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Are Tuck, Loyd on All-Time Five Best?

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Are Tuck, Loyd on All-Time Five Best?

Steve Tucker and Derril Kipp have been close friends for years. Nobody knows more about girls high school basketball in Illinois than they do. They have been observing the game for more than 30 years, Tucker as a former high school sports writer and editor at the Chicago Sun-Times and Kipp as a basketball coach at Maine West in Des Plaines.

They agree on a lot of things but when the conversation turns to Bolingbrook's Morgan Tuck and Niles West's Jewell Loyd, two of the most prolific scorers in state history, they agree to disagree. They agree both are great high school players. But how great? All-time greats?

The subject came to a boiling point on January 16th when Tuck and Loyd were matched up in the showcase game of the annual McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook. Tuck scored 26 points as Bolingbrook crushed Niles West 67-36. Loyd scored 26 points but shot only 6-for-19.

Tuck is a 6-foot-2 senior who is committed to Connecticut. She was Illinois' Ms. Basketball in 2009, a three-time All-State selection who is a member of USA Basketball's U17 and U19 national teams. She averages 31 points per game and hopes to lead Bolingbrook to an unprecedented fourth state championship in a row.

Loyd is 5-foot-10 senior who is committed to Notre Dame. She is a two-time All-Stater and a member of USA Basketball's U17 national team. She averages 30 points per game.

According to All-Star Girls Report, Loyd and Tuck rank 3 and 4 nationally in the class of 2012. A year ago, Tuck's teammate, Ariel Massengale, now a freshman starter at Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in the class of 2011.

So where do Tuck and Loyd rank among the all-timers in Illinois?

"It is hard to compare players from different eras," Tucker said. "Tuck and Loyd don't rank on my list of the top five but they have to be in the discussion for the second five."

Tucker's first five, in no particular order, are Yolanda Griffith of Carver (1988), Candace Parker of Naperville Central (2004), Tamika Catchings of Stevenson (1995), Kim Williams of Marshall (1993) and Tina Hutchinson of East St. Louis Lincoln (1983).

Griffith emerged as one of the all-time greats in women's basketball, a future Hall of Famer who has been voted as one of the 15 best players in the history of the WNBA. Parker, one of the top five players in the WNBA today, is a likely member of the 2012 Olympic team. Catchings, another WNBA star, played only two years at Stevenson, losing only one game and winning a state title before moving to Texas. Williams won three state titles in four years at Marshall. Hutchinson was the first dominant player in state history but she was injured before her great career could be realized.

Tucker's second five would include Tuck, Loyd, Whitney Young's Dominique Canty and E.C. Hill, Peoria Richwoods' Nora Lewis, Chicago Notre Dame's Carol Owens, Marshall's Kim McQuarter, Joliet East's Pam Gant, Joliet West's Kathy Boswell, South Shore's Diana Vines, Lindblom's Donna Holt, Hinsdale Central's Toni Kokenis, Senn's Bebe McBride and Maine West's Nancy Kennelly.

"Tuck has a great skill set. What amazes me is how much better she is now than last year," Tucker said. "She won state last year and was good. But she is much better now. She is playing on a team with seven other Division I players and she dominates. She has developed so much.

"The biggest difference is she has gone from more of a post player who played with her back to the basket and rebounded to a player who shoots the three. She can do everything. Is she a top five player? The others have more history. If Bolingbrook wins the state again, since no one has ever won four in a row in girls, you'd have to add that to the mix."

Kipp also rates Griffith and Catchings on his all-time first five. But he also picks Boswell (1978), Lewis (1985) and Marshall's Janet Harris (1981) to fill out his starting lineup. He singles out Lewis, who was national high school player of the year in 1985 and later was a national collegiate player of the year who won two NCAA championships at Louisiana Tech, as "maybe the best player ever."

Kipp's second five are Hutchinson, Canty, Massengale, Parker and Marshall's Marie Christian.

"Is Tuck as good as Massengale? She is good but the state titles that Bolingbrook won were precipitated by Massengale's ability. Without her, they wouldn't have won any state titles," Kipp said.

"Tuck is a player who has gotten better each year. She has the ability to play inside and outside. But she has to prove she can play at Connecticut because of her (6-foot-2) size. She can't play in the post at Connecticut. No one pushes her around in Illinois. She has to keep changing her game, depending on where they play her in college."

