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Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

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Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

The last time we talked to Ken Maxey, the former Carver and Michigan basketball star was preparing to introduce another former Carver and Michigan star, Cazzie Russell, as one of the latest inductees into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame.

Maxey was a freshman when Russell was a senior at Carver in 1962, when he led coach Larry Hawkins' team to second place in the state tournament. And he was a freshman at Michigan when Cazzie was hailed as the Player of the Year in college basketball.

"I didn't play with Cazzie. We never played together in high school or college," Maxey said. "But we played on the playgrounds and with an elite CHS team that played all over the city. And we have the same roots. We're two kids from the (Altgeld) Gardens.

"The message is you can make it, no matter where you come from. It comes from building integrity and character when you are young, no matter whether you are black or white. Everyone knew Cazzie but there were players as good or better than Cazzie. He had an extremely good work either. That's what catapulted him above other players who had more talent. He carried Altgeld Gardens with him wherever he went."

Now it is Maxey's turn. Most kids in Altgeld Gardens and the Carver community don't know of the tradition that was established in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by Russell, Maxey, Pete Cunningham, Tommy Hawkins, Joe Allen, Tim Hardaway and Terry Cummings.

It is time they learned.

Maxey, one of the leaders of Carver's 1963 state championship team, will be inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame on May 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Among others to be inducted will be King's Efrem Winters and Laurent Crawford, Crane's James Jackson, South Shore's Bobby Joor, Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore and Hubbard's Reggie Rose.

Maxey grew up in Altgeld Gardens. He and other kids idolized Pete Cunningham, who had scored more points in high school than Cazzie Russell.
He played on a park district team with Anthony Smedley that won a city championship at age 11-12.

"It was ideal growing up in Altgeld Gardens," Maxey said. "It was a community effort. Everyone knew everybody. Very few had more than anyone else. It was common ground. Everyone was respectful. There was a lot of parental involvement."

As a senior, he averaged 31 points per game and was the leading scorer in the Public League. He chose Michigan because Cazzie had gone there. His other options were USC and Western Michigan. He passed on Illinois because Cunningham had flunked out after his first semester. "You couldn't trust them to help black athletes," Maxey said.

At Michigan, he majored in history and physical education. As a senior, he captained the basketball team and boycotted the administration building to force the university to hire more black coaches. As a result, Fred Snowden became the first black assistant coach in the Big 10.

After graduation, he received an offer to try out with the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA but had a knee operation and was drafted for Viet Nam. He taught in Detroit, obtained a masters degree in guidance and counseling at Michigan and got into coaching.

He was head coach at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan, assisted for four years at Arizona and three years at Stanford, then was head coach at Cal State-Los Angeles, becoming the first black coach at a four-year college in Los Angeles. Later, he was an assistant at USC and Los Angeles City College, then joined the teaching and administrative staff at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in 1991.

But Maxey will forever be remembered for one of the most memorable games and dramatic incidents in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament. Carver 53, Centralia 52. 1963 state championship. Anthony Smedley. If you were there, you'll never forget it.

It all began in 1962, when Cazzie Russell and Carver lost a heartbreaking 49-48 decision to Decatur in the state championship game. Bruce Raickett, whose errant pass was intercepted by Jim Hill to set up Ken Barnes' game-winning free throws, went into isolation for 20 years, a la Steve Bartman.

"Everyone recalled how close we got but yet so far," Maxey said. "The stigma was that we got there and blew it. It was devastating to the community. It raised everybody's expectations quite a bit for the following year."

Maxey, a sophomore, started at point guard. Joe Allen was the leader. Gerry Jones, who later played at Iowa, Curtis Kirk and Robert Cifax were standouts, too. "As long as I got the ball to our star players and they got their shots, it was OK. We had a speed game and a slowdown game. If we lost, it was because we didn't execute our strategy effectively."

Carver beat Harlan for the Public League championship, then ousted Waukegan in the supersectional, Geneva in the quarterfinals and Peoria Central by three points in overtime in the semifinals.

In the final against Centralia, Carver led by four at halftime but trailed by one with 14 seconds to play despite an 18-point, 17-rebound performance by Joe Allen and 18 points by Maxey.

Enter Anthony Smedley. He was on the frosh-soph team all year and had been promoted to the varsity for the postseason because of his quickness and shooting ability against a zone. Coach Larry Hawkins pulled Smedley off the bench.

"(Hawkins) wanted us to steal the ball and he put in Smedley for his quickness, not for his shooting," Maxey recalled. "If you look at the film, Joe Allen was free under the basket when he shot.

"But Smedley was a gunner, an automatic shooter. From the spot he shot on the baseline (after stealing the ball with seven seconds left), he shot that all the time in practice. It was his shot. He was deadly from that spot. He did it instinctively. He never thought about it. For him, it was a natural reaction to take that shot."

Interestingly, Carver didn't place a single player on the six-man all-tournament squad while Centralia had three. Allen, who later was an all-time great at Bradley, had 67 points and 40 rebounds in the final four games. Maxey scored 54 points.

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

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USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”