Cubs

Proviso East, Carter make big statement

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Proviso East, Carter make big statement

After it was over, after unbeaten and second-ranked Proviso East had won four games by margins of 17, 8, 19 and 13 points to win its first Proviso West Holiday Tournament championship since 1991, first-year coach Donnie Boyce breathed a sigh of relief."It's an amazing feeling. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd be 11-0 and win a Christmas tournament in my first year as head coach," Boyce said. "It was exciting to win as a player (at Proviso East in 1990). But to win my first one as a coach ranks right up there with it. We made history, our 10th title at Proviso West, one more than St. Joseph."I feel very blessed to have such a great group of kids. I want them to achieve everything I achieved and more. One thing I learned is we hadn't been tested in the early part of the season but we got tested at Proviso West. I liked how we kept our composure, never panicked, kept making the right plays, key baskets, key steals, key rebounds. We really came together as a team and I believe we have a chance to do something special.""Special" is how Boyce describes Keith Carter, the 6-foot-1 senior guard who was singled out as the most valuable player at the Proviso West tournament. He scored 18 points in a 49-41 victory over Benet, scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half to key a 75-56 victory over Rockford Auburn and had 15 points and three steals in a 68-55 decision over New Trier."I didn't know if I'd be doing this well if I didn't have such a great leader as Carter," Boyce said. "He is one of the top 10 players in the state in his class, the best point guard in his class, better than (Rockford Auburn's) Fred Van Vleet and (Crete-Monee's) Michael Orris."The best point guard I ever saw was Isiah Thomas. I compare Carter to Ronnie Lester or Kiwane Garris or Tracy Webster or Howard Nathan. He is a solid floor general, willing to do anything you ask to succeed."But Boyce saw a different Keith Carter a year ago. So did Carter. It wasn't pretty. In fact, Carter experienced such an uneventful and unproductive junior season that he wasn't even ranked among the top 200 players in the class of 2012 nationally before the 2011-12 campaign began."He had an up-and-down junior year. People got down on him," Boyce said. "Watching from afar, I noticed he would over-penetrate when he should have passed and didn't make right decisions. He needed to open up the floor, improve his decision-making and show more desire to win. He needed to learn about shot selection and how to control the flow of the game."Carter also was critical of his own performance -- or lack of it. "I was disappointed in myself because I felt I let the team down. I tried to do too much. I didn't think about statistics or if I was ranked in the top 100. I wanted to show people I am better than what they think. I wanted to show them that I have an all-around game, that I could do a little bit of everything," he said.So he worked hard over the summer. He said he worked on everything, mostly his jump shot and improving his quickness and strength. It helped to earn him a scholarship to St. Louis University. But he still isn't
satisfied. "At Proviso West, I was an 8 (out of 10)," Carter said. "I had a slow start in every game but the championship game. I still wasn't consistent on my jump shot and making the right play each time. I'm having a decent year but I can get better and better. It was satisfying to be the MVP at Proviso West but I can get better."Carter is more generous when talking about his coach and his teammates. He said he was "shocked" when he learned Boyce had been hired because he didn't know the former Proviso East star was in the mix. But he thought it was a great decision by the school administration."(Boyce) knows what it takes to win championships and get Downstate," Carter said. "He is very tough on us. He demands a lot. But it's no problem for us because we know we have to do a lot to be as good as we want to be. Anything less than the state title would be a major disappointment this season, worse than flunking a math test."According to Carter, this is the best Proviso East team he has seen in his four years. In fact, he insists it can be one of the best in school history, in a class with the four state championship teams of 1969, 1974, 1990 and 1991. That's a mouthful for the usually quiet and laid-back
