Bulls

Schmidt brothers access Groce, Parker, Okafor

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Schmidt brothers access Groce, Parker, Okafor

Longtime recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye predict that John Groce, Illinois' new basketball coach, will turn the Illini program into a significant factor on the Big Ten and national scenes within the next few years.

"We definitely think so," they said. "He already is being well received by high school and AAU coaches. And he now is on the recruiting trail for many of the elite in-state prospects. He has strong connections and he is well respected by his peers.

"It all may not translate immediately with wins and losses but in time he will prove that he is the right man for the job. He is an extremely high energy guy. He seems to take his personality to another level in terms of having an ability to immediately form new relationships. He isn't afraid to talk to anyone."

The Schmidts said Groce has a "great shot" at signing Simeon star Kendrick Nunn. "He built a strong relationship from the beginning going back to when he was head coach at Ohio University. Illinois is in great shape. But Nunn also likes Marquette and UCLA. He will commit to one of those three schools by the end of the summer," they said.

Groce has persuaded Belleville East's Malcolm Hill to honor the commitment that he made to former Illinois coach Bruce Weber. And he is looking ahead to the talented classes of 2013 and 2014.

Before the end of June, the Schmidts predict that Groce "will make a major move" with 6-foot-9 Gavin Schilling of De La Salle, the leading post player in the class of 2013 in Illinois.

"Schilling would bring a different dimension to Illinois. Groce loves his athleticism. He is comparable to Meyers Leonard at the same stage," Roy Schmidt said.

Groce already has offered the top players in the class of 2014--Whitney Young's 6-foot-10 Jahlil Okafor and 6-foot-9 Paul White, Curie's 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander, St. Joseph's Paul Turner (no relation to Evan Turner), 6-foot-7 Keita Bates-Diop of Normal University and Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, who is recognized as the best point guard in his class despite his 5-foot-8 stature.

What about Simeon's Jabari Parker, who almost certainly will command the most attention of any player in the nation this summer?

"He is regarded by most to be the No. 1 player nationally," the Schmidts said. "Forget about the pressure put on him externally. He is the type of kid who puts tremendous pressure on himself in a good way. That is what drives him. He has a great work ethic. He constantly wants to prove himself. He wants to do what it takes to become even better than he is."

Parker has indicated that he wants to win a NCAA championship in what everybody perceives will be his one and only year in college before he opts for the NBA draft. So it is speculated that he will choose Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas or Michigan State, the schools most associated with success in the Final Four.

"We would narrow it down to Duke and Michigan State," the Schmidts said. "Jabari has great relationships with (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo and (Duke coach) Mike Krzyzewski. That is a very important factor to consider, his relationship with the head coach. And one other thing to consider: Michigan State is closest to home."

Parker will get more exposure this summer. He will compete in the Peach Jam in Augusta, South Carolina, on July 18-21, then the Nike Fab 48 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 23-27, then the End of Summer Showdown in Merrillville, Indiana, on July 25-31.

Many critics question whether Okafor, with two years of high school competition ahead of him, will develop to a point where he will be ranked in the upper tier of great big men in history...with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Walton and Patrick Ewing.

Or will he settle for the second tier with Rashard Griffith, Eddy Curry, Jared Sullinger, Russell Cross and Kevin Love?

"I think in many respects he has already moved into the upper tier, maybe not in production but in terms of expectations and projections," Roy Schmidt said. "College coaches who are recruiting him agree with that assessment. I feel he is capable of being in the upper tier. Even the second tier isn't bad as it is. Okafor has the drive and work ethic and a good inner circle of people working with him in recruiting and skill development."

While Parker and Okafor are the leaders of the classes of 2013 and 2014 respectively, not only in Illinois but perhaps in the entire nation, the memo apparently wasn't distributed to Curie's 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander, who ranks No. 8 nationally in the class of 2014.

Alexander, according to recruiting analyst Chris Bossi of Rivals.com, was the overall MVP of the recent Pangos All-American Camp in Long Beach, California. "All weekend long, you could count on Cliff Alexander to be in the paint, mixing it up," Bossi said.

"(Alexander) is a strong kid and he doesn't mind playing a power game. Where other big guys are in a hurry to step out and show their faceup game, Alexander is near the rim, bullying other big men and playing power basketball.

"(Alexander) runs the floor looking for fastbreak dunk opportunities. He's a controlling rebounder and he has great length. His body is one that will easily carry more strength and as he matures and fills out, Alexander will be even more powerful in the lane."

Alexander lists Michigan State, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Georgetown and Marquette among the many major Division I programs that are recruiting him. He'll continue to play with Team Rose in July.

What else are the Schmidt brothers looking for this summer?

"The biggest story locally is the every increasing emphasis on underclassmen and colleges trying to extend scholarship offers to underclassmen and getting earlier and quicker commitments from the classes of 2014 and 2015," they said. "That's mainly because of the enormous talent base in Chicago, so many talented young players. Chicago is perceived as a hotbed. More and more college coaches are jumping into the mix, even more aggressively than before."

The Schmidt brothers list several local players "who are on the fringe of being able to jump to the next level in terms of enhancing their stock, a handful who are capable of going from being a mid-major prospect to the next tier as a high major recruit."

The list is headed by Morgan Park guard Kyle Davis, who has attracted interest from Northwestern, USC, Virginia Tech, South Carolina and LSU; Proviso East guard Paris Lee; Simeon's 6-foot-5 Kendall Pollard; Mundelein's 6-foot-6 Sean O'Brien; and Bolingbrook's 6-foot-7 Ben Moore.

Also 6-foot-7 Malek Harris of Sandburg, who could emerge as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2014. He had a great spring. "Very athletic with a long wing span, strong finisher and good mid-range scoring ability," said Roy Schmidt. Harris already has offers from DePaul, Iowa and Miami (Ohio) and is drawing heavy interest from Indiana and others.

Looking for some unheralded players who could make a big splash this summer? The Schmidt brothers describe Riverside-Brookfield's 6-foot-7 Miki Ljuboja from the class of 2013 as "a hidden gem." Also Mundelein guard Robert Knar, who is committed to Northern Iowa, and 6-foot-7 Alec Peters of Downstate Washington, who is characterized as the best pure shooter in the class of 2013 among wing forwards.

The places to be this summer, the must-see events, are the Peach Jam, Las Vegas and the Super Showcase and AAU Nationals in Orlando on July 18-21 and July 25-31 respectively.

"But we don't see a signature event in the first few weeks of the July evaluation period," Roy and Harv Schmidt summed up. "You're going to see more and more watered down events in July, especially in the first two weeks of the evaluation period, because of the way everything is structured.

"The three actual evaluation periods in July are scheduled in a short time period, set up for four days, Thursday through Sunday. As a result, more promoters will want a piece of the pie. More events will be crammed into short time periods. It will be a matter of quantity over quality. There will be a lot of teams and players at those events but not an overwhelming amount of talent."

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.