Fire

Sitter, Brown follow Elgin tradition

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Sitter, Brown follow Elgin tradition

As Elgin coach Mike Sitter sees it, he is carrying a torch that he inherited from Bill Chesbrough and Jim Harrington and will pass it on to the next generation of coaches.

As Elgin star Kory Brown sees it, he is carrying a torch that he inherited from Don Sunderlage, Chuck Brandt, Flynn Robinson, Jeff Wilkins, Terry Drake, Mark Baugh, Sean Harrington and Armani Williams and will pass it on to the next generation of players.

At Elgin, it is all about tradition.

Kory Brown's father knows about tradition, too. He was a freshman at Hirsch High School when Rickey Green and John Robinson led the school from Chicago's South Side to a state championship in 1973. So he taught his son everything he could about the game he grew up to love.

"I grew up in Elgin and always looked up to Elgin basketball, knowing I was going to Elgin someday," Kory said. "I know about the tradition, the big wins, the supersectionals, the great players. But we haven't been to state in a while (since 1998). After getting to the supersectional in 2008, the excitement has died off in the past few years."

There is plenty of excitement this season. Elgin is 8-1 going into Tuesday's game against Senn in the opening round of the 37th annual Elgin Holiday Tournament. Sitter claims his 2011-12 Maroons, who boast seven of the top eight players from last year's 22-7 squad, are the best team he has produced in five years.

Brown, a 6-4 senior who has offers from Ferris State and Lewis University and is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, believes this team is even better.

"We aren't a good team but a great team," he said. "If we keep playing as we are now or pick it up a notch, maybe we could be one of the best teams Elgin has ever had. I see more faith that we can do it, that we can succeed. Our goal is to get to state."

Last week, Elgin swept Burlington 73-41 as Brown had 12 points and 10 rebounds, Cortez Scott added 14 points, Arie Williams 13 and Dennis Moore 12, and St. Charles East 55-39 as Brown had 14 points and 11 rebounds, Scott scored 13 and Williams 12.

"This is a senior dominated team," Sitter said. "A lot less coaching has to be done during games because they are so experienced that they can coach themselves. The pieces fit together. They complement each other very well."

Brown is the leader. He was a unanimous all-conference and MVP selection a year ago. He is Elgin's tallest starter and sometimes initiates the offense from the point guard position. Or he establishes himself on the block and rebounds. But he is best when he explodes to the rim.

"He doesn't have to score for us to win," Sitter said. "He can do it all. He is a great athlete, our hardest worker. But if he wants to succeed at the next level, he must have guard skills. He is developing them every day."

Brown's father taught him that he needed to learn all aspects of the game, that he had to do everything well to be successful. And if Elgin is to be successful as a team, it must overcome its lack of size by doing everything else well.

"We overcome our lack of size with speed. I believe we can out-smart and out-run anybody on the court," Brown said. "Our triple overtime loss to Geneva was a great wakeup call. We didn't play smart. I'm glad it happened early rather than late or in March when it could have ended our season."

Meanwhile, Brown takes his responsibility as the team leader very seriously. "I'm a go-to guy. But I'm also the one who has to make the correct decision with the ball in my hands. In the summer, everyone said they wanted the ball in my hands, either go to the rim or take an easy jump shot or kick the ball to an open teammate for an easy basket," he said.

"I'll be a guard in college, mostly a two-guard. I was brought up to be an all-around player. I learned to dribble with my left hand as soon as I learned to dribble with my right. I want to show colleges that I can do it all, that I can do what needs to be done to win a game."

Brown has plenty of help. Arie Williams, Armani's younger brother, is a 5-10 junior guard who averages 12 points per game. Dennis Moore, a 5-10 senior, also averages 12. Cortez Scott, a 6-0 senior, averages 10. Gerardo Mojico, a 6-4 senior (6 ppg, 6 rpb), defends the tallest opponent. Matt Andres and Devin Gilliam, a pair of 6-foot seniors, come off the bench.

"I'm looking for this team to take a step to be better than last year," Sitter said. "I'm looking for a killer instinct to bury teams, to put a dagger in their heart, to put them away early and not allow them to stick around."

Sitter, an Elgin graduate of 1988, knows about the school's tradition even though he didn't play varsity basketball. Harrington cut him as a senior. He was a ballboy on Chesbrough's 1983 team that lost in the state quarterfinals. He still talks about the 1972 team that lost to West Aurora in double overtime in the state quarterfinals.

He describes himself as "a sports hound, just not good enough to compete at the highest levels," But he always wanted to be a coach. So he majored in education at Eastern Illinois, was sophomore coach at Round Lake for four years, then came to Elgin 10 years ago. After serving as freshman A and B coach and sophomore coach, he was promoted to the varsity.

"I paid my dues and worked my way up. My job is to carry on the tradition," he said. At 41, he looks back on a storied history that saw Chesbrough win 573 games in 35 years and Harrington win 290 games in 15 years. But Elgin won its only state titles in 1924 and 1925.

Brown almost didn't get to Elgin. His family almost moved out of Elgin and into Hoffman Estates' school district.

"I had a big scare," he said. "I didn't want my mother to take me out of Elgin. Our house sits on the border between Elgin and Hoffman Estates."

Tuesday's opening-round pairings pit Francis Parker vs. Buffalo Grove, Rockford East vs. Batavia, Dundee-Crown vs. Hoffman Estates, La Laumiere of Indiana vs. Walther Lutheran, defending champion Neuqua Valley vs. Rockford Guilford, Elgin Larkin vs. Harlan, Romeoville vs. Glenbard North and Elgin vs. Senn.

