Bears

Whitney Young prepares for 2012-13 season

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Whitney Young prepares for 2012-13 season

Even though some critics singled out Whitney Young's 2011-12 basketball team as "the biggest disappointment" of the season, coach Tyrone Slaughter weathered the storm and hasn't changed his course.

"What is our game plan for the coming season? Times two of last year. We haven't changed our approach," Slaughter said.

Last season's 16-9 squad was a disappointment, he admits, but it was largely based on high expectations. With three major Division I prospects on the front line, including 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor, perhaps the No. 1 player in the nation in the class of 2014, the Dolphins were projected to be one of the best teams in the nation.

It didn't happen. Whitney Young was hampered by injuries, including 6-foot-9, 240-pound Tommy Hamilton, one of the leading prospects in the class of 2013, the presence of three sophomore starters and, most of all, a killer schedule that featured four state champions. The Dolphins closed with an eight-point loss to Simeon in the sectional semifinal.

So there will be more of the same in 2012-13, a national schedule that will be highlighted by a Dec. 1 date with Simeon, a match-up with traditional power De Matha of Hyattsville, Maryland, a trip to the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, and trips to Myrtle Beach, Memphis, New York, Boston and Wheeler, West Virginia. Oh, don't forget a game against local power De La Salle in the CitySuburban Showdown.

"It's a tougher schedule that last year," Slaughter said. "This is the way to play all the time. We have kids who have a need to be on the national stage. If all things are in order, it will give us great preparation for the state tournament. But things happen..."

No one could have foreseen the "happenings" that torpedoed Whitney Young's team last season. Most of all, the injury to Hamilton that kept him off the court for most of the season. Slaughter believes he will recover and play up to his potential but he understands the skepticism of college coaches and recruiting analysts who wonder if he will be a disappointment as his highly publicized father was.

Thomas Hamilton Sr. was one of two seven-footers on King coach Landon Cox's unbeaten 1993 state championship team, along with the more ballyhooed Rashard Griffith, who played at Wisconsin and was the 38th pick in the 1995 NBA draft.

Hamilton was a 7-foot-2, 330-pounder who signed a letter-of-intent to Illinois but wasn't academically eligible. He attended Pittsburgh but didn't play basketball. He was signed by the Boston Celtics at the beginning for the 1995-96 season but didn't appear in a game until about five weeks remained in the regular season, spending most of the season on the injured or suspended lists. In 11 games, he scored 25 points.

Hamilton, whose weight was listed as high as 360, was signed by the Houston Rockets at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. He started in seven games and played in 22 of them. But he suffered a lower back strain and was placed on the injured list for nearly two months, then was released.

At his size, he had a talent for shooting a three-point shot from the corner, so NBA scouts constantly raved about his potential, hoping he would play up to expectations. But he rarely was in shape. Even in high school, he had to get frequent rests because he couldn't run up and down the court on a consistent basis.

So what about Tommy Hamilton? Will he become the player that recruiting analysts project him to be? He is ranked as the No. 9 player in the class of 2013 nationally by respected recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com. He is being recruited by Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Purdue, Kansas, Memphis, Louisville, Indiana, Michigan State and North Carolina State.

"That's the million-dollar question. Does he want to play?" Slaughter said. "He has to ask himself how much longer he can go without maximizing his God-given ability. This is his last call. He doesn't have another year. This is it.

"He has enormous ability. Last year wasn't fair because he was doing what we asked before he was hurt. We looked for him to have a phenomenal year. We remind him of what it was like last year. His skills haven't diminished. He should be hungry to be as good as he can possibly be this year.

"Will he be as good as his skills? The ball is in his court. I think he understands. We're seeing it this spring. He has lost weight. Maybe his confidence was shaken last year. But I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. I hope he gets it. A great deal of our ability to be successful as a team lays at his feet."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”