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."

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

Why the Bears have so much confidence in Mitchell Trubisky, even as the losses mount

The Bears are hurtling toward another last-place finish in the NFC North, and Mitchell Trubisky is 2-4 as the team’s starting quarterback after Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions. But talk to any of Trubisky’s teammates and it's clear they believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for this team, and it’s because of the bright future their quarterback has.

“He’s still young right now, a little green,” offensive lineman Bobby Massie said. "But he’s getting better every week, man.”

Explained fellow offensive lineman Kyle Long: “Just his poise and sense of urgency, at the end of the game to have the wherewithal to make the throws he’s making. Obviously it’s not all perfect — he’s a young quarterback in this league — but he has the confidence and trust of the guys around him. And that’s a rare thing in this league to have.”

Massie, like Long, also used the word “rare” in describing Trubisky, a guy who’s only started 20 games since leaving Mentor High School in 2013 (13 games at North Carolina, one in the preseason and six in the regular season). Massie, Long and the rest of the Bears’ locker room know how good Trubisky can be — or maybe, the way they’re thinking, will be — despite some uneven games this year.

The flashes of what the No. 2 overall pick can do keep on showing up, like that 18-yard jump pass to Kendall Wright that set up Connor Barth’s game-winning field goal in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens, or his instinctive 19-yard scramble on fourth-and-13 on Sunday that set up a game-tying 46-yard field-goal attempt that Barth missed.

“That’s his mentality — y’all got to see his mentality,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “That situation, fourth and 13, he’s not going down, not taking a sack, not throwing the ball away — he’s going to find a way to make a play, and he’s going to lead us to where we need to be.”

On the other hand, there were still some missed throws and reads for Trubisky (like not connecting with Benny Cunningham on a check-down five yards from the end zone in the first quarter) that serve as a reminder of his greenhorn status.

But it’s what Trubisky has done before and after those highlight or lowlight-reel plays that’s building a groundswell of confidence in him among his teammates.

The Bears got the ball on their own 17-yard line with 91 seconds left in the fourth quarter needing a field goal to tie the Lions on Sunday. When Trubisky entered the huddle, he was calm and confident — same as he was in the first quarter of the game, when the stakes weren't so high.

“He came to huddle and told everybody, 'Calm down, we’re going to win this game,'" wide receiver Dontrelle Inman said. “And that’s what the greats do. There’s no up and down with the emotional level when it comes time to actually go win the game. That’s a plus for him.

“He’s a competitor, and you see it week in and week out. He’s never going to give up. That’s the quarterback you want to be with you and throwing you the ball.”

That Trubisky’s teammates have so much confidence in him — despite the Bears’ 3-7 record — is a significant positive for his long-term development (that he’s only thrown one interception in his last 120 pass attempts is another positive). On Sunday, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains seemed to have more confidence in Trubisky, too, with the pair opening up the playbook and leading to the Bears having their best offensive game of the season.

That trust might not lead to a lot of wins this year. It might not be enough to keep the current coaching staff in place. But the way Trubisky’s teammates talk about him, they don’t see any hurdles the rookie can’t clear on his way to becoming a legit franchise quarterback.

“It’s rare and it’s the start of something special that we get to see,” Massie said. “Hopefully — I can’t predict the f***ing future — but from this point on, it looks like he’s going to be a special player.”

Leonard Floyd's 'really serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

Leonard Floyd's 'really serious knee injury' further bangs up Bears defense, stalls rising star's growth

You couldn’t really tell watching it live, but the replay told the story: Kyle Fuller’s shoulder pads plowed right into Leonard Floyd’s right knee.

And that’s why last year’s first-round pick was down on the turf at Soldier Field. That’s why the cart came out from the southwest tunnel. That’s why the thousands of fans in the stands watched in silence.

After the game, head coach John Fox said what could have been guessed by most who watched that replay and watched Floyd leave the field on the cart.

“Leonard Floyd left with what looks like a really serious knee injury,” Fox said, a somewhat unusual admittance of severity from the oft-secretive coach in an oft-secretive industry.

“I hate to speculate,” he continued, “but usually when you get taken out on a cart, it’s not great. We’ll evaluate it. I’ll talk to our docs more today and tonight, and we will continue to evaluate tomorrow.”

For the Bears and their fans, this kind of news has become all too familiar. The linebacking corps alone has seen injuries to four of its best players: Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Willie Young and now Floyd. Then there are the season-ending injuries to safety Quintin Demps, tight end Zach Miller and wide receivers Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

And it’s not just the Bears. This is the new normal in the NFL, as the absences of stars like J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers and Richard Sherman have illustrated.

But for the Bears in particular, this is a really tough one to see.

Floyd has been a force for the defense this season, the kind of quarterback’s nightmare that Ryan Pace & Co. envisioned he’d be when they took Floyd with the No. 9 pick in last year’s draft. He entered Sunday’s action with the second-most sacks on the team, and only 29 players in the league had more than his 4.5 sacks.

After missing games and battling concussion issues as a rookie last season — and still recording seven sacks — this was supposed to be the full season from Floyd that would show how much of a monster he could be. Instead, though, it sounds like that season will be cut short, a building block on that side of the ball stalled.

The football implications, though, did not seem top of mind for many Bears players, who offered their well wishes for their teammate. Remember, too, that this is a team that has already been through Miller’s ordeal, the tight end confined to a Louisiana hospital as he recovered from almost losing his leg in last month’s loss to the New Orleans Saints.

“I told him I love him and I’m going to lay it on the line for him,” fellow linebacker Pernell McPhee said when asked what he said to Floyd as the second-year Georgia product was leaving the field.

And that wasn’t all.

As the media was leaving McPhee’s locker, he told everybody to “say a prayer for my boy.”