Bulls

Back at site of 'lowest point,' Deng now at peace

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Back at site of 'lowest point,' Deng now at peace

BOSTON Back at the site of what could have been, Luol Deng is now at peace. Still, although recently named a first-time All-Star, the Bulls small forward is over the past missing the epic 2009 Bulls-Celtics first-round playoff series due to injury but hell never forget.

I think when I had the stress fracture and had to watch one of the best series Boston against us that Ive ever seen and to know that Im on that team, but I couldnt dress up and play, and then sitting there and reading everything, the papers, the fans and everyone saying that I wasnt really hurt, which is, to me, the lowest point and the craziest thing that I ever had to go through. To hear people saying things like that, he said.

I think thats the first time I really went through something like that and I think it really helped me a lot in bouncing back and just knowing how things were. Before, I felt like I was kind of loved by everyone. Thats how I really felt. Through my whole life, I never really experienced that if you want to call it hate or whatever it was until that point and sitting there for seven games, to me, thats the toughest thing Ive ever done through my whole career.

However, as much as the criticism stung, one thing Deng didnt pay attention to was the constantly swirling trade rumors, instead choosing to focus on improving his game.

Thats the one thing, my whole career, Ive kind of controlled. Ive never really allowed the trade rumors or anything else really get to me. There were times when I wasnt happy, but I always believed things would change somehow, he said. But I was never really caught up in, If I leave, what happens then? Whatever I cant control, I kind of allowed that and just left it alone. I kind of really focused on, How do I get better as a player?

I remember I just spent a lot of time in the gym. Went in the gym in the morning, took my lunch with me, ate there and then worked out again, then went home, Deng recalled when asked how he overcame the criticism and reinvented himself as a player. I really just stayed in the gym because I didnt want to be anywhere else.

It paid off. Chicago was an eighth seed the following season also, but after the ouster of Vinny Del Negro, now with the Clippers, Deng came through with one of his best all-around campaigns last seasons, under the direction of novice NBA head coach Tom Thibodeau.

I think the whole coaching staff Coach (Thibodeau), of course since they came along, I kind of feel like my career turned around. Just believing in me, being in the right role and just the teammates that I had, guys that are really fun to play with, he said. Even when I had the recent wrist injury which sidelined him for seven games, when the injury first happened, I think the toughest was not playing with the guys. It wasnt so much anything else, it was just not being out there with them. It kind of, in a way, felt bad, that it happened and I wanted to be back so bad. So really, its a bunch of things. Coach has been great, but its everything around. Everything around, just making it easier for me to come in and play.

From Thibodeaus perspective, even before he arrived in Chicago, Deng was always a great player.

We always thought he was very difficult to guard, from the standpoint of if you lost track of him, he was going to make you pay, the coach said of his view of Deng from afar, when he was a Celtics assistant. When you look at what hes done in his career, each year its been very good. So, when we were playing against him, we were always concerned about him and I think the thing that probably set him back a little bit was the injuries, and you dont have any control over that. The last two years have been relatively good, been very durable last year and this year you cant say enough about him coming back as quickly as hes done that and hes been terrific for us.

Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin, a former teammate of Deng and now the staffer who works with the teams wing players, has marveled at Dengs development, perseverance and now, league-wide recognition.

Im very ecstatic, just to be a former teammate, on the coaching staff and just to see how far hes grown as a player, and hes always been a professional, even at the age of 19, when he came in the league. He always took his craft seriously and hes one of the guys that I work with that I really dont have to monitor because he really self-monitors himself. Just a constant pro, so I was so happy because if anyone deserved it, it was Lu, Griffin told CSNChicago.com.

Hes been overcoming injury. Hes overcome criticism from him, I guess not playing through injuries or whatever people said about him Oh, hes not this type of caliber player and I think this proves everyone wrong, that he is an All-Star in this league. He plays on both ends of the court. Hes definitely, along with Derrick, our MVP of our team. Just the things that hes done he guards the toughest guy every night, runs the floor, defends, scores he does it all for us.

