Cubs

Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

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Asik excited about facing former team on his new turf

HOUSTONThis citys Houston good, Omer Asik said. A little bit hotter than Chicago.

Besides the change in weather, the former Bulls center is thriving on the court, averaging 10 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, albeit for a 4-7 team. His new squad, the Rockets, host the Bulls at the Toyota Center in a battle of two clubs trying to snap losing streaks two consecutive defeats for the Bulls, a trio of losses for Houston Wednesday night.

Im really excited. I spent two years with them and we had a really good team, and good friendships with everybody, Asik told CSNChicago.com after the Rockets morning shootaround. Its going to be really interesting to play against them.

Asik, a native of Turkey whose mastery of English is far better than he lets on, has fond memories of his time in Chicago, despite signing a three-year, nearly 25 million contract with the Rockets as a free agent over the summer.

Actually, it wasnt totally my decision either. Its just happened like that, whatever happened and Im just moving forward, he said, referring to the Bulls decision not to match Houstons back-loaded offer sheet, which included a 15 million salary for the final year of the deal. I had a really good coach, Thibs, and really good, experienced teammates that helped me a lot in my first two seasons and Im very happy that I started my NBA career with them.

I watch some Bulls games, but not much. But theyve been playing very good, like they always do, continued Asik, who noted that the Bulls are used to playing without injured superstar Derrick Rose, who missed 27 regular-season games last year. Of course, when you play without the MVP, its a little bit tough, but I think theyve been playing very good, especially on defense.

Asik shrugged off praise for his offensive development, but did refer to the challenges of playing with one of the NBAs youngest teams, led by the dynamic backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

Im trying to play hard, like usual. Im just trying to win the games to help the team. Thats all I can do, try to get better, he explained. Lin and Harden are really talented and James played last season in the Finals, which is a good experience at a young age and playing with them, we dont know each other yet, but I think itll get better.

Added Rockets interim head coach Kelvin Sampson, who is filling in for regular head coach Kevin McHale while the Hall of Famer deals with a family issue: Sometimes when a guy I think he averaged 14 minutes a game prior to coming here theres always a little bit of a mystery factor. What would he do if he had 30 minutes or 35 minutes?

Hes one of a handful -- 10 guys maybe -- in the NBA, thats averaging a double-double. I think that Omer has to never forget who he is, though. Sometimes, theres a double-edged sword with working with guys on their offense. They want to go to games and start experimenting. Id rather you experiment in practice, hoss, continued Sampson, who was familiar with Asik from his time as an assistant coach with Milwaukee, a Central Division rival of the Bulls.

He needs to be more sure of whats going on come game time. But Omer is more of a facilitator for us than a scorer. I think thats part of his growth as he gets older and more experienced, that he hes going to get more comfortable with catching the ball and scoring. Hes not there yet, but hes trying. But we dont want him trying at the expense of getting other guys shots. Omer needs to run the floor, needs to set good screens.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

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AP

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.