Preps Talk

Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

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Nix sets hot pace for Niles North

Malachi Nix is 5-foot-6 going on 7 feet tall, at least if you measure leadership and determination and guts by the size of your Michael Jordans. Hey, he remembers when he was 5-foot-3, 125-pound running back on the freshman football team. By those standards, today he looks like Paul Bunyan.

Nix grew up playing baseball and football. He gave up baseball in seventh grade and stopped playing football after his freshman year. While working out with the varsity basketball team, however, he was inspired by coach Glenn Olson, who also was struggling to make a name for himself.

"He is a great motivator," Nix said. "He said to me: 'I know you are undersized but what I look foris how you lead on the basketball court.' That inspired me. It showed he had genuine care for me. I bought into his philosophy. He was all about winning and getting better every day. I wanted to be part of something special."

In their fourth year together, Olson and Nix are on track to accomplish something that the Skokie school has never experienced--qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. Since its first varsity season in 1964-65, Niles North has won only three regional championships and one sectional title. And three of the four were claimed by Olson in the last two years.

"There is no reason why this team can't be the best I have coached," Olson said. "Our slogan is: 'Put we before the me.' We have the ability to play good pressure defense. And we go nine or 10 deep with not much drop-off. We also have some very skilled guards who are good with the ball in their hands. They make you look good as a coach."

Niles North is 13-3 going into Friday night's game against Glenbrook North. The Vikings lost to highly rated Notre Dame by two points in the final of the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, snapping a seven-game winning streak.

In last Friday's 67-55 victory over Deerfield, Nix scored 18 points while B.J. Beckford and J.J. Myles each tallied 14, Lorenzo Dillard 10. The Vikings converted 12 three-point shots along the way.

On Tuesday, in a match-up of conference leaders, Niles North of the Central Suburban North smashed Prospect of the Mid-Suburban East 82-57 as Dillard scored 22 points, Beckford 21 and Billy Voitik 15. The Vikings show 11-of-13, scored 27 points in the first quarter and built a 41-25 halftime lead. Nix left with a knee injury in the first half but is expected to return on Friday night.

"It was a blessing in disguise," said Olson, explaining why and how depth is the strength of his team. "Two of our four returning starters (from a 21-9 sectional finalist) missed the first seven games and another missed the first four games for disciplinary reasons. The other guys got opportunities to step up and get more experience.

"It gave us some depth and an ability to play good pressure defense. Lack of size is a problem so we must rely on pressure defense and speed and quickness and play with pace. We force 20 turnovers a game. We get into trouble when we allow teams to run their offense and dictate pace. The key to success is to maintain tempo and keep opponents off the boards."

The lineup features Nix (19 ppg, 4.5 assists), a four-year starter; Dillard (12 ppg, 5.5 assists), a 6-foot-1 senior who missed the first 22 games last season because he was academically ineligible; Myles (5 ppg), a 5-foot-8 junior; Beckford (13 ppg), a 6-foot-3 senior; and 6-foot-4 senior Billy Voitik (8 ppg, 7 rpg). The team's tallest player, 6-foot-5 sophomore Danilo Ranger, comes off the bench.

Each player has a role. Nix defends the opponent's best scoring guard. Dillard, a pure passer and outstanding defender, shares the point guard duties with Nix. Olson said Myles is the best on-ball defender he has coached. "He sets the tone for what we do defensively," Olson said.

Olson has made great strides in a short time. A Rolling Meadows graduate of 1994, he studied at Western Illinois and Northeastern Illinois, then coached at Maine East before being hired at Niles North.

"I loved Maine East," he said. "But it was time for a change, another challenge. It was the right time to make a move. It was a huge push athletically."

His first team was 12-15 but progress was swift and rewarding. His second team was 24-7 and lost to Warren in the supersectional. Last year's 21-9 squad lost to Evanston in the sectional final.

"I felt we advanced farther than we should have last year," Olson said. "The good news is we have winning expectations now."

Beating Notre Dame would have been a signature victory. Nix and his teammates will remember that disappointing experience as they brace for the remainder of the season, as they seek to make history.

"We were really stoked to play Notre Dame but we came up short," Nix said. "We didn't rebound well enough. They got too many offensive rebounds. I fumbled the ball with four seconds left when I tried to call a timeout. I don't know if the referee saw me. Dillard had to take a half-court shot at the buzzer but it hit the rim and bounced off.

"What did it show us? We have to be a better rebounding team. We can't take any plays off or take anything for granted. We could have won if we executed throughout the game. But we made too many mental mistakes. It showed we can be a really good team.

"Notre Dame is a top 10 team and we didn't play our best basketball but we still were there with them. We have a lot of potential and we can go pretty far this year. This team is really talented. I look at it as this is my last year. It is time to do it, time to make history."

Nix describes last year's sectional loss to Evanston as "our worst night of the year...attitude, shooting, defense, every aspect of the game. The seniors have to lead, starting with me. We've all been there. The juniors and sophomores have to buy into it and be ready to play every night. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has the same goal, the same dream. We want to be the first team in school history to get to the state finals," he said.

Meanwhile, Nix has a personal goal. He wants to play in Division I. He has no scholarship offers. But he has attracted interest from Northern Illinois, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Chicago State from Division I, Wayne State from Division II and Augustana and North Central from Division III.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye describe Nix as "one of the ore unheralded guards in the class of 2013."

