Bulls

Neuqua's Rhattigan, Waubonsie's Guido renew friendly rivalry

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Neuqua's Rhattigan, Waubonsie's Guido renew friendly rivalry

Sometime before Saturday's rematch in the Class 8A quarterfinals, Neuqua Valley's Joey Rhattigan and Waubonsie Valley's Austin Guido will exchange text messages. Something along the lines of "Good luck!" or "Have a good game!" rather than "I'm going to kick your butt!"

Rhattigan and Guido are two of the most prolific running backs in Illinois. They also are good friends and fierce competitors. They grew up playing on the Naperville Patriots youth travel team. In the off-season, they train with former NFL player Kevin Kasper, a Hinsdale South graduate, at Extreme Speed Gym in Plainfield.

"We are good friends but very competitive," Guido said. "I talked to him before my game (on Saturday). I congratulated him on his good game (on Friday). No matter what the outcome of the game is, we'll remain good friends."

At Extreme Speed Gym, they engage in several drills. They push a tread sled for a certain length of time to see how much distance they can achieve. And they push a prowler, with weights on both sides, usually against each other. "He has his good days and I have my good days," Guido said.

"We talk, we joke, we have a competitive relationship," Rhattigan said. "We'll probably talk more when the season is over. I'll probably send him a text this week."

They prefer to do their talking on the football field. Imagine, they might have ended up in the same backfield. Guido and a dozen Waubonsie Valley starters played with Rhattigan and his friends in youth football. All were slated to attend Neuqua Valley but the school boundary was redrawn when Metea Valley was opened. So Guido went to Waubonsie Valley.

In 11 games, Guido, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior, has rushed 292 games for 2,236 yards and 30 touchdowns. He has amassed over 200 yards in seven games. In last Saturday's 28-7 victory over Oak Park, he ran behind fullback Demario Webb a season-high 39 times for 232 yards and two touchdowns.

"I knew there would be a lot of pounding the ball," he said. "Saturday mornings after Friday games are rough. The team comes in for a light jog or ride bikes. Then I come home and take an ice bath for 30 minutes and apply ice. How sore am I? It depends on the game. But my body usually is tired and sore after a big game."

Rhattigan, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior, has rushed187 times for 1,968 yards and 32 touchdowns. He has been on a tear in the state playoff, rushing for 228 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-20 rout of Naperville North and
344 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-33 upset of defending Class 8A champion Bolingbrook.

"I really can't explain it," he said. "When you put the season on the line, you try to do better than your best. During the regular season, I played six half-games because of the score. In the playoff games, I'm into the fourth quarter and getting more carries. I like to carry the ball."

So what about this Saturday's rematch? What do they remember most about their first meeting, Neuqua Valley's heart-stopping 35-34 double overtime decision on Oct. 5?

"Our team's attitude at halftime," Rhattigan said. "Going into halftime, we were focused and ready to play the second half. What stands out is our motto: finish. I don't remember the score, even if we were behind. Our attitude was about focusing and finishing."

Neuqua Valley trailed 14-7 at halftime as Guido rushed for 134 of his 252 yards in the first two quarters. But Rhattigan finished with 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns and quarterback Dylan Andrew completed 15 of 21 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns as Neuqua Valley rallied to win.

"The second overtime sticks out the most," Guido said. "After scoring a touchdown, the captains (Guido, Troy Fumagalli, Dylan Warden, Austin Lacke) decided to go for a two-point conversion. It failed. It was a miscommunication. I messed up. I went the wrong way. There were a few things that went wrong."

Rhattigan and Guido have something else in common. Neither has a scholarship offer. Both want to play at the highest level in college that they can and their success this season has stirred some interest. But letters in the mail are one thing and an offer or an invitation to visit a school is quite another.

Rhattigan is a straight-A student with a 30 ACT who is talking to Princeton and Harvard weekly. He also is hearing from Penn State, where his brother is enrolled.

"Would I give up an Ivy League education for Big Ten football?" he said. "That's something I'll have to think about after the season."

Guido has been talking to Western Michigan, Northern Illinois, Wyoming, Drake and Dayton for most of the season. "If our team keeps playing well and I keep playing well, I know good things will happen," he said.

