Cubs

North Shore Country Day makes history

600388.png

North Shore Country Day makes history

It is a long trip from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Houston, Texas, to Winnetka, Ill. But Rashid Smith made it without a hitch. In his second year as head coach at North Shore Country Day, he still has some unfinished business.

Basketball never has been a major topic of discussion at the small and elite private school. Football records date to the school's founding in 1919 but the only basketball record of note is a regional championship in 2011.

Smith is anxious to re-write history. North Shore Country Day is 17-4 going into Tuesday's Class 1A supersectional against Sterling Newman, has won its first conference championship in 40 years and its first sectional in history. "There is a gap in the records," he said.

The Raiders, who were 17-7 last year but lost to Hope Academy in the sectional semifinal, avenged that loss on Friday night by overwhelming the team that was favored to win the Class 1A title this season, Hope Academy, 70-56. Jake Bruce scored 27 points and Austen Curren had 23.

"I'm 30 years old but I'm not surprised by anything at this point," Smith said. "They are playing unselfishly and hard and smart. If you do those three things, you give yourself a chance to win. I wasn't surprised about winning the regional and sectional.

"But what impressed me was after we won the regional they didn't celebrate. They shook the other team's hand and walked off the court. In the first game of the sectional, they did the same thing. One kid said: 'I don't want to lose without playing our best basketball.' They still feel we haven't played our best basketball. I was impressed that 16- and 17- and 18-year-old kids have that mindset."

Hey, the Raiders could be unbeaten. They lost to Christian Liberty by two, Chicago Latin by two, Chicago University High by two in overtime and Northridge Prep by two in overtime.

"But the losses helped us," Smith said. "They forced us to do some self-reflecting and make corrections and improvements. We are a smarter team, more patient on offense. We take better shots and we are more dynamic. In the beginning of the year, zone defense and pressure hurt us. But now our guards do a good job of handling pressure. And our ball movement is much crisper now."

Smith knows how to win. At Peabody Magnet High School in Alexandria, La., he led his team to a state championship. He was All-State and MVP in the state tournament. In three years, his teams lost only 10 games. He earned a scholarship to Rice University in Houston, Texas.

At Rice, a couple of his teammates were from Northbrook, Illinois. They started a basketball training company and Smith joined them. Along the way, he connected with coaches and athletes on the North Shore. One of his college teammates was Omar Mance, who preceded him as head coach at North Shore Country Day, When Mance left to become an assistant at Army, Smith succeeded him.

Smith inherited three returning starters from last year's squad. Curren, a 6-foot-3 junior, averages 17.5 points and six rebounds per game. He was an all-conference selection last year. Bruce, a 6'2" senior guard, averages 13.5 points and four steals.

Other starters are 6-foot-5 junior Ryan Hall (14 ppg, 11 rpg) and 5-foot-9 junior point guard Jamie Swimmer who contributes five assists per game and scored 15 points against Hope Academy. Both were all-conference selections a year ago.

The other starting spot is split between 6'2" junior Flores Hondmann and 6-foot junior Tim Morette. They combine for 11 points and five rebounds between them.

Smith thinks North Shore Country Day isn't given much respect because the Independent League, which also includes University High and Francis Parker and Chicago Latin, isn't considered a very competitive conference. But Smith believes his team's victory over highly rated Hope Academy should send a message to critics.

"I feel our conference is good," Smith said. "University High is a Class 3A school. We weren't intimidated by Hope Academy. We play quick, athletic teams in our conference, schools that are in Class 2A and 3A. We've seen everything.

"These kids are typical of North Shore kids. They are hard working, very competitive, good spirit, high energy.

"They haven't had a game where they have felt that everybody has played up to their potential. We can click better than we are doing. I could tell by the way they approached and prepared for the sectional that they still have a lot of basketball left to play.

"Some of the kids on this team I have known since fifth and sixth grade. I worked with them at our training center. I knew it wasn't like Peabody (North Shore's enrollment is only 220). But I knew the players. Give me a kid who goes to North Shore to play basketball, who is a decent player, not developed, but has potential, and he will develop. He might might be a super star as a ninth or 10th grader but he will grow and reach his potential."

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

0218-tom-ricketts-joe-maddon.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

michal-kempny-0420.jpg
USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.