Bears

Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season

600388.png

Schaumburg recalls 2001 championship season

Kyle Bolger was 7 years old when he watched the 2001 state championship game between Schaumburg and Thornwood on TV with his parents, brother Brandon and sister Heather.

"I recall (Thornwood's) Eddy Curry and (Schamburg's) Mark Pancratz, the ones everyone was talking about," Bolger said. "The main thing was to shut down Curry (the No. 4 pick in the 2001 NBA draft), the key to the Thornwood team."

Schaumburg's swarming and smothering defense did just that and the Saxons went on to upset heavily favored Thornwood 66-54.

"People still recall what a big accomplishment that was," Bolger said. "They always played hard, no matter what. They never gave up. They stuck together throughout that game. They were a great team that played together and played great defense. That's what our team does. We preach the same thing."

Matt Walsh, in his third year as Schaumburg's head coach, recalls the 2001 team, too. He was an assistant coach at Conant at the time. In fact, with a little luck or twist of fate, it could have been Conant rather than Schaumburg playing in the state final.

"Conant played Schaumburg in the sectional semifinal and lost in overtime. Conant had a shot at the buzzer to win in regulation time but it didn't go down. Schaumburg went on to win state. We realized how good they were," Walsh said.

"People still talk about it. There were some doubters because no Mid-Suburban League team had ever won state. But it wasn't a huge shock to a lot of people in the area. They played together so well. They were so good on defense. And they had strong leaders in Mark Pancratz and Tony Young. They also had 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-8 players. They weren't intimidated by Eddy Curry."

So that was 2001 and this is 2012. How good is this team? Schaumburg is 15-5 and in first place in the Mid-Suburban's West Division after beating Hoffman Estates 69-50 last Friday. The Saxons play at Glenbrook South on Tuesday and at Fremd on Friday.

"Our best days are ahead of us," Walsh said. "This is a good team that has a lot of room for improvement. Only good teams are the ones that are getting better. We play defense every night and we play well together. But we can improve both. The sky is the limit.

"How far can we go? Our past success gives us confidence. We go into every game thinking that we have opportunity to win. Two statistics that we talk about all the time are rebounding and eliminating turnovers. We have the pieces and the players to be as successful as we want to be."

The starting lineup is Bolger (11 ppg, 4 assists), a 6-foot-1 junior point guard; 6-foot-3 senior Christian Spandiary (15 ppg); 6-foot-5 junior Jimmy Lundquist (10 ppg); 6-foot-2 senior Michael Mallett (7 ppg); and 6-foot senior guard Joey Faleni (6 ppg).

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-9 senior Thomas Byrne, the backup point guard; 6-foot-1 junior Cole Reyes, 6-foot-3 junior Bobby Green and 5-foot-11 senior Justin Hill.

Two weeks ago, Bolger scored 13 points and converted two free throws with eight seconds to play to lift Schaumburg past Barrington 49-46 to claim sole possession of first place in the Mid-Suburban West. Spandiary scored 17 points, Lundquist 10. Against Hoffman Estates last Friday, Spandiary scored 14, Mallett 13, Lundquist 12.

"We have great team chemistry, no fighting," Bolger said. "We put in hard work to get better. We play hard but we're all friends at the end of the day. We all grew up playing together in sixth, seventh and eight grade on the Schaumburg Junior Saxons. We've known each other since elementary school and middle school."

Bolger is familiar with the Schaumburg way of doing things. His brother Brandon was an all-conference and all-area player at Schaumburg. His father runs the feeder program. A two-year starter, Kyle is described by Walsh as one of the team's leaders.

"I see myself as one of the leaders of the team," Kyle said. "My job is to get our team to win, whatever it takes."

Bolger and his teammates remember last year, when the team was 18-12 and lost to Niles North by one point in the sectional final. The experience left a disappointing taste in their mouths. They are determined to do better this season.

"Last year, we knew we could have gone farther than we did. It was upsetting to us. We were a better team than that," Bolger said. "We had a big lead against Niles North and lulls on defense gave them momentum at the end of the game. We had a last-second shot. It went in and out. That made everybody feel even worse. We felt we were right there.

"We knew we had to come back and work even harder than last year. We had to step it up because we want to go father this year. We're more experienced this year. I'm the point guard and I have to get people to score. Then they make me look better. The kids know how to score on this team. I have to give them open shots."

Walsh, 36, a Conant graduate of 1993, played basketball at Conant, coached feeder teams while attending Dominican University, then assisted coach Tom McCormack at Conant for 13 years. When coach Bob Williams left Schaumburg, he interviewed for the job and was hired.

"I came to a great program," he said. "I was aware of the great tradition. I was concerned with adding to it. These kids have a culture of hard work and high standards. Kids are held accountable to do the right thing and not always the easy thing."

Walsh grew up and was raised in Schaumburg. He learned the game and was taught the blue-collar values while participating in the park district system. He recognized that parents teach the values of hard work, that they are part of the team.

"It is a blue-collar mentality," he said. "Kids have bought into being unselfish and understanding that if they buy into the philosophy, the rewards of being part of a successful team are ahead of them."

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

2-21_senators_matchup_nhl_chi_blank.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?