With five new starters in the offensive line, Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy wasn't sure if Guido would pile up such staggering numbers and be such a difference-maker this season. But he has been persuaded.

"He has a great knack for finding the seams and squaring up his shoulders to get first downs," Murphy said. "He has a second gear that all great backs have. He is a tough match-up for anyone in the open field. He takes a pounding but he is very strong for his size. He has great vision, great work ethic, great attitude and great desire. He won't go down."

But he'll have to get past Rhattigan on Saturday in Naperville.

"This season has unfolded with memories that I'll never forget," Rhattigan said. "We'll take pride for a long time in being the best team at Neuqua Valley since it opened (in 1997). We hope our team sets a standard for other teams to be their best, to be better if they can.

"You can't predict your record at the beginning of the season but you can predict how much effort you will give. We turned out to be 11-0 up to now. I'm confident we will be 14-0.

"Last year, we lost five in a row and finished 5-5. We were underachievers. We should have been better. It was disappointing. But it provided motivation for this year's team. Last year gave us a chip on our shoulders to play well this year. We didn't want to be disappointed this year."

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

Whenever the Bulls and Warriors meet for the foreseeable future, it’ll be a reminder of how the two franchises are inextricably linked symbolically and practically — even if no one would consider the two franchises mirror images in any way that truly counts.

Starting on the sidelines, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr will forever be etched in Bulls lore with a championship-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals off a pass from Michael Jordan, the second title of their second three-peat.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was rumored to be in the running for the Warriors job after the Warriors fired Mark Jackson in 2014, when Hoiberg was still at Iowa State and Kerr was in the broadcast booth.

Reportedly, Hoiberg was a backup plan if Kerr wound up taking the New York Knicks job being offered to him by…former Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

Kerr has spoken highly of Hoiberg before games, even going as far as saying he’s stolen some of Hoiberg’s offensive plays — and it’s easy to see the similarities in philosophy, with both placing an extreme emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting.

With the Bulls crushing their own 3-point records — hitting fewer than 10-pointers six times in the last 21 games, they’re doing their best to copy the blueprint the Warriors have unleashed on the basketball world.

“I don’t know if we’ve revolutionized the game,” Kerr said at morning shootaround. “We just picked up on where the game was been heading over the last ten years with the added spacing and turning small forwards into power forwards and power forwards into centers. Really spacing the floor. It was happening before we did it. We have the personnel to shoot a ton of 3’s. It’s effective for us. Teams have to find whatever’s most efficient for them. We just try to play according to our talent.”

There’s the simple fact the Warriors erased the 1996 Bulls from the record book as far as regular season wins with a 73-9 mark in 2016, although they couldn’t finish the job in the Finals by blowing a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Warriors have joined the Bulls of that vintage, the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers and James’ Miami Heat as the road shows of modern-day basketball, drawing massive crowds, sparking historical conversations and taking opposing teams’ best shots on the road 41 times a year.

Stephen Curry has earned a new respect for what Jordan’s Bulls had to go through during that eight-year period in which the Bulls dominated to win six NBA titles.

“Until you win a championship you don’t know how hard it is,” Curry said. “Only highlight that even more, all that goes into it, year after year after year, being that team everybody is chasing. I have an appreciation before but going through a couple championship runs, you have an appreciation for the dynasty that they were. It’s always nice to be in the city they did it in.”

Then there’s the petty, as Jordan Bell will get the start in place of Draymond Green, a man who looked like a mummy at shootaround with a sore shoulder but had his elbows and knees wrapped in ice.

Bell, of course, remains a point of contention for Bulls fans as he was traded for $3.5 million on draft night to the Warriors and let everyone know what he thought of it when the two met in late November, making a money reference with his hands when coming out for his first start of the season.

Although his playing time has been spotty, he blocked six shots against the Bulls and grabbed six rebounds as an uber-athletic big man in a 49-point humbling loss in Oakland on Nov. 24.

Whether Bulls fans are in love with Bell and what he represents or merely the notion of trading a second-round pick when starting a rebuild, seeing him is a sore spot.

