Blackhawks

Williams seeks to restore Bloom's glory

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Williams seeks to restore Bloom's glory

Bloom isn't used to losing in basketball. In fact, the Trojans were 13-16 two years ago, the first losing season in 15 years. Since the 1950s, coaches Bert Moore, Phil Hey, Wes Mason, Frank Nardi and Gary Meyer produced one winning team after another at the Chicago Heights school. Now it is Jasper Williams' turn.

Williams, a Parker (now Robeson) graduate of 1972, was teaching at Brooks junior high school in Harvey when then Thornridge coach Bob Sullivan hired him as an assistant in 1982. He worked for Mike Flaherty, was head coach for one year, then moved to Bloom in 2002. When Meyer retired, he became head coach of one of the state's most storied programs.

And jumped into a pressure-cooker.

"Bloom was in the SICA East (with Thornridge and Thornton) so I knew a lot about Bloom's history," Williams said. "I learned how tough it was to coach there, the high expectations, that the team was expected to win 20 games nearly every year. I knew what I was getting into, a lot of history and tradition and expectations."

Mason produced state runners up in 1974 and 1975. Nardi took teams to the Elite Eight in 1989 and 1990, Meyer in 2000. The long and distinguished list of All-State players includes Jerry Colangelo, Homer Thurman, Walt Tiberi, Bob Heuts, Gary Clark, Larry McCoy, Mark Barwig, Audie Matthews, Kelvin Small, Larry Lowe, Raymond McCoy and Brandon Cole.

"People expect Bloom to win 20 games every year," Williams said. "But we're not getting great athletes anymore. Now we get one every two or three years. In the old days, we sometimes had two All-Staters on the same team.

"The talent pool has dried up but I think we're on the rebound. We have a good sophomore team and a good freshman team. The feeder schools are producing more kids. We are putting more emphasis on basketball now."

It shows. Bloom is 6-0 going into Friday night's game with Rich Central. Next week, the Trojans meet Rich East on Tuesday and Leo on Dec. 17 before making their annual trip to the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament at Rich South.

"Last year, we lost to Hillcrest and Homewood-Flossmoor in our Thanksgiving tournament. But we beat both of them this year," Williams said. "Beating them told me that we can play with anyone in the state.'

He is counting on 6-foot senior guard L.J. Johnson (12 PPG), 6-0foot senior guard Donald Moore (14 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior center Johnny Griffin (10 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior Jataryan DeJareaux and 6-foot-2 senior Henry Hicks (7 PPG). JeJahown Freeman, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, is the first player off the bench.

"As long as we stay focused and the kids listen to the coach, we have the potential to go a long way," Williams said. "But we have to develop some inside kids. Once we do, we'll be hard to beat. We need to develop Griffin and DeJareaux so we have more balance and get more scoring from inside. This is their first year on the varsity. They have to get used to contact and be more physical."

Also, Williams is anxious to see if his team can compete against the highly rated teams at the Big Dipper -- Evanston, Seton and Crete-Monee. "We know they will pressure our guards. They will have to step up and our inside people will have to step up for us to do well," Williams said.

Johnson is looking forward to the challenge. Last year's team rebounded with a 17-12 record but it could have been even better. It lost to Crete-Monee three times, including a three-pointer in the regional final. Italso lost one-pointers to Hillcrest and Thornwood.

"I look back and see we could have been much better. We came into most games not mentally ready," Johnson said. "This year we have more guys who work harder than last year. We came into this season a lot more focused, mentally ready. Last year, our heads got big in the beginning.

"We started to get ready for this season last April, after last season ended. We decided we wouldn't lose games this year like we did last year. We come to practice and work hard every day. We give 100 percent. We come mentally prepared every time we play, no matter who we are playing."

If that means getting into a teammate's face, so be it. It is all part of the game plan for 2011-12. "Sometimes we have to get in each other's face to let them know it is game time. I like how we have come together. We like to be around each other," Johnson said.

Born in Chicago, Johnson moved to Lansing and attended Thornton Fractional South for a year, then transferred to Bloom.

"Before I came to Bloom, I didn't know anything about the school," he said. "As a sophomore, the coaches preached how big Bloom was, that they were trying to get back to where they were."

It didn't take Johnson very long to know that Bloom has a rich history in basketball, football, baseball, wrestling, cross-country and track and field. The Hall of Fame outside the gym is filed with Sweet Sixteen banners, All-State banners and two state runnersup trophies in basketball and 11 state championship trophies -- six in track and field, three in cross-country and two in wrestling.

"I'm impressed by how many All-State basketball players there were, 16 of them, but none since Aaron Nelson 2008," Johnson said. "There were so many in the 1970s. I hope I will get there. But you have to put in work to do it. Leadership is important, how far I can take my teammates, pass the ball to the open man and make a shot when my number is called."

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

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Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”

Joe Maddon not expecting a shake-up of Cubs coaching staff

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Joe Maddon not expecting a shake-up of Cubs coaching staff

Unless Joe Maddon gets blindsided by top-down changes or a personal decision, it sounds like the Cubs manager expects his entire coaching staff to return for the 2018 season, keeping together the group that has made three consecutive trips to the National League Championship Series.

“Of course,” Maddon said Wednesday at Wrigley Field, where the defending World Series champs were facing an elimination game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, on the verge of getting swept out of the NLCS. “Listen, the staff’s done a great job. Our staff’s been awesome. It’s a tightly-knit group. Really, there’s a lot of synergy involved.

“Nobody knows everything. Everybody helps everybody. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. Nobody’s on their own little island. I really like that.”

Pitching coach Chris Bosio – who would be an in-demand candidate after helping develop Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and turn Kyle Hendricks into last year’s major-league ERA leader – also told WSCR-AM 670 that he believes the staff will remain intact.

Maddon – who only brought bench coach Dave Martinez over from the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season – is a hands-off boss and a baseball lifer who did a lot of grunt work before becoming rich and famous.

“I don’t think any of them ever withhold saying something to me that they have on their mind, which I really appreciate,” Maddon said. “They don’t feel like they can’t say it. That’s the one thing I always wanted to build, that kind of a method where: ‘If you got something, say it. Don’t hold it back. Just say it. You know you can.’

“There’s nothing held against you for doing it. I think in some places that isn’t the case, so there’s a lot of positive messaging going on.”

This would be a connect-the-dots scenario, but Maddon ruled out the idea of hiring Jim Hickey, the longtime pitching coach who has roots in Chicago and parted ways with the Rays this month. Hickey’s influence helped turn the Rays into a viable small-market contender, coaching up young pitchers like David Price and Chris Archer.

“I called him to console a friend,” Maddon said. “We have not discussed (anything else). I just wanted to know how he was doing, purely because it kind of surprised me, and it surprised a lot of us. So I did talk to ‘Hick,’ but we talk all the time.

“He sends me texts when he’s driving over the causeways down there, because he knows how much I love looking for dolphins driving over the Howard Franklin or the Gandy Bridge. So he (texts): ‘I saw a couple dolphins this morning.’ And I try to get him to come to our parties – he’s a funny guy.

“We had a great relationship and he’s going to turn out just fine. He’s going to be well-sought-after.”