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Adekoya attracts attention at Andrew

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Adekoya attracts attention at Andrew

Andrew has won state championships in baseball, bowling and badminton.
In basketball, however, the Tinley Park school has won only one regional title in 35 years. And the Thunderbolts have never won a conference title.

Jubril Adekoya and Alex Zappavigna hope to change all of that.

"When I leave, I want to feel as though I helped to build a tradition," Adekoya said. "I want to continue to keep my head on my shoulders, stay humble and leave a legacy behind. I hope I can be remembered as a kid who stayed at his community school and helped them make a run Downstate, a humble kid who put his community on his back and helped it to get attention and notoriety."

Adekoya, a 6-foot-6 junior, is making a name for himself -- and his school, which will carry a 6-0 record into the 62nd annual Kankakee Holiday Tournament Dec. 28-30 in Kankakee. He already has scholarship offers from Loyola, Akron, Toledo and Valparaiso and is averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game.

"He is the third Division I player in 35 years at Andrew," said coach Mike O'Halloran. "The assistant coach at Valparaiso, (former Illinois star) Roger Powell, said he reminds him of himself. He is very intelligent, knowledgeable and has great leadership skills. And as good a player as he is, he is even better off the court."

Adekoya, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds in last Friday's 55-30 rout of Bradley, is supported by his older brother, 6-foot-1 senior Jawad Adekoya (12.8 ppg), 6-foot senior point guard Mike Bobek (7.6 ppg, 3.6 assists), 6-foot-1 junior Glorind Lisha (6.2 ppg) and Zappavigna, a 6-foot-3 senior (5.6 ppg). Lisha had 14 points and three steals against Bradley. Tyler Hook, a 6-foot-5 senior (8.5 ppg), is the sixth man.

Like Adekoya, Zappavigna recalls when it wasn't fun to play basketball at Andrew. "I remember going to the last football game when Andrew made the state playoff. The stands were packed. Then a few months later, we played basketball and got blown out and not many people showed up," he said.

"I always read about baseball and football at Andrew. Basketball was an afterthought. We came in as freshmen and knew we had a good group. If we all stuck with it, we felt we could be successful. We felt that we could do things that this school has never done before.

"It's fun so far. It's cool to see people more excited about coming to basketball games for once. The student cheering section, T-Bolt Storm, is really into it. For once, people are talking about basketball instead of baseball or football."

It didn't happen overnight. But it happened by design. O'Halloran, in his 25th year of coaching, the last eight as Andrew's head coach, describes himself as a student of the game. He returned the top six players from last year's 16-11 team that lost to Lockport in the regional final and recognized there was a lot of basketball ability to work with.

"I knew we had good quality kids, lunch bucket kids who would work hard," said O'Halloran, a 1980 graduate of Homewood-Flossmoor. "They had a great summer. They played four nights a week. They played 40 games in two leagues. They have good chemistry. They'll intelligent and coachable.

"The community is taking notice. All of our kids are from here, freshmen through seniors. The people are getting excited about the team. The students are turning out. The kids see their peers coming out to see them. Everybody likes a winner."

Coming out of eighth grade, Jubril Adekoya had an option to go to a private school such as Marist but he chose to enroll at Andrew because his two brothers went there. He wanted to play basketball but he rationalized that education and ABCs were his priority, not basketball and X's and O's.

"It was the right decision for me and my family," he said. "Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect. After one year, I knew for a fact that we had some good players to make some noise around the area. Halfway through my sophomore year, when Lisha and I played together on the varsity, I realized how good we could be."

O'Halloran saw it, too. Last summer, Andrew defeated Morgan Park and Bloom and lost a close decision to St. Joseph. "If we could play against that caliber of team, we had something to look forward to this season," he said.

"We've had a summer camp for eight years but this group bought into it more and was more dedicated and more committed to it than any other. A lot of them are basketball players and not playing other sports. They aren't pulled in different directions. They made time to make a commitment. They juggled their schedules and balanced their time."

Jubril Adekoya saw the difference, too. "I've been on a lot of teams where one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. I was excited to come back this year. I'm not surprised to be 6-0 now. I'm blessed to be with the guys I am with. We're not satisfied with anything we've done. As well as we're playing, our ceiling is much higher," he said.

