Blackhawks

Montgomery rebuilds at Dunbar

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Montgomery rebuilds at Dunbar

Dunbar coach George Montgomery, who made some history of his own while playing basketball, admits that his players don't have a clue about the school's tradition and the teams, players and coaches whose shoulders thay are standing on.

Butch Rittmeyer's 29-4 team in 1956, led by Mel Davis and Alphra Saunders, finished third in the state tournament. Bernie Mills was a two-time All-Stater. Ronnie Lester emerged as a star in the NBA. Coach Jim Foreman produced many outstanding players, including playground legend Billy Harris. And Mike Poole, a 5-foot-5 point guard, was an All-Chicago Area selection in 1971-72.

"Kids today don't know the traditions or the fundamentals of the game. And a lot of coaches haven't played the game," Montgomery said. "I felt it was time for me to be a head coach again, time for me to give back."

Montgomery, 49, a graduate of Corliss in 1981, played at Illinois and was a second-round choice of the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1985 NBA draft. But he never played in the NBA. He is the father of Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee.

He coached at North Lawndale, Southside Prep and Corliss. Three years ago, when he learned there was an opening at Dunbar, he decided it was time to begin his own program at a school that once boasted one of the strongest and most competitive teams in the city.

"The experience I had from playing and coaching made me feel that it was time for me to put my flavor and philosophy into the school system, helping kids," he said.

"Since 1999, I've been coaching off and on. I didn't know if I was burned out or just needed to be at a different place. Coaching is fun but you're dealing with all sensitive personalities.

"It is so much different from what it was 10 years ago. Kids aren't as dedicated or they don't care to work hard on their game, their jump shot or work in the pivot. Half of the team is pretty dedicated on working on their weaknesses."

His first team was 14-10. His second team was 7-16. This year's team finished 17-5, losing to Du Sable 57-55 in the Class 3A sectional final at St. Ignatius.

"Last year was very frustrating and disappointing," Montgomery recalled. "They were rebelling. They didn't want to listen to me. They didn't want to work hard. They didn't think I should blow my whistle in practice so much."

After the last game, Montgomery met with the team leaders, DaJuan Appleberry and William Davis, and laid down the ground rules for the 2011-12 season. "I told them: 'To play for me next year your attitude has to change and you have to work hard on your game.' In the summer, the kids came to all of our games on time. They were dedicated. I felt they were determined to do something positive this year," he said.

And so they did. According to Montgomery, Appleberry, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, "did a complete 360" in terms of his attitude and dedication and work ethic. He averaged 17 points, five assists and five rebounds per game. He scored 18 in Dunbar's 53-42 victory over Jones in the sectional semifinals and netted 26 in the Mighty Men's loss to Du Sable.

Appleberry and 6-foot-4 senior Darvell Harris (10 ppg) will graduate but Montgomery has some talented players returning for 2012-13, including 6-foot-5 junior James Simmons (12 ppg, 6 rpg, 4 assists), 6-foot-7 junior Eric Ross (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and 5-foot-8 junior point guard Destyne Butler (7 ppg, 6 assists).

"This is the same team as last year but they bought into my system," Montgomery said. "I had to change certain things. I thought these kids were like us when we played...on time, hats off. But they think having fun is throwing the ball up and letting them go five-on-five up and down the court and no teaching.

"As a coach, you are still going to school. You have to adjust. Now they run more but I can't get away from discipline or teaching. Some of them are good at running up and down so you have to let them play. We started winning and they were convinced we could win with what I was talking about."

Montgomery learned his system and philosophy while playing with future NBA star Darrell Walker in a highly competitive program at Corliss. And his education continued while playing with Quinn Richardson, Efrem Winters, Doug Altenberger and Bruce Douglas at Illinois.

"I believe that hard work will pay off. In the beginning, some kids were on board and others jumped on board because winning is contagious," the coach said. "I've played on every level and been successful and if you listen to me, I'll take you Downstate, I told them. They have been listening. Now they have drive and determination."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.