Tucker said Loyd is "one of the most offensive-minded players I have seen. She has no range. She can make it from half-court. It is so hard to compare the two because Tuck plays with so many Division I players. There never has been a match-up of two kids like that in one game. If she was at Bolingbrook and Tuck at Niles West, they still would be great players but maybe the whole take on this story would be different," he said.

Kipp isn't as impressed. "She will be good at Notre Dame. In high school, she is scoring a lot of points and does a lot of things because no one can guard her. She is shooting the ball extremely well from deep but she isn't being guarded by people who can guard her," he said.

"She isn't a top five player. Does she have great potential? Yes. She can handle the ball. And she scored 50 points against Maine West. But I like Tuck way better. She is more of a team player and plays harder."

The first 10 women inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville in November were Boswell, Gant, Canty, Catchings, Harris, Williams, Lewis, Hutchinson, Griffith and Hill. Parker wasn't eligible because nominees must be out of high school for 10 years before being considered.

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

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USA TODAY

In Astros' dominance, White Sox fans might catch a glimpse of their team's future

It might end up an ugly week for the White Sox in Houston. But try to find some beauty in what this Astros team looks like. Because it's what the White Sox hope to look like, eventually.

While White Sox fans were likely staring with a frown at Brad Peacock mowing down their team's lineup and at a couple home runs absolutely blasted out of Minute Maid Park in the first of this four-game series Monday night, know that the inverse of that feeling is what the White Sox front office is hoping to deliver in the coming seasons.

The Astros, along with the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago, are the template for what the White Sox are trying to do with their ongoing rebuilding process. Houston experienced some hideous seasons on the way to becoming a perennial contender and a World Series champion in 2017, losing a combined 416 games in four seasons from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, the Astros made their first postseason appearance in a decade. Two years later, they were the world champs, and they remain an annual title contender and are currently the best team in baseball two years after that.

The first part of that should sound familiar, as the White Sox have lost a combined 195 games in the two seasons since this rebuild officially began. Things are better now than they were during last year's 100-loss campaign, but it's expected to be another season of more losses than wins and another season without a playoff berth on the South Side, which would be the franchise's 11th straight to end without a trip to the postseason.

The second half of the Astros rags-to-riches story is yet to come for the White Sox, who are still waiting for young players to develop at both the major league and minor league levels, still waiting for the entire core to assemble in the big leagues. That includes, right now, waiting for certain players to recover from serious injuries. That includes watching growing pains up and down the organization. It's not unexpected for such things to happen in the middle of a rebuild. But when mired in the losing years, they become constant sources of frustration for fans.

Just like no one in Houston looks back fondly on the 100-loss seasons of 2011, 2012 and 2013, it's unlikely South Side baseball fans will look back fondly on these loss-heavy campaigns. But it's part of the process, as maddening as that might be to keep hearing.

Fortunately, there are examples of what the end of the tunnel looks like, and the White Sox are up against one of those examples this week. The Astros are dominating the competition so far this season, their young core of sluggers and a few overpowering starting pitchers fueling the best team in baseball. George Springer and Jose Altuve might have been out of the lineup Monday night, but Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman were still on display. And none of those guys were the ones to blast home runs halfway to Oklahoma off the White Sox on Rick Renteria's otherwise successful bullpen day. Peacock was traded a few times before landing in Houston, and Justin Verlander and Geritt Cole were trade acquisitions, as well. All of those guys have made the Astros a formidable force once again.

The White Sox are likely going to have to make a few outside acquisitions, too, before they can finally reach baseball's mountaintop. General manager Rick Hahn says that's the plan. But the homegrown portion of those rosters of the future could resemble what the Astros have put together in recent seasons. Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins. That's the planned core on the South Side. And Hahn has a number of young pitchers who could make up a fearsome rotation, too, in Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito. There are more names White Sox fans are familiar with who could play big roles, too.

That's a lot of talent, and while White Sox fans might remain skeptical until the wins start coming at an increased rate, the blueprint is there for those pieces to come together and create something special. The blueprint is what's across the field from the White Sox this week in Houston.

The Astros might cause some bad feelings for the White Sox and their fans over the next few nights. But if they look closely, they might catch a glimpse of the White Sox future if this rebuild goes where Hahn & Co. envision it going.

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Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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