Preps Talk

Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

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Will Hickman choose the Cubs?

Blake Hickman is 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds. When he enrolled at Simeon as a freshman, coaches tried to persuade him to play football and basketball. But he wasn't persuaded. He wanted to play baseball and it looks like his persistence is paying off. Just ask the Chicago Cubs.

"I knew coming out of eighth grade that I would go to Simeon," he said. "My brother went there and Simeon has a good baseball program. They tried to get me to play football and basketball but I knew baseball was my future and my favorite sport.

"I started to play baseball when I was 5 years old. The game is exciting to me. I didn't want to be like the others who played basketball. I felt I was good at baseball."

As a senior, Hickman is hearing more whispers in his ear. Some scouts insist his future is as a hard-throwing pitcher rather than a catcher. But Hickman loves to catch, he'd rather be behind the plate than in front of it.

"I watched my older brother Christian catch," said Hickman, whose brother currently is a shortstop at Alcorn State. "We had a game after him and I asked the coach: 'Can I catch?' I fell in love with it. I want to be a catcher. It's my favorite position.

"I know they want to see me on the mound. I have been timed at 93-94 miles per hour. I know they are looking for someone like that. If it doesn't work out, I'll play anywhere. I can't argue with them. I can't worry about what the scouts say. I just go out and play.

"But I want to be a catcher. I'm in every play. I can throw people out. I can control the pitching staff. When I'm on the mound, I feel OK. I just try to get a win for my team. In the end, my goal is to go to college and play pro ball."

Earlier this season, however, Hickman had reason to wonder if he'd ever play again. On April 5, in a spring game at Harrisburg, Illinois, he attempted to block a pitch in the dirt. The ball bounced up and struck him in the throat.

"The pain was indescribable," he recalled. "I wondered if I would play again this year or if I would ever talk again. I couldn't talk for three days."

Hickman was flown to a hospital in Evansville, Indiana, where he underwent an emergency tracheotomy. He missed 12 games. He had a run-scoring double in Simeon's 2-1 victory over Lane Tech for the Public League championship and contributed two doubles and a grand slam homer in a 19-0 victory over Phillips in the regional opener.

Now Hickman has another decision to make. He committed to Iowa in April of his junior year. "I felt that was the best school for me. The coaches really showed that they wanted me. They came at me the most," said Hickman, who chose Iowa over Virginia Tech and Tennessee.

But he was selected in the 20th round of the major league draft on June 5 by the Cubs. He was rated as the 18th best high school catcher in the nation according to one national survey. What will he do?

"He is one of the best players ever to come out of Simeon," said coach Leroy Franklin, who has had 25 players selected in the major league draft and sent more than 60 to college.

"Some scouts say he didn't hit like they wanted him to hit. I don't see anything wrong with his (catching) mechanics. I think he can catch at the next level.

"But he has a big frame and he can throw 95 mph so he is more valuable as a pitcher. There aren't many good catchers in the major leagues but the first thing the scouts want is a pitcher. He'll throw even faster in college. He just wants to play pro ball."

Sean Duncan of Chicago-based Prep Baseball Report thinks Hickman's future is on the mound.

"I really don't think he can catch," Duncan said. "On the mound, he is pretty interesting. He is extremely raw but the arm works. He's the wild card in the draft. Not a lot of people have seen him on the mound. The kid is 90-93 mph on the mound without any pitching background."

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”