Bulls

Robertson stuns class of 2014

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Robertson stuns class of 2014

Curie's Cliff Alexander, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, Normal University's Kelta Bates-Diop, Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin, Orr's Tyquone Greer and Chatham Glenwood's Peyton Allen are the current headliners in the talented class of 2014 in Illinois.

Add Neuqua Valley's Elijah Robertson to the elite list. College coaches and recruiting analysts who attended the recent Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis were impressed by the 6-foot-5 sophomore's athleticism. Robertson, who will be 16 on May 27, has emerged as a major Division I prospect.

He saw little playing time at Neuqua Valley last season and wasn't showcased last summer while playing for Ferrari behind Okafor and White. But he joined Illinois Basketball Academy this year and, in the walk of his breakout performance in Minneapolis, is just beginning to realize how good he can be.

"I knew little about the (Best Buy) tournament. I thought it was just another tournament to showcase my talent. But it was completely different from what I expected," he said. "I didn't expect too many Division I coaches watching. I realized it was a big-time event. If I wanted to make my impact on the AAU circuit, it would be an excellent place to start.

"My motivation was how much I could run up and down the court, hustle and make plays and give up on plays. When it was over, I felt I could have done more. I have a lot to improve on. But I didn't expect it to come out like it did. So many people were impressed with what I did. Now my motivation is to keep getting better."

Robertson's eye-opening performance earned an invitation to Michigan's summer camp. He admits that Michigan, Georgetown and Tennessee are his "dream schools." He claims to be a "lifelong Michigan fan, especially of their football program." He is fascinated by Georgetown's tradition and describes former Tennessee star Wayne Chism as his favorite college player.

"Chism reminds me of me, tall and athletic," Robertson said. "He wasn't known that much, either, like me. He played under the radar.

"If I develop my skills more, improve my ball-handling, get more consistent with my jump shot, I would like to end up at one of those three schools."

Dedrick Shannon, in his first full year as coach at Naperville-based Illinois Basketball Academy, is building a solid program with Robertson, O'Mara, Czarnowski, West Aurora's Johntrell Walker, Waubonsie Valley's Jack Cordes, St. Francis de Sales' Terrell Parham and Naperville Central's Ryan Antony, son of Shannon's assistant coach Greg Antony. Last year, they won the Fab 48 championship for 15-and-under in Las Vegas.

"Robertson brings something different to our team that allows him to stand out--athleticism," Shannon said. "He was one of the best players at the Best Buy Classic. He opened eyes. He averaged nine rebounds per game. He showed his athleticism. He is great in the open floor. He is a high major Division I athlete right now."

The son of Poliss Robertson, a Detroit native who played at Wisconsin in the late 1980s, Elijah has a wingspan of a 6-foot-8 player and a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.

"He is a lunch pail and hard hat type of guy in a day when that style is going out the window. He is very coachable and very competitive. He refuses to lose. He won't back down. And he's a happy kid, always smiling. He always is excited to be around the game of basketball," Shannon said.

Robertson played football from fourth to sixth grade. He played defensive tackle and wide receiver on the Naperville Patriots' team that won a national championship in the American Youth Football League. Then he stopped playing football.

"I wanted to focus on basketball. I liked basketball a lot more. I just tried out for football to see if I'd like it," he said. "But I've played basketball since I was 5 years old. I like the atmosphere of college basketball. My father was a big influence. It was my decision to stick with basketball. But he stuck by me."

Robertson and his 6-foot-6 father play a lot of one-on-one. "I just started to be able to beat him. He's getting older and I'm beating him with my quickness. The first time I beat him, I probably was 12 or 13. He was too big for me. He'd post me up all the time," Elijah said.

In the future, he projects himself as a two-guard or a wing forward. But he admits he has a lot of improving to do. On a scale of 1 to 10, he rates himself as a five or six in terms of his development.

"I'm putting in more work into doing what I have to do for college," he said. "I still have to work on my ball-handling and my jump shot. I realize I have more athleticism than many of my opponents. I'm quicker than guys who try to defend me. I beat guys up and down the court.

"If I have a more consistent jump shot, I'd be a bigger offensive threat from three-point range. The college coaches (at the Best Buy event) would have been even more impressed if I did that. My dad gave me good advice. 'Don't give up. Always work hard and you'll achieve your dreams,' he told me. My dream is getting to college."

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Draymond Green? Assuming the Dubs start out with Green on Markkanen, this will be rookie's biggest test of the season. Green is an elite defender, capable of wrecking gameplans from the tip. He's physical, quick and athletic. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph, KD and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard. 

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.