Cubs

Whitney Young deserves more respect

650010.png

Whitney Young deserves more respect

Whitney Young's schedule is tougher than the Chicago Bulls. They'll go anywhere, anytime to play anyone in sneakers, from Myrtle Beach to Waikiki Beach. They have accumulated more frequent-flyer miles than President Obama. So why are they getting less respect than a hot dog with ketchup?

"We won the state championship in 2009, were second in the state in 2010 and lost in the sectional final last year," coach Tyrone Slaughter said. "This team is as good as any of those teams.

"This team plays a more national schedule. We have lost five games to nationally ranked teams. Wins and losses don't indicate the level of what we have done. I'm not pleased with our record. But I'm pleased about where we are. Look at the history of our teams. We have gotten better as we went along."

Whitney Young is 8-7 after losing to third-ranked Curie 59-47 on Sunday in the finale of the two-day Whitney Young Shootout.

It doesn't get any easier for the Dolphins, who start three sophomores and have lost to the Nos. 1, 5, 11 and 19 teams in the nation. They play at Louisville (Ky.) Ballard on Saturday and have a Feb. 4 date with highly rated Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in a Nike event in California.

"Our spirits aren't shaken," Slaughter said. "We're looking to cut back on turnovers and seeing our young people continue to develop. Then we will be more successful over the next month and a half. We will continue to get better."

Slaughter's 2009 and 2010 powerhouses featured outstanding guard play with Anthony Johnson, Chris Colvin, Marcus Jordan and Ahmad Starks. He insists his current squad will have as dominant a front court as any team in the state or nation "when all the parts are together."

There is one problem. All of the parts may never be together this season. Tommy Hamilton, a 6-9 junior who is rated one of the leading prospects in his class, underwent surgery for an injured patella last month and it still hasn't been determined if he will return or not. He was scheduled to be sidelined for at least four weeks.

"That's a great setback for us," Slaughter said. "We hope to get him back. If we had Tommy, we would be dramatically better right now. But others have stepped up. That's why this team will be good."

So there is more pressure on Whitney Young's other two front-line standouts to carry the load. Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore who is rated as the No. 2 player in his class nationally, and Paul White, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, is just beginning to spread his wings.

Okafor averages 21.7 points per game but White averages only 11. He still is recovering from an injury that forced him to sit out for three months in the summer.

"He is just getting back," Slaughter said. "When he is healthy, he will be as good as anyone in the country. I compare him to (former King and Illinois star) Marcus Liberty. He is 70 to 75 percent back now. He will continue to improve."

Hamilton's starting spot has been taken by 6-foot-5 senior Nate Brooks, who scored 33 on his ACT and is going to attend the University of Chicago. An outstanding rebounder, he grabs eight per game.

In the backcourt, Slaughter is counting on the continued development of 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard Miles Reynolds, who is in his first season of varsity competition, and 6-foot-4 Gabriel Snider, who is committed to Illinois-Chicago.

"This is a new role for Reynolds. We have given him the keys to the vehicle and told him to drive it. He is learning to fly. There is a lot of pressure on him," Slaughter said, noting that Reynolds was the starting point guard on last year's sophomore team that won the city title. He was pushed into the starting point guard position when Derrick Randolph left.

The first two players off the bench are 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Smith and 6-foot-4 junior Keith Langston. Smith, who scored 34 on his ACT, also will be attending the University of Chicago.

Slaughter is in his seventh year at Whitney Young. A 1982 graduate of Fenger, he never played basketball in his life. He majored in broadcast journalism at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

"I wanted to talk about sports. I didn't know about basketball until college," he said.

He became the student manager of the women's basketball team. "The coach took me under his wing. I enjoyed it. I wanted to be more valuable than just handing out towels and water. When the team won the women's national title, I felt basketball would be something I would enjoy," he said.

Slaughter came back to Chicago and continued to coach neighborhood youth teams during the summer. He managed a Dominick's grocery store, coached an AAU team and was hired at Whitney Young 10 years ago.