Kerr, though, hopes Bell has moved past the pettiness with the Bulls, as one would certainly like to think he’s happy where he is as opposed to vying for minutes with the glut of bigs the Bulls already have.

“I would hope that’s a thing of the past,” Kerr said. “Jordan’s been in the league for more than half a season. He had his fun the first time we played the Bulls with his comments and whatever he was doing on the floor. I liked it. I thought he was getting himself motivated. That doesn’t last long, in this league you gotta be motivated every single night. He’s past that now.”

Bell, assuming he develops into more than just a spot starter, represents where the Warriors are currently and where the Bulls are trying to get to: selecting physically unique players whose skill sets essentially make them unicorns on the floor.

The Warriors have that in Kevin Durant and to a lesser degree, Green, because of Green’s versatility on defense and with his playmaking, allows the Warriors to be special.

The Bulls have someone in the mold of a matchup nightmare in rookie Lauri Markkanen, who just broke the rookie record by being the fastest in NBA history to hitting 100 triples.

Markkanen did it in 41 games, breaking the mark held by Portland’s Damian Lillard. Curry, widely regarded as the best shooter in NBA history, accomplished the feat in 58 games in the 2009-10 season.

Curry’s taken note while joking Markkanen should “slow down and stop breaking all those 3-point records for rookies. I’m pretty proud of being in those groups.”

“He’s an amazing talent,” Curry said. “Got an extremely unique skill set at his height and size, being able to put it on the floor, being able to shoot the way he does, scoring a lot of different ways… He’s only gonna continue to get better. Other than that, he’s gonna be a force to reckon with as he goes through his career.”

Kerr is among Markkanen’s fans, although he won’t be one at the United Center when he tries to stop Markkanen from adding to the impressive resume.

“These things are so hard to predict but you knew at minimum he was gonna be a great 3-point shooting big man which is important to have these days,” Kerr said. “I think the question was defensively could he hold his own and could he do more than shoot and I think he’s proving all of that. He’s been good defensively.

“He’s not a one-trick pony on offense. He’s not just standing out shooting. He can put it on the floor, he can post up and he’s so young, all that stuff is gonna get better. I know our coaching staff, preparing for this game, have a ton of respect for what the Bulls are doing and Markkanen in particular in terms of his potential. We think he’s gonna be an All-Star.”

Is Luis Robert so good that he'll start the season at Double-A?

Is Luis Robert so good that he'll start the season at Double-A?

Just how good is Luis Robert?

Well, that's the problem. Us on the outside, we don't know exactly.

The White Sox obviously love him, willing to give him big bucks to come play a starring role in the rebuild. Rick Renteria raved about Robert last month at the Winter Meetings, getting White Sox fans all excited by hyping Robert's speed, fielding skills and power.

But as good as the scouting reports sound, is Robert really so good that he'll go from never playing a game in the United States to the higher levels of minor league baseball right away?

That eyebrow-raising possibility was floated Tuesday.

Robert unsurprisingly has plenty of confidence in his own abilities and told The Athletic's James Fegan at the team's hitters' camp in Arizona that his goal is to make it to the big leagues sometime in 2018.

But perhaps the more interesting comment came from Chris Getz, the White Sox director of player development, who said Tuesday that Robert could potentially start the season at either of the White Sox two Class A affiliates, Kannapolis or Winston-Salem, or even at Double-A Birmingham.

Robert is just 20 years old, and he's yet to play a game of minor league baseball in the United States after spending his teenage years playing in Cuba. In fact, his only action since joining the White Sox has been 28 games in the Dominican Summer League. He did fare quite well in that handful of contests, slashing .310/.491/.536 with three homers, 14 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and a sparkling 22-to-23 walk-to-strikeout ratio. But that's not really the point.

The White Sox are in no rush with Robert, or any of their highly touted prospects, for that matter. Not expected to compete for a championship in 2018, there doesn't appear to be any reason to elevate Robert to the highest levels of the minors so quickly without first getting him some experience in the lower levels.

Of course, Getz even mentioning the possibility of Robert starting the season at Birmingham should also show just how good the team thinks Robert is right now. So maybe Robert's major league dream for 2018 isn't as crazy as it sounds?