Big Ten

TEAM Englewood's Johnny Roland makes right call

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TEAM Englewood's Johnny Roland makes right call

Lorenzo Donegan was at home and cutting the grass in his front lawn when he received a telephone call from Johnny Roland, whom he had coached at Crane and had transferred to Englewood.

"I had resigned (at Crane) and thought I was done with coaching," said Donegan, who has been a Chicago firefighter for 24 years.

But Roland was insistent. "Why not come to Englewood and help coach?" he asked Donegan.

"It was a challenge," Donegan said. "I heard about the shared gym (with Urban Prep) and only 90 minutes of practice time. But it is a new program. The kids want to win. It was a change for me to start my own program.

"The sophomores are good. There is great chemistry and they are unbeaten in the conference. And there are some good freshmen, too. I want to stay and see how they develop. We can go to the Red Division after this season and they can keep us in the Red. My blood is flowing again, my competitive juices. It's hard to walk out on the kids now. It's all about the kids."

TEAM Englewood is 16-4 after last Friday's 70-66 loss to Little Village. Earlier, the Eagles defeated their chief Blue Division rival, Jones, 67-62. They will meet Urban Prep on Monday night in their final tune-up for the Public League playoff and a February 16th match with North Lawndale.

"We are a leg up to move to the Red Division. Our vision has to go to the Red Division," Donegan said. "How good is this team? As good as it wants to be. The big thing is the commitment by the kids. We have set high schools. We challenge them all the time. And they have answered it."

Who is TEAM Englewood? The school has been open for five years. It occupies the old Englewood High School building, which includes a refurbished gymnasium. The school shares the building with Urban Prep. It has an enrollment of 520 students.

Donegan, 54, knows how to win. This is his first full year at the helm. A graduate of Westinghouse in 1976, he wasn't good enough to make a basketball team at a time when Eddie Johnson was the star and Mark Aguirre was walking in the door from Austin.

"(Westinghouse coaches) Frank Lollino and Roy Condotti were my gym teachers. They were great influences on me," he said. "I always wanted to be a basketball coach. That was my mission in life."

Donegan coached softball for 20 years in Washington Park's Sunday League. He also was the sophomore basketball coach at Crane and Hubbard. Two of the most talented players he helped to develop were Sherron Collins and Othyus Jeffers. He also coached Johnny Roland.

At Englewood, Donegan interviewed with Bo Delaney, the dean of students and former basketball coach at Manley--and Roland's stepfather.

"When I heard they were looking for another sophomore coach, I called and asked (Donegan) to help us out," Roland said. "I was a freshman at Crane and he coached me on the sophomore team. I loved him. He was a great coach. He pushed me hard every day in practice.

"Why is he a good coach? Because he pushes his players all the time in a positive way. He helps us on and off the court. And he keeps our heads in the books. There is a lot of trouble in Englewood. We have to deal with gangs all the time. He encourages us to stay in the gym and off the streets."

According to Donegan, Roland "makes us go. He is a complete point guard. I have seen a lot of point guards this year and he is among the top 10. Illinois State is talking to him. He has a lack of exposure because we are in the Blue Division but he is a diamond in the rough. More colleges should be looking at him."

Roland, a 5-foot-11 senior, averages 17 points and 8 assists per game. Shartone Moore, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, averages 14 points and 10 rebounds. Other starters are 6-foot-1 junior Jonathan Owens (12 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-foot-3 senior DeAngelo Rocquemore (15 ppg, 10 rpg) and 5-foot-10 sophomore Ashten Hilliard (12 ppg, 5 rpg).

Primary reserves are 6-foot-2 senior Malek Johnson (8 ppg, 4 rpg) and 5-foot-7 senior Montrell McLaurin (6 ppg, 3 assists).

Against Jones, Owens had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists and Moore contributed 14 points and 12 rebounds. "Moore has great potential, a great upside. His potential hasn't been reached," Donegan said.

Roland doesn't believe his potential has been reached, either. He has been playing basketball since he was 5 years old, with his three older brothers on the court across the alley from their home, two-on-two, HORSE. Oldest brother Luther, who played for Bo Delaney at Manley, usually won.

But playing on the playground and playing in the Public League are two different things. Roland prides himself on being a complete point guard. He utilizes his speed and his instincts and his senior leadership. He hopes the whole package is enough to earn a college scholarship.

He has offers from Texas-Pan American and Oklahoma State-Panhandle, a Division II school, and he also has interest from Alabama-Birmingham, Illinois State and Roosevelt. He would like to attend UAB, a big-time program in a big-time conference, Conference USA.

"One of my friends, (former Hubbard point guard) Aaron Johnson, went there. He just graduated and now he is playing overseas," Roland said. "He had a lot of nice things to say about the program. I hope to hear from them."

Meanwhile, he hopes to complete a 20-victory season and help to talk TEAM Englewood to the Red Division.

"We're very excited about going to the Red Division," the coach said. "But we have to mature. The kids have to know that every game is a war. They have to seal the deal. We don't want to go up to the Red for one year and come back down. We have a bulls-eye on us now. We have to be more focused and make a name for ourselves."

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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USA TODAY

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bulls' Bobby Portis publicly apologizes to Nikola Mirotic: 'I'm wrong for what I did'

Bobby Portis publicly issued an apology to Nikola Mirotic for the punch that broke two bones in Mirotic’s face and caused a concussion earlier this week.

Portis was suspended eight games by the NBA while Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks after he goes through concussion protocol, following an incident in Tuesday’s practice where the tensions boiled over between the two power forwards.

“I'm wrong for what I did. I want to publicly apologize to Niko,” said Portis outside the Bulls locker room at the United Center, hours before the home opener against the San Antonio Spurs. “I feel like I let my fans, the Bulls organization, and most importantly my teammates down. This is not who Bobby Portis is.”

Sticking to clear talking points, repeatedly saying “we were competing” as a way to describe the incident, it was a more toned down version of Portis. Portis is usually colorful and engaging when talking to the media.

Saturday, he was muted, almost robotic in a sense. And he didn’t want to go into the incident in detail, one that many sources have said was instigated by Mirotic as the two were going back and forth physically during several possessions.

The play before, things intensified, causing assistant coach Randy Brown to step in and break things up. The next time downcourt, Mirotic apparently charged at Portis and Portis responded with one punch that sent Mirotic to the floor.

Gently choosing his words, Portis said, “We were competing and kinda went back and forth and things happened.”

When asked if he was shoved, Portis reiterated the two were competing although numerous accounts say Mirotic did push him leading up to the direct incident.

“Yes I was surprised by my own action,” Portis said. “That's not who I was, as I first stated. I'm a competitor at the end of the day but I never meant to hurt my teammate.”

Portis and Mirotic have not yet spoken, although Portis said he’s called and texted Mirotic with no response. It hasn’t been determined whether Mirotic will take legal action on Portis.

“Not concerned with that at this point,” Portis said. “At this point I’m just trying to publicly apologize to Niko and my teammates, and that I’m real sincere about the situation.”

Portis will be allowed to practice during his suspension, having returned Friday and Portis believes things can be mended with he and his teammate.

“Going forward I want to make sure that me and Niko are cool and we can be teammates again,” Portis said. “I'm pretty sure we can. We just have to repair this relationship.”

Justin Holiday said the issue will have to be addressed head on as opposed to being swept under the rug or letting the element of time naturally heal things. Whether that conversation is initiated by teammates or the coaching staff or front office, as long as both are wearing a Bulls uniform, it will be necessary.

“It hasn’t been arranged, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have to talk it out,” Portis said. “And I’m pretty sure it will be a gentle conversation. I’m pretty sure we can get past this.”