"Who woulda thunk it? A manager for Dominick's coaching this basketball team?" said Slaughter, now 47. "It is a natural fit for me. Anyone who coaches the game is in it to help mold and direct young people. I enjoy the competition of sport. I enjoy the fact that we can impact their lives in ways that others wouldn't."

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

10-18_wade_davis_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

In another huge playoff moment, Wade Davis stays cool while everything else around Cubs goes crazy

This became a three-ring circus on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs manager Joe Maddon screaming at the umpires, the video board showing the replay of Curtis Granderson’s swing and the crowd of 42,195 booing and chanting “BULLS#$!!”

The Los Angeles Dodgers are still in command of this National League Championship Series, but the Cubs won’t go quietly into the offseason, unleashing All-Star closer Wade Davis for the final two innings of a 3-2 thriller that kept them alive for at least another night.

The Cubs can worry about the daunting task of winning three more elimination games in the morning. Once Davis forced Cody Bellinger into the double-play groundball that left Justin Turner stranded in the on-deck circle and this one ended at 11:16 p.m., he pulled at his right sleeve and buttoned the top of his jersey while waiting for the Cubs to start the high-five line. “Go Cubs Go” blasted from the stadium’s sound  system and fireworks erupted beyond the center-field scoreboard and Davis acted as if nothing had happened.

To put the idea of beating the Dodgers three times in a row in perspective, the Cubs blasted three homers and got a classic big-game performance out of Jake Arrieta and still needed Davis for a heart-stopping, high-wire act.

Maddon already ruled out Davis for Thursday night’s Game 5 after the closer fired 48 pitches – or four more than he did during last week’s seven-out save that eliminated the Washington Nationals. But at least the Cubs will have those decisions to make instead of cleaning out their lockers.

“I don’t know,” Davis said. “We’ll definitely come in tomorrow and get some treatment and go out and play catch and see how I feel.”

It looks like Davis doesn’t feel anything on the mound. Davis didn’t react to Turner chucking his bat and yelling into the visiting dugout after crushing a 94-mph fastball for a home run to begin the eighth inning. Davis didn’t seem bothered by Yasiel Puig flipping his bat after drawing a walk. And Davis never lost his composure while Maddon got ejected for the second time in four NLCS games.

Maddon flipped out at home plate umpire Jim Wolf – and really the entire crew – when what was initially called a swinging strike three on Granderson got overturned and ruled a foul tip.

“Wade doesn’t care about any of that,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s the right guy to have on the mound. With the mentality he has, he’s going to strike the guy out on the next pitch. Obviously with the replay, it’s not easy to keep your composure. But he’s just different. He’s a different animal.”

While the fans at Wrigley Field got loud and turned angry, Davis chatted with catcher Willson Contreras: “I was just trying to think of the next pitch I was going to throw if he ended up staying in the box.”

Davis got Granderson (0-for-4, four strikeouts) swinging at strike four, walked Yasmani Grandal and then blew away Chase Utley with a 95.1-mph fastball, needing 34 pitches to finish the eighth inning. Davis wasn’t finished, using a Kris Bryant bat to hit against Dodger lefty Tony Cingrani, fouling off five pitches before striking out looking at a 94.9-mph fastball.

“Yeah, I gave up there after a little bit,” Davis said with a look that sort of resembled a smile. “He was bringing it pretty good, and I hadn’t seen a baseball in a while coming in like that.”

If the Cubs are going to match the 2004 Boston Red Sox – the only other team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS format expanded to seven games in 1985 – they are going to need the offense to generate more runs, a great start from Jose Quintana on Thursday night and someone else to run out of the bullpen. Not that Davis is ruling himself out for Game 5.

“Go get some sleep and then come in tomorrow and start getting ready,” Davis said.

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

Jake Arrieta stars at Wrigley Field and doesn’t believe this is The End for Cubs: ‘Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye’

It’s not Jake Arrieta getting greedy and the Cubs being cheap when he holds up another jersey in a different city this winter, smiling for the cameras while super-agent Scott Boras watches the press conference unfold, marketing an ace to a new audience.