Adekoya has received a lot of interest from mid-major colleges. But he isn't hung up on recruiting. He plans to patiently bide his time while the process runs its course. "I want to prove I can play at a higher level and get their attention so they will offer me," he said.

Zappavigna believes Andrew will command more attention if it wins the Kankakee tournament. "In order to prove we are for real officially, we have to win at Kankakee," he said.

"The difference with this team is we work well together. Each person knows his place. We don't care who scores points. We won at Thornton and Jubril had only five points. We overcome our lack of size with hustle, by crashing the boards as a team and by getting second-chance points. Yes, it's cool to see people excited to come to our basketball games."

Opening-round pairings of the Kankakee Holiday Tournament will pit Momence vs. Manteno, Deer Creek-Mackinaw vs. Illiana Christian, Watseka vs. Bishop McNamara and St. Anne vs. Herscher in Class AAA and Newport Harbor (Calif.) vs Milwaukee South, Bremen vs. Bradley, Andrew vs. Carver and Kanakee vs. Peotone in Class 3A4A.

Kris Bryant is ready for fatherhood '[I was] put on this earth to be a dad'

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant is ready for fatherhood '[I was] put on this earth to be a dad'

Suffice to say Kris Bryant is budding with anticipation for becoming a father.

Bryant and his wife, Jessica, are expecting their first child — a baby boy due in April. During Friday night’s Cubs-Padres broadcast, the third baseman shared his excitement for fatherhood with reporter Taylor McGregor

“I think this is really what I’ve been put on this Earth to do, is be a dad,” Bryant said, laughing. “Obviously I play baseball pretty good, but I’m just so excited [for] this new journey with my wife and my family. Honestly, I think this is going to be one of the best years of my life.”

Bryant’s son is due shortly after Opening Day, but the Cubs will play two spring training games in Las Vegas — Bryant’s hometown — on March 7-8. He told McGregor one of Jessica’s last doctor’s appointments is around the same time, so Bryant will get one last visit in before Baby Bryant is born.

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How Dusty Baker inspired former Cub Adam Greenberg after scary head injury

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AP

How Dusty Baker inspired former Cub Adam Greenberg after scary head injury

Adam Greenberg’s baseball career was cut short by a scary head injury 15 years ago. But with the help of Dusty Baker, he found the motivation to transition to his post-baseball life.

Greenberg made his MLB debut with the Cubs on July 9, 2005, and Baker called upon the then 24-year-old to pinch-hit in the ninth inning against the Marlins. On the first pitch Greenberg saw in the big leagues, Marlins reliever Valerio De Los Santos hit him in the back of the head with a 92-mph fastball.

Greenberg was concussed from the incident, suffered from vertigo and vision problems, and battled depression. The Cubs released him in 2006 and he caught on with the Royals and later the Dodgers in 2007 — which is when Baker reappears in the story. From MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

A couple of years following the incident, in 2007, Baker got a letter from a fan requesting a baseball card be signed. In the letter, the person told Baker that Greenberg had been released by the Royals and his baseball career was in jeopardy. Baker tracked down Greenberg and left him the voice mail that served as his motivation for a post-baseball life.

“It was so genuine and from the heart,” Greenberg said. “It put me in tears the first time, but it was the motivation and inspiration I needed to get up and keep going. And since then, he’s been somebody that’s been near and dear to me."

It's unfortunate Greenberg couldn’t experience a long big-league career, but Baker inspired him and helped him move forward post-baseball. According to McTaggart, Greenberg started a nutrition company and sold it 10 years later. He also ran for state senate in Connecticut in 2019 and is currently a baseball analyst for the ACC Network.

Greenberg’s career effectively ended moments after it began, but 2005 wasn’t the last time he stepped in a big-league batters’ box. In 2012, fans started an online petition to get him one last at-bat — and his career came full circle. The Marlins signed him to a one-day contract on Oct. 2, 2012, and he pinch-hit that same day against the Mets.

Greenberg struck out on three pitches, but Baker’s voicemail left a mark on his life. Seeing him enjoy success outside of baseball is as heartwarming as it gets.