As Fire's offseason activity picks up, GM Nelson Rodriguez says more improvement is needed

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USA TODAY

As Fire's offseason activity picks up, GM Nelson Rodriguez says more improvement is needed

General manager Nelson Rodriguez has taken his time this offseason, but things have been picked up in the past week and will continue to do so with the draft taking place on Friday.

Rodriguez spoke with reporters on a conference call a day after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s return became official and just hours after Jorge Bava’s exit and the Cam Lindley trade were announced as expected. Those topics and plenty more were discussed serving as a state of the team with offseason activity ramping up.

First off, the big news remains Schweinsteiger’s return. Rodriguez would not disclose the German’s salary, but did say that there is no option for a second year on the contract. The two sides would have to renegotiate just like they did this winter for him to return in 2019.

“Both parties were keenly interested in continuing the relationship so I think that made things a lot easier,” Rodriguez said. “There are always some little details that need to be worked out and I think that’s what prolonged the discussions, but I believe both parties felt reasonably confident that we would continue together.”

Elsewhere, the finalization of the Lindley trade allowed Rodriguez to discuss some of the details of the breakdown in negotiations with the homegrown prospect. The Fire sent the rights to Lindley to Orlando for Rafa Ramos and $100,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (broken down as $50,000 in both 2018 and 2019). Lindley signed a four-year contract with Orlando.

The Fire approached Lindley last winter, but he returned to North Carolina for his sophomore season.

“When we spoke this year, Cameron indicated that he would prefer to start his career outside of Chicago and so we were able to fulfill that wish for him, but in the process we thought we did very well for ourselves in acquiring a very talented, young player with professional experience and then on top of that getting allocation money, which can serve us,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s an instance where it’s a win-win for Orlando and for us.”

Ramos, 23, will likely be the backup to both Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent. Lindley is a 20-year-old central midfielder who could have provided depth behind Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty this year.

When asked why Lindley didn’t want to sign with the Fire, Rodriguez said he didn’t ask Lindley.

“I’m only concerned with players who are in our locker room and want to play for us,” Rodriguez said.

Bava’s exit was under different circumstances. The 36-year-old goalkeeper expressed a desire to return to his home country of Uruguay, which he was able to do by landing with Liverpool FC Montevideo. The Fire and Bava mutually agreed to terminate his contract.

“He came to us and let us know that he had a playing opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “I think the second part of it is that we indicated to Jorge that we were very comfortable with Matt (Lampson) and Richard (Sanchez) and that it was going to be difficult for him to unseat one or both of those guys.”

Those moves put the Fire’s roster at 21 heading into Friday’s draft. The first two rounds will take place in Philadelphia starting at 10 a.m. The Fire have the 15th and 38th picks.

Rodriguez said the Fire’s draft is very different this year after having the top pick in 2016 and the third pick in 2017. The Fire traded both of those picks.

“With the first pick and the third pick, teams generally come to you,” Rodriguez said. “My experience is that there are several teams going for the clubs that hold those top three spots now so it’s almost flipped in that if we want to be active, no one is looking to move up to 15.

“I wouldn’t discount our making a trade because we have had conversations, admittedly all with teams ahead of us in the draft, no one below us in the draft. But some of that may be dependant upon how the draft actually goes. Usually you lock in on one or two players, you don’t want to necessarily trade up without knowing either or both of those players might be available. It might be a situation that occurs during the draft as opposed to prior to the draft.”

As for other potential additions, Rodriguez didn’t say much. He wouldn’t comment on the continuing Juan Quintero rumors and reports. The news is seemingly going in both directions on that front.

Rodriguez did comment on a potential return for Juninho, the Brazilian midfielder who was on loan with the Fire last season. Mexican club Tijuana holds his rights after the loan expired.

“We told Juni and his agent that we were not going to offer a transfer to acquire his services, but if he could extricate himself from that contract, we would be interested in having him return to the club,” Rodriguez said.

When asked what he believes the roster still needs, Rodriguez said “across all our lines,” even mentioning goalkeeper as part of that. At this point most additions will be for depth, but Rodriguez mentioned the need to replace midfielder Djordje Mihailovic and forward Michael de Leeuw, both of which suffered torn ACLs last in the 2017 season. Rodriguez said they are hoping for those players to return from injury in July or August, but obviously things can change as they continue to rehab.

Meet the Prospects: Zack Collins

Meet the Prospects: Zack Collins

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Zack Collins

Collins, the 22-year-old catcher, has been projected as the White Sox catcher of the future since he was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2016 draft.

A Florida native and University of Miami product, Collins initially was celebrated for his batting prowess and faced questions about his defensive abilities, only to improve with the glove in 2017 while he watched some offensive numbers slip a bit.

After joining the White Sox organization in 2016, Collins slashed .258/.418/.467 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 36 games at Class A Winston-Salem. In 2017, he played 101 more games at Winston-Salem, slashing .223/.365/.443 with 17 homers and 48 RBIs. He also played a dozen games at Double-A Birmingham, where he added a couple more homers and five more RBIs.

This offseason's signing of Welington Castillo installs a veteran backstop for two or three seasons at the big league level, meaning there's no rush for Collins to get to the majors.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Collins rated as the No. 7 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Collins in the video above.