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McDonald's won't return in 2013

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McDonald's won't return in 2013

Chicagoans who are looking forward to seeing Simeon's Jabari Parker participate in the annual McDonald's All-America basketball game in 2013 will be disappointed.

The game, which was held at the United Center last year and will be held in the same venue on March 28, won't return in 2013.

There aren't any Chicago products in this year's McDonald's boys game, one of the few times in the history of the selections that Illinois has failed to be represented.

However, there will be three local representatives in the girls game -- Connecticut-bound Morgan Tuck of Bolingbrook, Kentucky-bound Janee Thompson of Whitney Young and Notre Dame-bound Jewell Loyd of Nlles West.

And the Chicago area will be represented on the sideline with coaches Tanya Johnson of Zion-Benton, who will guide the girls West team, and Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora, who will direct the boys West team.

Both are well-qualified. Johnson coached Loyola to state championships in 1997 and 1998. Kerkman has won more than 725 games in his career, including a state title in 2000.

The nation's top-rated seniors will be on display, too. The girls are led by Breanna Stewart of Cicero, N.Y., who is committed to Connecticut, while the boys are led by Shabazz Muhammad of Las Vegas, Nevada, who is uncommitted.

But next year? The class of 2013 in Illinois is one of the best ever produced. Parker, arguably the No. 1 player in the nation regardless of class, could be accompanied by Belleville East's Malcolm Hill or Morgan Park's Billy Garrett Jr. or Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton or Kendrick Nunn, Parker's teammate at Simeon. Hill is committed to Illinois.

Illinois' only chance to land a spot on the McDonald's All-America 24-member team fell far short this year. Simeon's Steve Taylor ranks No. 52.

"Taylor is a talented player but not a McDonald's All-American," said longtime recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, who is a member of the selection committee. "This year was a down year for talent. But next year is a different matter."

This marks the first time in the 35-year history of the McDonald's game that the same city will host in back-to-back years. Chicago was chosen to host for the second year in a row because the game drew a record crowd of 23,000 to the United Center last year. And McDonald's headquarters is based in the Chicago area. But it won't three-peat in 2013.

Gibbons has questioned the politics of the selection process for the McDonald's All-America game for many years. "The selection process is flawed. There are too many people on the committee. Some people don't see all the players," he said.

The selection process consumes six weeks, from an original list of 100 candidates to 50 to 40, then the final 24.

The selection committee, which also includes longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com, usually picks about 22 of the players. Then Morgan Wootten, head of the selection committee, and the McDonald's sponsors or game administrators, including founder Bob Geoghan, have some leeway to choose one or two players based on position or local interest. But they normally rank among the top 30-40 players.

"Some changes have been made to help the game but most have been to appease friends or coaches or to help ticket sales," one committee member said. "That's how occasionally a player rated in the 50 to 75 range is selected."

At a recent meeting, the conversation got heated at times when some members of the selection committee pointed to problems with the process and the fact that too many people on the committee don't see all of the players, thus skewing the voting.

In fact, the issues among committee members became so heated among certain factions that Wootten announced he was going to resign, then was talked into remaining as head of the committee.

I remember my first trip to cover a national high school all-star basketball game in 1978. It was the fifth McDonald's Capital Classic in Landover, Maryland, the prelude to the first McDonald's All-America Game, and Westinghouse's Mark Aguirre had been selected as one of 12 players from across the country to participate in the elite event.

The players, McDonald's officials and the media were housed in a Sheraton hotel near the Maryland campus in College Park, Maryland. The team worked out at nearby DeMatha High School, the nationally recognized program directed by legendary coach Morgan Wootten, head of the McDonald's selection committee.

Recruiting wasn't as ballyhooed in those days and the Internet hadn't been invented yet. But there was Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, one of the smoothest operators in the business, holding court in Room 330. The players were housed on the ninth floor. Driesell lived only 10 minutes from the hotel.

Driesell, who built a reputation by recruiting Moses Malone, Tom McMillan and Albert King, passed up the NCAA finals in St. Louis to attend the McDonald's event.

But he wasn't the only coach who was walking the halls or camping out in the lobby, hoping to be noticed by the player they happened to be recruiting. DePaul assistant Joey Meyer was there, too. So were Kentucky's Joe B. Hall, Michigan's Johnny Orr, Colorado's Terry Truax, Marquette's Hank Raymonds, Louisville's Denny Crum and Michigan State's Jud Heathcote.

Meyer and Truax were zeroing in on Aguirre. It was only a few days before the national signing date and everybody was making their last pitch to impress the recruits. Truax met Aguirre's plane at the airport. But Meyer, confident that DePaul had an edge all along, kept a low profile.

Recruiting hasn't changed over the last 30 years.

"This is the most distasteful time of the season," Truax said. "Honestly, I'd rather be somewhere I could do more good. But you have to show up. A kid knows if you're there and he knows if you're not there. And you have to keep doing your homework because some schools with the big reputations and the pizzazz might come in at the last minute and steal a kid from you."

"You've got to baby-sit," Meyer said. "Recruiting is like playing a game. You measure your success by wins and losses. You spend so much time on a kid. If you lose him, it's the same kind of disappointment that you feel if you lose in overtime. You always second-guess yourself, wondering if you made a mistake, if you should have come in sooner or done something different."

The object of most of the recruiters' attention was guard Dwight Anderson. He was so good that he played in Sonny Vaccaro's Dapper Dan all-star game in Pittsburgh on Friday night, then was flown in a private plane to Washington D.C. for the Capitol Classic the next night.

Anderson wanted to go to Kentucky. Coach Joe B. Hall was in his shadow wherever he went. He played for two years at Kentucky, then transferred to USC. He was selected in the first round of the NBA draft but played for only one season.

Wootten said Aguirre reminded him of one of his former stars, Adrian Dantley...big hands, big legs, such big shoulders, so strong. As it turned out, Aguirre was the only one of the 12 who went on to have a significant career in college and the NBA.

"He's awesome," Washington State coach George Raveling said. "I think a lot of people overlooked him. And they regret it now."

The coach of one of the other players said: "Aguirre is the best player here. Nobody on the floor is more intense than he is. He's so big and strong. Nobody can handle him."

Remember the others? Dwight Anderson, Cornelius Thompson, Clarence Tillman, Carlton "Scooter" McCray, Leonel Marquetti, Jerry Eaves, Rudy Woods, Guy Morgan, Vince Taylor, Tony Guy, Devin Durrant.

Aguirre, who scored 17 points for the winning West team in the 1978 McDonald's All-America Game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, wasn't named one of the 35 greatest McDonald's All-Americans. But four other Chicago area products were--St. Joseph's Isiah Thomas, Proviso East's Glenn "Doc" Rivers, Farragut's Kevin Garnett and Simeon's Derrick Rose.

King's Efrem Winters was MVP of the 1982 game at Rosemont, the only other time the event was held in the Chicago area. Garnett was MVP of the
1995 game in St. Louis. And Thornwood's Eddy Curry was MVP of the 2001 game at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.