Cubs

Who's who in summer basketball?

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Who's who in summer basketball?

Simeon's Jabari Parker suffered an injury, jeopardizing his position as the No. 1 player in the nation, while some nationally respected critics said Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor lost some ground in his bid to be acknowledged as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014.
Cliff Alexander, Curie's 6-foot-9 strongman, also was injured for much of the July evaluation period. But his standing as one of the top five prospects in the class of 2014 didn't suffer. In fact, he was offered a scholarship by Kentucky coach John Calipari. Enough said.
Meanwhile, several other Illinois underclassmen made names for themselves and boosted their stock in the recruiting sweepstakes. The list includes Benet's 6-foot-9 Sean O'Mara, Normal University High's 6-foot-7 Keita Bates-Diop, Taylor-Rockridge's 6-foot-7 Ethan Happ, St. Joseph guard Glynn Watson and Trevor Stumpe, Plainfield North's 6-foot-4 guard.
"The class of 2012 was the weakest the state has seen since 1999," said veteran recruiting analyst Roy Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "But the class of 2013 is far more talented than 2012 even though several players haven't lived up to the hype or played up to the potential that was envisioned for them.
"However, the class of 2014 has a chance to be special, one of the best in recent memory, mentioned in the same sentence with 1979 and 1998. It has great depth and talent at every position, especially at point guard and wing forward, two of the most highly coveted positions in recruiting today."
Roy and Harv Schmidt have been evaluating high school talent for nearly 30 years. In the spring and summer, they travel from Minneapolis to Fort Wayne to Orlando to Augusta to Myrtle Beach to Las Vegas to wherever the players are lacing up their sneakers to get national exposure.
Here are their evaluations and conclusions:
-- The top 10 teams in Illinois for the 2012-13 season figure to be Simeon, Proviso East, Curie, Orr, Whitney Young, St. Joseph, St. Rita, Mundelein, Homewood-Flossmoor and Morgan Park. Downstate contenders are Belleville East and Normal University High.
-- The top 10 players are Simeon's Jabari Parker, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor, Curie's Cliff Alexander, Normal University High's Keita Bates-Diop, Simeon's Kendrick Nunn, Proviso East's Sterling Brown, Belleville East's Malcolm Hill, Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, Simeon's D.J. Williams and Orr's Tyquone Greer.
-- Parker was sidelined with an injury but it didn't affect his ranking as the No. 1 player in the class of 2013. He narrowed his field of colleges to 10 but it is speculated that the 6-foot-8 junior will choose Michigan State or Duke. He did, however, by most accounts, fall behind class of 2014 standout Andrew Wiggins in the duel for the nation's No. 1 rankingregardless of class.
"Most kids have to play on a national stage in July in order to raise their profile. But Parker had nothing to prove," Roy Schmidt said. "However, he did fall behind Wiggins as the No. 1 player in the nation. Wiggins did everything at the Peach Jam to confirm his status. He went head-to-head with Julius Randle (who once was touted as the No. 1 player in the nation) and outplayed him decisively. You have to reward his performance."
-- Some recruiting analysts downgraded Okafor's performance. Not the Schmidt brothers. "We still think he is the best college prospect in the state next to Parker. And he still is the No. 2 player in the class of 2014 behind Wiggins. He didn't have a dominant summer in the way we envisioned. He is a victim of the fact that he plays on an AAU team where the guards don't consistently get him the ball. If he got the ball consistently, he would dominate games from start to finish," Roy Schmidt said.
-- The Schmidts conceded that Alexander "may be another one whose praise is a result of his reputation," that he played well at times but was slowed by injury at other times. However, he remains a solid choice as the No. 4 player in the class of 2014.
"He will be outstanding in college," Roy Schmidt said. "He was offered by Kentucky, his likely destination. He is enamored with (Kentucky coach) John Calipari, as (former Chicago Perspectives and Kentucky star) Anthony Davis was. Calipari puts players in the NBA. I think that is something that is on Alexander's mind."
-- Bates-Diop was the player of the summer. The versatile 6-foot-7 junior is being recruited by Illinois, Marquette, Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Oregon and Kansas State.
"He was the most consistent and most dominant player from start to finish in every event he participated in," Roy Schmidt said. "He was the MVP at the GRBA in Fort Wayne and the Chicago Summer Showcase at Riverside-Brookfield. He has a tremendous all-around offensive skill set. He is highly athletic. He reminds of (Chicago Bulls star) Luol Deng."
Happ was the biggest surprise of the summer. A 6-foot-7 junior wing forward from Taylor-Rockridge, a Class 1A school, he is committed to Wisconsin.
"He is a hidden gem," Roy Schmidt said. "(Wisconsin coach) Bo Ryan discovered a diamond in the rough."
-- Alec Peters of Washington, Ill., a 6-foot-7 wing forward, saw his stock rise faster than Google in the class of 2013. He has firmly established himself as the best shooting wing forward in his class.
-- Biggest disappointment? Alex Foster, a 6-foot-8 senior who transferred from De La Salle to Seton Academy. As a freshman, he was touted as a future star with Parker and Whitney Young's Tommy Hamilton. But he was an underachiever at De La Salle.
"He hasn't developed as people envisioned," Roy Schmidt said. "I'm not sure he has the overall work ethic to be a star. Many times he doesn't play hard. He is trying to get by too much on his reputation instead of hard work and development."
-- Team to watch: Bolingbrook. Coach Rob Brost has two of the leading prospects in the class of 2015, point guard Prentiss Nixon and 6-foot-7, 250-pound Julian Torres, and 6-foot-8 Ben Moore, one of the most improved players in the senior class. Moore, who put himself on the map with a breakout performance at Las Vegas, has been offered by Illinois State and SMU and is beginning to attract more interest from major Division I schools.
-- Player to watch: St. Joseph guard Jordan Ash is one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015 but teammate Glynn Watson, a 5-foot-10 point guard who is the younger brother of former St. Joseph and Illinois star Demetri McCamey, has developed into another star in the class of 2015.
-- Best young coach: St. Viator's Mike Howland, 27, in his third year at the Arlington Heights school, has shown to be a good coach who can develop players and get the most out of them. He took his team to the sectional last year and figures to have another strong team in 2012-13.
-- According to the Schmidt brothers, Stumpe is the most underrated player in the class of 2015. He is an outstanding shooter with good all-around scoring ability and high basketball IQ. He emerged at the Fort Wayne tournament as his Illinois Wolves 15-and-under squad won the championship.
-- Three other sleepers who figure to attract attention from college recruiters are 6-foot-4 junior John Joyce of Taft, 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Mark Falotico of St. Viator and 6-foot-6 sophomore Edward Morrow of Simeon.
-- Best story of the summer: The emergence of a handful of unheralded and under-the-radar AAU programs that won titles and made names for themselves.
"Everybody talks about Mean Streets, the Wolves, the Fire and the Derrick Rose All-Stars," Roy Schmidt said. "But three programs emerged. They are Victor Agujapay's Bulls Premier, based in Naperville, with Brother Rice's Alex Majewski and Stagg's Sean Dwyer; Todd Wolfe's Illinois Attack, based in Oswego, with Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer and Oswego East's C.J. Vaughn; and Luke Wynn's Quad-City Elite, based in the Quad Cities, with Taylor-Rockridge's Ethan Happ."

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”