Even Arrieta admits that if he had Theo Epstein’s job, he would do the exact same thing, letting it play out until a 30-something pitcher hits the free-agent market. And Epstein wouldn’t have left the Boston Red Sox and taken over baseball operations at Clark and Addison if he didn’t believe in the need for change, to get outside the comfort zone and test yourself.

It’s just business, but this still felt very personal on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Arrieta probably making his last start in a Cubs uniform while the defending World Series champs survived an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Three straight trips to the National League Championship Series might have spoiled Cubs fans to the point where standing-room-only Game 4 tickets were selling for $60 on StubHub less than an hour before the 8:01 p.m. first pitch.

By 10:13 p.m., the crowd of 42,195 started booing when manager Joe Maddon popped out of the dugout in the seventh inning to take the ball from Arrieta after 111 pitches. It turned into a standing ovation as Arrieta walked off the mound and tipped his cap, his shaved head set against a mountain-man beard.

“Hopefully, it’s not a goodbye,” Arrieta said after a dramatic 3-2 win, surrounded by reporters at his locker. “It’s a thank you, obviously. I still intend to have another start in this ballpark.

“If that’s where it ends, I did my best and I left it all out there. But we’ve won four in a row plenty of times this year. And there’s no reason we can’t do it again.”

So many times, Arrieta has been worth the price of admission, must-see TV through two no-hitters and those two World Series games he won on the road last year against the Cleveland Indians. None of this would have been possible without the Cubs finding a winning lottery ticket in that Scott Feldman flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles on July 2, 2013.

“I took a little bit of extra time in between pitches,” Arrieta said, “just to look around, foul pole to foul pole, behind home plate, just to relish it and take it in. You got the fans on their feet, pulling on the same side of the rope. It breeds some added energy.

“I had that mindset of I’m going to do everything in my power to get it to tomorrow.”

Arrieta’s pitches dart and dive in directions that even he can’t always control, but he has guts, swing-and-miss stuff (nine strikeouts) and the ability to work through traffic. He gave up five walks, hit Chase Utley with a pitch and watched as Cody Bellinger hammered a ball off the video-board ribbon in right field for a third-inning homer.

But lefty reliever Brian Duensing backed Arrieta up with two outs and two runners on in the seventh inning, forcing Bellinger to lift a flyball into shallow left field, keeping it a 3-1 game and setting the stage for a two-inning Wade Davis save.

“Jake was amazing,” Davis said. “He was throwing Wiffle balls, it looked like. Guys were just swinging at balls that started in on the zone and finished a foot off the plate. He’s just got some amazing stuff.”

For perspective on how far this franchise has come, just look at the lineup from Arrieta’s first spot start as a Cub, the second game of a July 30, 2013 doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field:

David DeJesus, CF
Junior Lake, LF
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Dioner Navarro, C
Luis Valbuena, 2B
Starlin Castro, SS
Cody Ransom, 3B
Cole Gillespie, RF

The Cubs actually sent Arrieta back to Triple-A Iowa for two more starts that summer, part of a mental/mechanical reset and the service-time calculus that would delay his free-agency clock by a year.

By 2015, Arrieta’s raw talent and natural confidence converged with a young, inexperienced team that caught fire in the second half, his Cy Young Award campaign fueling 97 wins and the momentum for chairman Tom Ricketts to authorize a spending spree on free agents that almost totaled $290 million.

"That was pretty special,” Maddon said. “I've never witnessed on the field that kind of consistent performance from a pitcher. It was other-worldly, right down to the wild-card game.

“My God, you pretty much knew if you scored one or two runs, you're going to win that night somehow. I don't know how this is going to look moving forward. But I know one thing, man, that one year of watching him play was different. It was a throwback to the ‘60s kind of pitching (I watched) as a kid.

“He's special – his work ethic and who he is and how he goes about his business. He's a very special young man.”

But Arrieta really isn’t in the mood to wonder if this is the end scene to this chapter of his life.

“There’s a little thought of that, yeah, because you never know,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, now that the game’s over, it’s out of sight, out of mind. The thought process for me now is to be ready if I’m needed.”