"Above everything else, we label him as a scoring point guard. He has strong leadership qualities, plays hard and can be a possible low Division I prospect. It is important for him to find the right fit. A lot of people overlook him because of his size and because he doesn't play at a high profile basketball school," the Schmidt brothers said.

"Every night, I feel I have to prove something to some people. Some don't think I can play at the Division I level," Nix said. "I want them to know I can play with Division I players. I want to play in Division I. But I will play at the best situation I can.

"I want to show college coaches that I can lead a team, play defense, shoot well and pass, that I'm a good playmaker. I am a point guard. I know coaches are asking: 'Can a 5-foot-6 kid play at our level?' So I play with a chip on my shoulder. People don't think I can play so I have to show them.

"I wanted to be part of something special. We talk about it every day in practice. Not many kids are winning like we are now."

Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

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Five teams you can't overlook come IHSA playoff time

With the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show just days away, here are five teams that you need to keep in mind when the brackets are announced. They could cause big matchup problems once the postseason begins. You can catch show live this Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago+ with live streaming at nbcsportschicago.com/IHSAPairingShow and via the NBC Sports app.

Class 8A

Edwardsville: The Tigers (5-3) got off to a rough start and lost their first three games, including an opening week stunner, 53-49, to Naperville North. It was a game that the Tigers led 42-0 in the second quarter. However, coach Matt Martin and company are riding high with a five-game winning streak. They feature an explosive offense led by junior QB Kendall Abdur-Rahman and a deep group of backs. Keep an eye on freshman RB Justin Johnson. 

Naperville North: The afforementioned Huskies (5-3) have lost two of their last three games but don't be fooled. Naperville North can trade offensive punches with everyone in the 8A field behind QB Drake Davis, WR Nick Calcagno and a deep group of receivers. Senior LB Ryan Marrano leads the Huskie defense. The team has marquee wins over Edwardsville, Wheaton North, Lake Park and Naperville Central.

Class 7A

Mount Carmel: The Caravan (5-3) will wind up starting the state playoffs on the road.  And trust me: every opponent will not be excited to see this tradition-heavy program come to town. Mount Carmel will look towards its running game with QB Alek Thomas (a TCU baseball and football commit) along with a big offensive line led by senior Jeremy Cooper (Cincinnati). 

[MORE: Edgy Tim's Week 9 Power Rankings]

Class 6A

Providence Catholic: The Celtics (5-3) are coming off a tough Week 8 loss to Loyola. Don't let the three losses fool you. The combined record of the three teams Providence lost to is 22-3. Keep an eye on senior RB Deshon Gavin (WIU commit), a big and physical offensive line and a strong group on defense. Providence has won five of its last six games.

Class 5A

Rochelle: It is the last season for Hubs' veteran head coach Kevin Crandall. Rochelle (5-3) will look to run the football early and often. They also have a fast, physical defensive unit. Rochelle's three losses this season come to the likes of Sterling (8-0), Morris (7-1) and Johnsburg (8-0) and this team will be a tough out for every opponent in 5A. Rochelle is 157-95 under Crandall, including three 12-win seasons.

NBC Sports Chicago to air live coverage of the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show on October 21

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NBC Sports Chicago to air live coverage of the IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show on October 21

NBC Sports Chicago to carry LIVE announcement for every first round match-up on Saturday, October 21 beginning at 8:00 PM CT; to also be streamed live on NBCSportsChicago.com & via the NBC Sports app

Bloomington, IL/Chicago, IL (October 17, 2017) -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football Playoff Pairing Show returns to NBC Sports Chicago for its seventh season in 2017. NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and the most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, will air the show live on NBC Sports Chicago+ on Saturday, October 21 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CT. Viewers are urged to visit NBC Sports Chicago’s “Channel Finder” page (NBCSportsChicago.com/channel-finder) for exact NBC Sports Chicago+ channel locations in their area.
The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which will reveal the brackets and first round match-ups of all 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes, can also be viewed via live interactive stream beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday at NBCSportsChicago.com/IHSAPairingShow and via the NBC Sports app.

"The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show' continues to be one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state of Illinois and we couldn't be prouder to once again showcase two-straight hours of live, interactive coverage across all platforms on Saturday night," said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago. 

NBC Sports Chicago anchor Leila Rahimi hosts the show and will be joined by a panel of experts on-set, including long-time IHSA TV announcer Dave Bernhard and Illinois high school football bracketologist Steve Soucie. IHSA TV veteran Camron Smith will breakdown each class with media members from around the state, including NBC Sports Chicago prep football expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the show and ask questions to be answered during the program by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #IHSAbrackets.

The program will once again feature highlights, coaches interviews and media analysis from all over the state. In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will be gathering teams & fan reaction moments throughout the “Land of Lincoln” on Saturday from numerous school playoff pairing parties taking place that evening.

“This is one of the most anticipated nights of the year on the IHSA calendar,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Student-athletes, coaches and communities around the state have put their hearts into the last nine weeks, and for 256 teams, it’s an amazing chance to celebrate their accomplishments, while looking ahead to the path to the IHSA Football State Finals. We appreciate the time and effort that our partners at NBC Sports Chicago put into making this night so special.”

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show kicks off NBC Sports Chicago’s playoff coverage of IHSA Football, which culminates with all eight state title games being televised and streamed by NBC Sports Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-25), live from Huskie Stadium on the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb.