Bears

Scheyer finds a home in Israel

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Scheyer finds a home in Israel

After failing to find a home in the NBA and recovering from eye surgery, former Glenbrook North and Duke basketball star Jon Scheyer decided the best path to continue his professional career would lead him to Israel.

Last June, he signed a two-year contract for a reported 450,000 to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the European League's 2011 runnerup and five-time champion. He began playing for his new team on Oct. 1. A month earlier, Scheyer, who is Jewish, obtained Israeli citizenship.

"I am really excited to take the next step in my basketball career and go play for Maccabi Tel Aviv," he said. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to play for a team with such great tradition."

Scheyer's reputation preceded him. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard led Glenbrook North to the Class AA championship as a junior in 2005, finished as the fourth-leading scorer in state history with 3,034 points and was acclaimed as Illinois' Mr. Basketball. In one of the most celebrated performances in state history, he scored 21 points in 75 seconds in a quarterfinal game of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, an entertaining clip that has been viewed more than 160,000 times on YouTube.

After choosing Duke over Illinois, Arizona and Wisconsin, Scheyer averaged 12.2, 11.7, 14.9 and 18.2 points per game in four years under coach Mike Krzyzewski. As a senior, he became the second player in Illinois history to win a state high school title and an NCAA title, following former Thornridge and Indiana star Quinn Buckner.

Despite his many awards and achievements -- he was a consensus second-team All-American, one of six finalists for the Bob Cousy award as the nation's top point guard, one of 10 finalists for the John Wooden Award as the nation's top player and the only player in Duke history to record at least 2,000 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 250 three-pointers and 200 steals in his career -- Scheyer wasn't selected in the 2010 NBA draft.

Although Krzyzewski said he would be "a little bit surprised" if Scheyer wasn't on an NBA roster for the 2011-12 season, NBA scouts and coaches weren't convinced. Not physical enough, some argued. Not athletic enough to defend on the perimeter, others said.

Scheyer pursued his dream with the Miami Heat's summer league team, attended the Los Angeles Clippers training camp and played with the Houston Rockets' Developmental League team. But a serious, life-changing eye injury eventually led to surgery and, after originally turning down several offers to play overseas, he finally decided to go to Israel.

"We always thought that Scheyer had a legitimate shot at making the NBA due to his work ethic and basketball IQ. But we are not all that surprised that he is playing overseas instead," said recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"Actually, that is where we thought he would end up and it is not a bad option at all. You can make good money, play against good international competition and live well.

"What is unfortunate is that Scheyer does not fit the mold of the prototypical NBA player in the eyes of professional scouts. While he is a smart player who is also skilled, he lacks the things that are perceived as being automatic ingredients for NBA stardom -- size and athleticism."

Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber, Scheyer's high school coach, believes the decision to play in Israel is a good step.

"He should be in the NBA. But he had eye surgery. He would have been in the NBA if he hadn't gotten injured," Weber said. "He is a smart point guard. He will fight through it. How good is he right now? How is he playing now? Maybe some day he will get to the NBA."

For the time being, Scheyer is enjoying his experience in Israel and battling to earn more playing time. Playing against Real Madrid, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Anadolu Efes and Partizan in Group C of the Euroleague might not sound like prime-time matches with North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas but Scheyer concedes it is a tough transition.

"Every team is coming at us every night. It's just like Duke," Scheyer told Tablet magazine in Tel Aviv last week. "When I was going to Duke, you know it's going to be such a high level. But you don't know what to expect until you get to your first practice. No matter how many times you watch or your teammates have told you, you just need to experience it. The game is played differently. It takes a little time to get adjusted."

Longtime Euroleague and Maccabi Tel Aviv observers point out that starring immediately in Tel Aviv would be akin to earning All-American honors as a freshman at Duke -- not even Scheyer did that -- and the transition to Israeli basketball hasn't been as glamorous as his Albert Pujols-hyped arrival. He has yet to play in Maccabi's two Euroleague games and he has averaged about 10 minutes per game in the Adriatic and Israeli leagues.

At 24, he knows he has time to put his game in order and achieve his goal of playing in the NBA.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

Rotoworld and NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris joins the Fantasy Football Fix Podcast to discuss if Derrick Henry's time in Tennessee has finally arrived. Plus, the CSN Fantasy crew analyzes which players you should sell high on and who you should target in midseason trades.