youngster. But he believes the Pirates can back it up."We are the fastest and most fearless team you'll see," he said. "We have a lot of guys who can go to the basket at any time, a lot of shooters, a lot of guys who are explosive off the dribble. We provide a lot of mismatches for our opponents. We make up for our lack of size with aggressiveness on defense, which is our biggest asset. The guys recognize how good we can be and are trying to accomplish the same goal I have."For his part, Carter is turning heads and changing opinions. Longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com, who didn't rank Carter among the top 200 players in the nation in the class of 2012, has been impressed by his early-season performances."He played very well at the State Farm Tournament of Champions in Peoria and will most likely have a shot at the (top 100) rankings," Coleman said.The Proviso West tournament provided what amounted to a coming-out party for Boyce's first team. Carter, who averages 16 points per game, wasn't a one-man gang. Sterling Brown, a 6-4 junior who is the younger brother of former Proviso East star and NBA player Shannon Brown, is averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per game."It's always fun to see when the light bulb comes on when a kid realizes he has a chance to be great," Boyce said. "Sterling is playing at a high level for us right now. He has a great floor game, inside and outside. Nationally, he should be making a big splash. He reminds me of (former Proviso East star) Sherrell Ford."Carter and Brown are ably supported by two other guards, 5-10 senior Paris Burns (14 points per game) and 5-foot-11 junior Paris Lee (12 points per game), and 6-foot-5 senior Trashaun Carroll (six points, six rebounds per game).Each player knows his role. Burns sets the tone for the defense and loves to attack the basket. Paris "really knows how to settle down the team without me calling a timeout," Boyce said. Carroll is the enforcer, the team's physical presence in the post.The bench features 6-foot senior Mike Nicholas, the team's best shooter, 6-foot-3 senior Jabari Alex and 6-foot-1 guard Deshamone "Spuddy" McCarty, the team's defensive stopper."The biggest thing that stands out," Boyce said about his experience at Proviso West, "is I am most happy that the kids understand we are all in it together. We came together as a team. They realize I care about their well-being on and off the court. They have bought into my philosophy."I have been in coaching for a few years but I learned with these kids that it is like a chess game. You want to make sure you give all the players an opportunity to play to their strengths and cover their weaknesses. If you play together and you're unselfish, good things will happen."Boyce admits he isn't a miracle worker. He credits former coach David Chatman for doing an excellent job in developing these players. But he points out that last year's team lacked discipline and sacrifice and commitment on defense. This year's team has bought into his system."I would be a fool to think it's all me," Boyce said. "You need players. We are all from the neighborhood. I watched these kids grow up. I knew their strengths and weaknesses and I wanted them to buy into my system. My biggest fear was they wouldn't do it."So what is Boyce's system? "Being together, doing it all together, win or lose, as a team," he said. He recalled how his coach, Bill Hitt, who produced the state championship teams of 1990 and 1991, preached working hard in practice. He said: "You've got to make practice harder than the game." Boyce never forgot his message."Hitt made sure we were aware of every situation in a game, what to do if we were up by five points with two minutes to play, what to do when we were down by 10 with five minutes left, how to execute last-second shots. I have a blueprint of what previous coaches did. And I added my own twist -- pressure, pressure, pressure."So Boyce is pleased where his team is at. "Proviso West is a tournament where you gauge how good you really are. We are headed in the right direction. A lot of Proviso West champions have gone on to win the state title. We have a chance to do it," he said.

