Cubs

Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

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Other looks at the stars of 2013, 2014

Sometimes we can't see the forest through the trees, right? Sometimes we get too comfortable by accepting evaluations from basketball recruiting analysts we know and trust, old standbys such as Bob Gibbons, Van Coleman, Bill Flanagan and Roy and Harv Schmidt.

So, at a time when the classes of 2013 and 2014 in the Chicago area are being touted to be among the best talent in the country, perhaps it is wise to acknowledge what other evaluators have to say about them.

Are they as good as we think they are? Or are they overrated? Do they rank with the Isiah ThomasTerry CummingsTeddy Grubbs class of 1979? Or the Quentin RichardsonCorey MaggetteJoey Range class of 1998?

The Illinois crop got plenty of exposure in recent tournaments in Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Akron and elsewhere. And judging from the reviews, they played up to their clippings.

Here is a sampling of what the critics saw:

N.D. Kendrick of NBE Basketball Report on Simeon's Jabari Parker: "He showed throughout the tournament against some of the best players in the Midwest that he was the best of the elite."

Kendrick on Proviso East's Sterling Brown: "He is one of the most physically gifted players in the 2013 class. What sets him apart from others is his combination of power and athleticism which makes him a difficult match-up for opponents."

Eric Bossi of Rivals.com on St. Charles East's Kendall Stephens: "It's hard not to be impressed with the development of Purdue commitment Kendall Stephens over the last year. While he's still slender, he's gotten much stronger, grown to a legit 6-foot-4 and boosted his athleticism."

Bossi on Normal University High's Keita Bates-Diop: "He showed plenty of what got him ranked No. 39 in the country. The 6-foot-7 forward has length, ball skills and is a graceful athlete who is light on his feet and plays with a high level of intelligence."

Bossi on Morgan Park's Kyle Davis: "One of the most athletic playmakers in the country, he plays with attitude, swagger and never stops attacking. Previously viewed as a bit of an undersized shooting guard, Davis is proving that he's a point guard and with his performance this spring he has built a pretty strong case to be included in the Rivals 150 the next time the class is updated."

Bossi on Jordan Ash, St. Joseph's freshman guard: "He didn't really get a chance to show off his entire arsenal because he was playing for the Illinois Wolves' 16 and 15-and-under squads. But it's easy to see what has drawn early offers from Purdue and DePaul to go along with lots of Big Ten interest."

Bossi on 6-foot-7 sophomore Amanze Egezeke of Huntley: "He is a lunch pailbig-time effort guy who plays physically and gets on the glass. He is a potential high major Division I recruit."

Jim Comparoni of Yahoo Sports on Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor: "He was dominant inside, utilizing his substantial width and showing excellent ability to elevate quickly and finish with power. Inside, he is patient, powerful and improving rapidly with his post game."

Bossi on Okafor: "Already ranked No. 3 overall in the class of 2014, there isn't exactly a lot of room for Okafor to move up in the rankings. However, that doesn't mean that there's not room for him to get a lot better. That's exactly what he's been doing. He's expanded his game and can face up and attack from the high post thanks to excellent hands, nimble feet and a surprisingly tight handle."

Bossi on Orr's Tyquone Greer: "There will be several more opportunities to watch Greer to confirm this--but all the information we have leads us to believe that he's a no-brainer as a four-star prospect. The 6-foot-5 small forward is a big-time athlete with a big-time penchant for getting to the rim and he's got significant upside."

Jeff Borello of Eye on College Basketball Recruiting on Okafor: "He has tremendous hands and is adept at finishing down low. He does need to become more aggressive with his back to the basket but he has a good set of post moves and simply overpowers many defenders."

Jason Pratt of Future150 on Okafor: "He is the nation's No. 1 player in the class of 2014. He has a body that absolutely pounds you on the low block and is a force on the defensive end of the floor. He is being compared to Ohio State star Jared Sullinger. He has the size and skill to dominate the game whenever he chooses."

Pratt on Curie's Cliff Alexander: "He is quick for a 6-foot-9 post player and shows good athleticism for a player his size. He reminds me of Dennis Rodman because he is an elite rebounder. He is a game-changer because he can control the paint, not only scoring but blocking shots as well."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendrick Nunn: "There are some who have been down on his performance this spring. But, on this night, he turned it up on the defensive end where he can be one of the best in the country when locked in. Once he got going there, his jumper started dropping. Ranked No. 22 in the class of 2013 by Rivals, he played up his ranking."

Bossi on Simeon's Kendall Pollard: "At 6-foot-5, he is a big-time athlete with a nose for the rim and some scoring tools. He plays with great energy. Whether he is playing with his high school team or his club team Mean Streets, he shares the spotlight with some guys who have a lot of notoriety."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

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AP

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”