Cubs

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.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.