Blackhawks

Orr makes waves in Red-West

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Orr makes waves in Red-West

To hear Louis Adams tell it, his Orr basketball team has more talent and potential than USA Basketball. That's right, Orr, which has never seriously contended for a Public League championship and never has qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in the state tournament.

But Adams might be right, after all. At least give him the benefit of a doubt. His Spartans are 16-3 going into the Public League playoffs, which includes victories over Red-West rivals Whitney Young and Marshall, highly rated Seton and perennial power Detroit Country Day. They defeated Hales Franciscan 51-36 on Saturday night.

"This is the best team I have ever had, even better than Englewood (which was 27-5 in 2007 and lost to North Lawndale in the regional final)," Adams said. "We have four Division I players. Our goal is to win the city. We know we have to get by Simeon. We know they are good but we are pretty good, too. Our guard play gives us an edge."

Adams acknowledges that Simeon's Jabari Parker and Marshall's Milton Doyle are the two best players in the Public League. But he insists he has four players who are as good or better than any comparable foursome on any other team in the state.

And Adams knows something about guards. Born and raised in Tunica, Mississippi, he was a Division III All-America point guard at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Whitney Young coach Tyrone Slaughter was his roommate. He was invited to the U.S. Olympic trials in 1984.

"The strength of our team is guard play. They play with toughness and intelligence and make good decisions," Adams said. "You can go a long way if you make good decisions, who to pass to, knowing your personnel on the floor, when to slow down and when to fast break, when to pull back and when to speed it up. Good guards make the difference in the state tournament."

Competing in the Red-West, generally recognized as the most competitive basketball conference in the state, Adams believes weekly battles against the likes of Marshall, Crane, Farragut and Whitney Young will prepare his young squad for the Class 3A sectional at Glenbard South, which also includes Crane, Marshall, Farragut, North Lawndale, St. Joseph and Riverside-Brookfield.

What kind of a statement did Orr's recent 68-50 victory over Marshall mean? Durell Williams, a 6-foot-2 junior, came off the bench to lead the Spartans with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Marquise Pryor, a 6-foot-7 junior, contributed 12 points and 15 rebounds while 5-foot-9 junior point guard Jamal McDowell had 8 points and 12 assists. McDowell also limited Marshall star Milton Doyle to 10 points, 14 below his average.

"It tells us we can play with anybody in the city," Adams said. "The guards played well, like I know they can play. You have to have good guard play to succeed in the state tournament."

Adams describes Pryor as the leading rebounder in the state. He is averaging 17 points and 19 rebounds per game. "He has a knack for the ball, a Dennis Rodman type, like (former North Lawndale star) Jonathan Mills but more offense, He is relentless," the coach said.

Pryor is being recruited by Illinois, Baylor, Kansas State, Marquette and Colorado State, according to Adams. With a summer and another high school season remaining before graduation, he likely will receive much more attention from Division I programs.

So will 6-foot-7 sophomore Tyquone Greer, who is averaging 13 points per game. Greer is very versatile. He plays four positions. "He has great potential. He is just beginning to realize how good he can be," Adams said.

Adams describes McDowell (8 ppg, 7 assists) as "the toughest defender in Illinois, a better defender than I was."

And he reminds college recruiters to pay attention to 6-foot-8 sophomore Marlon Johnson, a transfer from Crane who is expected to gain eligibility for the second semester. Adams predicts Johnson will be better than former Orr star Mycheal Henry, now at Illinois. "He can be a top 25 player in the nation," Adams said.

The other starters are 5-foot-8 senior Devontay Jones (12 ppg) and 5-foot-11 senior Deshaun King, who averages 20 points per game and is the team's leading scorer. "King is the best three-point shooter in the state," Adams said. King scored 19 to lead Orr's victory over Hales Franciscan.

There is more talent on the bench with Durell Williams, 5-foot-10 senior Trashaun Jones and 6-foot-5 freshman Darnell Williams, whom Adams projects as a future star.

Adams came to Orr via a round-about route. He opted not to attend the U.S. Olympic trials. "I was a momma's boy. I didn't want to go far away from home. I thought Colorado Springs, Colorado (site of the trials) was too far," he said.

But he moved to Montana to work for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting fires in Yellowstone National Park, for five years. Then his old college roommate, Tyrone Slaughter, persuaded him to come to Chicago, where his family was from.

He worked for Slaughter at a Dominick's grocery store in Melrose Park, then went to work for Marshall Field's (now Macy's) department store. But he wanted to get into the coaching profession. He wanted to work with coach Robert Smith at Simeon. So he applied for a job with the Board of Education.

"I felt I could get my own team," said Adams, who was hired at Englewood in 1996. He spent eight years at Englewood and sent a dozen players to college. His last team almost qualified for the state finals. When Englewood closed, he moved to Orr. He was eager to plant is own roots, build his own program and establish his own identity.

His teams have gotten better each year. His first team was 10-15. Two years ago, he was 18-10. Last year's 22-8 team lost to Riverside-Brookfield in the sectional final. This year?

"We're looking to go as far as we can," Adams said.

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.