Blackhawks

Parker displays flair for the dramatic

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Parker displays flair for the dramatic

For the last three years at Simeon, Jabari Parker has shown hes an exceptional player on the court, and an even better person off it. But on Saturday night at the inaugural Chicago Elite Classic, the high school senior also showed a trait not many have seen: a flair for the dramatic, or as the kids like to call it, swag.
The 6-foot-8 Parker wasnt expected to play in Simeons 2012-13 season opener against Milton (GA) at the UIC Pavilion, but word began to circulate prior to tip-off that he would suit up, creating buzz in the arena as the estimated 5,000 fans in attendance realized they would get what they paid to see.
I wanted to play because I miss the game so much, said Parker who played 11 minutes and tallied six points and four rebounds in Simeons 56-35 victory. I just worried about myself for once and I felt like I missed the game and I wanted to get out there with the guys and begin my last year.
Parker had initially stated he wouldnt rush to get back on the court and allow his injured foot to heal on its own, but he obviously had a change of heart as game time neared. The decision to play was ultimately his call and Wolverines' head coach Robert Smith trusted his All-American when he said that he was ready to go.
When I got back to the hotel, Jabari said he wanted to go. So I thought about it and called his parents and they were fine with it; so I let him get out there and play, Smith said.
The excitement of Parkers return to the court for the first time since July wasnt just limited to the fans in the stands. His teammates were pretty happy about it as well.
It was exciting. We actually found out an hour before the game that he was going to play, sophomore standout D.J. Williams, who led the Wolverines with 12 points, said. He talked to coach Rob about it, then the rumor got out and thats what got us hyped for the game, that Jabari was going to play.
Said teammate Kendrick Nunn who scored 11 points in the opener, including being on the receiving end of some high-flying, alley-oop dunks, We were excited at the hotel when we found out Jabari was going to play. I didnt think he wanted to miss the beginning of the season and I know he just wanted to be here for the team.
When asked to assess his performance, Parker who is about 15 to 20 pounds above his playing weight was brutally honest.
Id give myself a D; close to an F, he said of his play. I just wanted to get a feel on the floor and that was the most important thing. My body felt good. I was surprised I wasnt as winded I wasnt gasping for air. I was alright and the foot feels alright.
To protect his injured foot, for the game, Jabari wore LeBron James latest signature shoe from Nike an event sponsor the LeBron X which has superior cushioning all its own.
In addition to that, he also wore specialized insoles to help prevent any chance of reinjury.
I had my orthotics in which were built for high-impact, explained Parker. They help because my foot isnt as loose and I am worried about my feet right now."
When asked how he felt physically after playing full-court basketball for the first time in five months, Parker jokingly stated, Im probably going to sleep like 12 hours tonight. My body is like an old man. Sunday my back is probably going to be aching and Ill need an ice bath.

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.