "We break it up so we don't get ahead of ourselves," he said.

A 1991 graduate of Hinsdale South, Lavorato played for his father, then played for four years at Augustana. He coached at Homestead in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for one year, then coached at Stagg in Palos Park for four years before being hired at Maine South.

"It was a great opportunity," he said. "I wanted to get into a conference that was successful in getting to the sectional. Seven of 12 Central Suburban League teams went to the supersectional in a seven-year period. Maine South was very competitive on a north suburban scale. It was a great route to get to Peoria. But I knew we had a lot of work to do."

Five years ago, Lavorato implemented a defensive system he refers to as "the Maine South defense," a matchup man-to-man that is similar to the famed ball-press defense that legendary coach Vergil Fletcher developed at Collinsville in the 1950s and was copied by Jerry Leggett at Quincy and Neil Alexander at Lincoln.

Lavorato picked it up from Frank Palmisani, who ran it at Providence with Walter Downing, and Frank Nardi, who ran it at Bloom with Brandon Cole.
Bill Geist ran it at Benet with Kevin Conrad and Mike Lang. At one time, Lavorato rank it at Stagg.

"I wanted to make sure it is difficult to play us," he said. "We want to keep the ball out of the lane, rebound every shot and contest all shots. I wanted to do something that other coaches had to prepare for. No one else runs it in our conference.

"I have run it with middle size post players and an immobile post player and I have run it with guards who were immature and physically not gifted.
Communication is the most important thing. It is a five-man defense. Everyone needs to communicate and be on the same page. Our kids believe in it."

Quinn said the defense is tough for other teams to figure out. "Now many teams run it. It is hard to scout and to adjust and to teach. It's tough enough for us to run. It's all about communication and chemistry. If one guy is out of synch, the whole thing is messed up. You have to know it. You can't run it half-heartedly. You must be committed to it. Teams have to play well to beat it," he said.

So Lavorato is eager to test his team and his defense against the field at Proviso West. The players are excited, too.

"This is what I have been waiting for for four years," Quinn said. "We have no fear. We feel we can play with those teams. We have been building for this. This will show we aren't just a football school but we can play basketball against anyone. If we stick with our system and play our game, I don't think anyone can top us."

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: