Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders


Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 12:08 p.m.
By Taylor Bell

WATCH: DRIVE: Montini Football - Webisode 5WATCH: High School Lites: Week 5 previewREAD: Rolling Meadows' Milas has reason to smile

Eight Chicago area products have been chosen to participate in the first Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl, the U.S. Marine Corps' contribution to high school football entertainment and the latest All-Star event to showcase the leading prospects in the nation.

The inaugural game, co-sponsored by Junior Rank Sports, will be played on Jan. 3, 2012 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be telecast on CBS Sports Network.

The eight local representatives are offensive lineman Jordan Diamond of Simeon, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, defensive end Faith Ekakitie of Lake Forest Academy, running backs Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic and Mike Panico of Carmel, linebacker Antonio Morrison of Bolingbrook and defensive backs Maurice Fleming of Curie and Anthony Standifer of Crete-Monee.

Westerkamp is committed to Nebraska, Jones to Northwestern, Morrison to Florida, Fleming to Iowa and Standifer to Michigan. Fleming likely won't be able to play, however. He is missing the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury.

According to nationally known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who is chairman of the selection committee, Illinois-bound defensive lineman Vontrell Williams of Mount Carmel, Oklahoma State-bound quarterback Wes Lunt of Rochester and Iowa-bound defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of Montini also are being considered.

Two of the state's leading prospects, Penn State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and Iowa-bound offensive lineman Ryan Ward of Providence, previously accepted invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tx.

Lemming had served as chairman of the selection committee for the U.S.
Army All-Star event for eight years but decided to join the Marines and his friend, Shoan Berry, founder of Junior Rank, when Rivals became a co-partner in the Army game.

"I'm more comfortable as chairman of the committee. Here, I'm my own boss," Lemming said. "We have to build this game from scratch. I like the fact that I can help build it from scratch, like the Army game. The Army game is on its own now and I'd like to do this one on my own."

Lemming began selecting players for the two 50-man rosters last April, four months after the other All-Star games (Army, Under Armour) had started. He has chosen 70 and will fill the other 30 spots after the 2011 season.

"I'll wait until November to see which seniors step up," Lemming said. "Some seniors take the year off if they have a lot of scholarship offers. I want to reward kids who have great senior years."

Lemming said he has extended an invitation to the nation's No. 1 player, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo. But he hasn't made a decision yet.

Other highly rated players who have committed to the Semper Fidelis game include five standouts from California--strong safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, running back Byron Marshall of San Jose, Notre Dame-bound wide receiver Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Notre Dame-bound cornerback Tee Shepard of Fresno and 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond.

Lemming rates Thompson as one of the two best players on the West Coast, Marshall as the top ball-carrier on the West Coast, Greenberry as the leading wide receiver on the West Coast, Shepard as the best cornerback on the West Coast and Tagaloa as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation.

Among others who have agreed to play in the game are Washington-bound quarterback Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island, Wash., Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston of San Ramone, Calif., running back Rushel Shell of Aliquippa, Pa., Miami-bound quarterback David Thompson of Palmetto Bay, Fla., Penn State-bound tight end Jesse James of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, Ind.

Lindquist is the best quarterback in the Northwest, Shell is a top-15 prospect whom Lemming describes as one of the three best running backs in the nation, Day was tapped by Notre Dame ahead of Schutt and is rated the No. 2 player in Indiana while Thompson is the best high school baseball player in the nation and may be the next Joe Maurer in the June draft.

Lemming hopes to make the Semper Fidelis game more competitive than the others. He will conduct a draft in late November and choose teams according to talent rather than location. He reminds that the Army game hasn't been competitive since it began in 2002.

"We will be the No. 1 high school All-America game in the next two years," Berry predicted. "We didn't want to select kids because they were fast or tall but because they were good people and good students. We are looking for the best athletes who also are the best people. We don't think other All-Star games recognize character or academic performance or community involvement."

Junior Rank is a Chicago-based sports media company that conducts a number of footall combines for junior athletes (11-16) around the country. It is dedicated to evaluating, recognizing and rewarding great student athletes while giving parents the tools, resources and opportunities to help fulfill their children's dreams of playing college sports.

Berry's organization also sponsors a junior academic All-America game for seventh and eighth graders. And he plans to launch All-Star events in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling at some point.

"We want to highlight athletes for the right reasons in the right way,"
Berry said. "Our camps are about instruction and development and character-building."

He hopes Junior Rank will serve as a pipeline for future Semper Fidelis football games. For example, 13-year-old Erik Swenson of Naperville, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left offensive tackle, is a straight-A student in eighth grade who already is catching the attention of Big 10 coaches.

Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic's outstanding running back and one of the top-rated juniors in the state, is a product of the Junior Rank program.

Berry's 13-year-old son, Justin, a quarterback who lives in St. Charles and will attend Wheaton Academy, has attracted interest from Harvard and UCLA.

Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, a junior offensive tackle, is rated among the leading prospects in the class of 2013 in Illinois. Also Chad Beebe, a freshman wide receiver at Aurora Christian and son of Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe.

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

After last season's personal tragedy, Tim Anderson ready to unleash real self

GLENDALE, AZ --  There’s a different Tim Anderson at White Sox spring training this year.

You can see it on his face  You can hear it in his voice.

“I’m busting out of the shell. I’m talking more,” he said as he sat down for an interview with NBC Sports Chicago (in the video above).

It’s not the new Tim Anderson. It turns out, it’s the real one that’s been there all along.

“This is me. It’s always been me. I never knew how to express myself. I feel like I’m being a lot more open,” Anderson explained. “That’s what I want to give to fans. Let them know the real me. You’re cheering for me. Why not know me? I’m being open and kind of let fans into my life.”

The White Sox shortstop has learned a lot about life in the past year. It all started in May when the White Sox were in Baltimore to play the Orioles. Anderson received a phone call at 4 a.m. It was news from back home.

It was the worst phone call of his life.

His best friend Branden Moss had been murdered in the parking lot of a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar after helping the victim of a fight.  

The two were like brothers. Anderson is the godfather to Moss’s young daughter. Moss was the godfather to Anderson’s 2-year-old daughter.

“It was heartbreaking,” Anderson said.

While Anderson grieved, playing baseball seemed like it would be a perfect escape for his pain. Only it wasn’t. Far from it.  Baseball might have made things even worse.

In fast-paced sports like football and hockey, players don’t have much time to think. It’s react, react, react. Whatever might be happening off the field feels like a million miles away.

Not in baseball.

The game moves at a much slower speed. There’s plenty of time for your mind to wander. Thoughts kept going back to Anderson’s lost friend, taken from him in an instant.

At 23, he didn’t have the tools to deal with the emotional pain and excel at baseball at the same time.

“The year was rough. I wasn’t having fun in between the lines. I was making the game harder than it was. I was thinking too much. I was feeling sorry for myself and the list can go on. When my friend died it definitely took a lot out of me. I had a dark moment,” Anderson said. “Some days I didn’t feel comfortable coming to the ballpark because I knew it was going to be a bad day.”

Making matters worse, there were many nights when Anderson didn’t sleep. Not a wink. Still, he dragged himself to the ballpark and somehow tried to play.

The results weren’t pretty. On June 22, Anderson already had 16 errors at shortstop, most in the majors. At the plate, he was hitting .256/.284/.374 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

He knew he was better than that. He also knew something else: He needed help.

In July, Anderson started meeting with a therapist who was able to unlock the pent up thoughts and emotions that he was burying inside him.

The therapist would write down everything that Anderson was feeling on paper and then read it back to him.

“Just going in and talking and pouring everything out of you. It lets you hear what you’ve been going through,“ Anderson said. “When she did it, it was a lot. I took what she read to me, balled it up and threw it away. I got lighter. It was a brightening. Those counseling sessions definitely helped me.”

Soon, Anderson was back to being himself both on and off the field.

In the month of August, he had 8 doubles, 5 home runs and 16 RBI.

“Woof. I was hot,” he said after hearing those stats. “That’s Tim. That’s more Tim that we need to see.”

In September, he batted .327 with 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases.

“We need a lot of that this year. That’s the way I want to go. That’s the way I want to go about it. Get back to what got me here.”

There was still an issue with his plate discipline. He had 32 strikeouts and only 1 walk in September.

“We play a tough sport as it is. They’re going to come,” Anderson said about the walks. “I mean, when I walk more, what are you going to tell me? ‘Start swinging more?’ It’s one of those things. It’s a give and take. We’ll see what happens.”

In 2017, Anderson received a crash course in adversity. What did he learn from all that pain and misery?

“Tough times happen, but they don’t last forever.”

Now that he’s survived the personal storm from last season, he wants “another shot at it. I feel like last year went left. This is new season.”

So, what does he envision for himself in 2018?

“Having fun, smiling a lot, picking up my teammates, hugging on the coaches and players. A lot of love, more so than stats,” Anderson said. “I’m fired up. I’m excited. I feel like I’m ready to lead this pack. We got a great group of guys. We’ve got a chance to do something special.”