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist knows reality of Cubs' crowded lineup: 'There are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench'

MESA, Ariz. — Ben Zobrist has long been known for his versatility on the field. But it might take a new kind of versatility to get through what’s facing him for the 2018 season, being versatile when it comes to simply being on the field.

Zobrist was among several notable Cubs hitters who had a rough go of things at the plate in the follow-up campaign to 2016’s World Series run. He dealt with injuries, including a particularly bothersome one to his wrist, and finished with a career-worst .232/.318/.375 slash line.

And so, with younger guys like Javy Baez, Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. forcing their way into Joe Maddon’s lineup, it’s a perfectly valid question to ask: Has the 36-year-old Zobrist — just 15 months removed from being named the World Series MVP — been relegated to part-time status for this championship-contending club?

Obviously that remains to be seen. Joe Maddon has a way of mixing and matching players so often that it makes it seem like this team has at least 12 different “starting” position players. But Zobrist, ever the picture of versatility, seems ready for whatever is coming his way.

“I’m prepared for that, if that’s what it comes to. I told him, whatever they need me to do,” Zobrist said Sunday, asked if he’d be OK with being in a platoon situation. “You’ll see me at some different positions. As far as at-bats, though, I’ve got to be healthy. That was the biggest thing last year that kept me from getting at-bats and being productive. So if I can be healthy, I think I can play the way that I’m capable of, and the discussion then at that point will be, ‘How much can you play before we push you too far?’

“We’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players that have to sit on the bench on our team at times. But no one ever rusts because you know how Joe uses everybody. You’re still going to play. Even if you don’t start, you’re probably going to play later in the game. It’s just part of the National League and the way Joe Maddon manages.”

It’s no secret, of course, that when Zobrist is on, he’s the kind of player you want in the lineup as much as possible. It was just two seasons ago that he posted a .386 on-base percentage, banged out 31 doubles, smacked 18 home runs and was a starter for the team that won the World Series.

But he also admitted that last year’s injury fights were extremely tough: “Last year was one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had as a player.” Zobrist said that while he’s feeling good and ready to go in 2018, with his recent physical ailments and his advancing age, he’s in a different stage in his career.

“At this point in my career, I’m not going to play 158 games or whatever. I’m going to have to manage and figure out how to play great for 130,” he said. “And I think that would be a good thing to shoot for, if I was healthy, is playing 130 games of nine innings would be great. And then you’re talking about postseason, too, when you add the games on top of that, and well, you need to play for the team in the postseason, you’ve got to be ready for that, too.

“From my standpoint, from their standpoint, it’s about managing, managing my performance and my physical body and making sure I can do all that at the highest level, keep it at the highest level I can.”

Maddon’s managerial style means that Zobrist, even if he’s not technically a part of the everyday starting eight, will still get the opportunity to hit on a regular basis, get a chance to play on a regular basis. Baez figures to be locked in as the team’s No. 1 second baseman, but he’ll need days off. Maddon mentioned Sunday that Zobrist, along with Happ, have been practicing at first base in an effort to be able to spell Anthony Rizzo. It’s the crowded outfield where Zobrist could potentially see the most time. He’ll be a piece of that tricky daily puzzle along with Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and the aforementioned Almora and Happ.

Unsurprisingly, in the end that versatility, combined with how Zobrist has recovered physically and whether he can get back to how he’s produced in the past, will determine how much he will play, according to the guy writing out the lineups.

“I think he’s going to dictate that to us based on how he feels,” Maddon said. “Listen, you’re always better off when Ben Zobrist is in your lineup. He’s a little bit older than he had been, obviously, like we all are. I’ve got to be mindful of that, but he’s in great shape. Let’s just see what it looks like. Go out there and play, and we’ll try to figure it out as the season begins to unwind because who knows, he might have an epiphany and turn back the clock a little bit, he looks that good. I want to keep an open mind.

“I want to make sure that he understands we’re going to need him to play a variety of different positions. He’s ready to do it, he’s eager, he’s really ready. He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it and now he’s really been refreshed. So I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist right now.”

Two years ago, Zobrist played a big enough role to go to the All-Star Game and get named the MVP of the World Series. In the present, that role might be much, much smaller. But Zobrist said he’s OK with anything, admitting it’s about the number of rings on the fingers and not the number of days in the starting lineup.

“I’m 36 as a player, so I’m just trying to win championships at this point. It’s not really about what I’m trying to accomplish as an individual,” Zobrist said. “Everybody wants to have great seasons, but I’ve told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ Just going to prepare to fill the spots that need to be filled and be a great complement to what’s going on.”

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu has already begun mentoring Luis Robert

As the White Sox have added young Cuban stars in the making in Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, Jose Abreu's long-term role on the team has shifted.

The 31-year-old first baseman has been looked at as something of a mentor for the two young Cubans. He seems to be delivering on that so far.

Abreu picked up Moncada from the airport when he first was called up to the White Sox last July. Now he's helping Robert in the batting cage.

The Cuban trio is expected to play a big part of the White Sox future in the coming years. 

Robert has already stated his goal of making it to the majors this year to join Abreu and Moncada, but that may be an overly ambitious goal. Either way, plenty of eyes will be on him throughout 2018 as he marches towards the White Sox roster and his Cuban teammates.