All the credit has to go with Tom Thibodeau and his system, and just with Luol Deng and his constant professionalism. I had very little to do with it. I think if you look at just the progress of everyone since Tom has come here, just the hard work and ethic that hes brought to this team, everyones been able to benefit from it and I think, no more than Luol Deng. Its just a great pleasure to be part of it.

For Deng, going through those difficult times were well worth it, considering the position that him personally and the Bulls as a team are in now. He considers the past two seasons the best of his eight-year career.

The last two years have definitely been that. I think just the record last year, going to the playoffs, the attitude, the mindset that we have, it makes basketball a lot more fun. It makes it really so much easier to be in this locker room, knowing that youve just got to do the little things and youll win. Some nights, you dont do much and you still get credit for it, he explained. It just shows how much depth and the players that we have.

"There are nights that I know that I havent played well, but because of the teams success, you get a lot of credit for it and in the past, theres nights where you give everything and you work so hard, and you go play and you dont get any credit, so its really great to be on this side and this kind of team, where everyone in this locker room kind of give it their all for everyone when we go out there.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Media day recap and the biggest story lines heading into training camp

Bulls Talk Podcast: Media day recap and the biggest story lines heading into training camp

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue recap Bulls media day and the start of training camp. They’ll discuss the battle for minutes at the small forward position, and the big expectations placed on Zach LaVine this season. Plus, Will and Kendall share their most memorable training camp stories during their careers.

You can listen to the whole thing right here, or in the embedded player below: 

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

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USA TODAY

Something of the future: Nick Madrigal has a bright future with White Sox, no matter what position he plays

There’s a good deal of time before the White Sox need to decide where Nick Madrigal fits in the puzzle that is the team’s lineup of the future.

The good news is that he’s a piece that can fit into several different spots.

Part of the allure of Madrigal’s first-round selection in this summer’s draft was that he was a talented defender capable of playing a number of positions on the infield. And though he almost exclusively played second base during his first season as a pro, he’s still capable of playing elsewhere on the infield.

Heck, he’s even got experience catching. Kind of.

“I’ve worked on different positions throughout my life in the infield,” Madrigal said, meeting with reporters Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field. “When my dad hit me ground balls, I made sure to take them from both sides of the bag, just to make sure I had that in my back pocket. I’ve played a lot of shortstop my whole life.

“When I was really young I caught, so I feel like I’ve played almost every position on the field and I feel comfortable doing that.”

Madrigal made sure to point out that the last time he played catcher he was 11 years old, so don’t expect to see him bring those skills to the majors when he eventually arrives on the South Side. But his versatility means there’s a variety of permutations that Rick Renteria could employ when the time comes.

Selecting a middle infielder — and one with three years of collegiate experience, at that — was a bit of a curious decision when the White Sox made the pick back in June. It’s not because anyone didn’t like the skill set that Madrigal brings; he was considered the best all-around player in college baseball and is already the organization’s No. 4 prospect in MLB Pipeline’s rankings. But two members of the White Sox young core are currently playing middle infield in the major leagues. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada figure to be pretty well entrenched in their positions, with the team talking about them both as if they’ll be around for a very long time after things shift from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

Will there be room for all three of those guys on the diamond, should they all live up to expectations? The White Sox certainly would qualify that as a good problem to have. But Madrigal’s versatility could help solve it before it starts. To their credit, both Anderson and Moncada have also commented this season about a willingness to play other positions.

Like with many of the other highly touted prospects in the White Sox loaded farm system, Madrigal already has sky-high expectations from the rebuild-loving fan base. He played at three different levels of minor league baseball in his short time since joining the organization, and after a successful collegiate career that included a College World Series win this summer, there’s an expectation that he could fly through the system.

Whether or not that ends up happening, the expectations likely won’t decrease any time soon: In 43 minor league games, Madrigal slashed .308/.353/.348 with a jaw-droppingly low five strikeouts in 173 plate appearances.

“Throughout my life I’ve always had expectations,” Madrigal said. “I know there’s always going to be people talking and social media and all that stuff. I’m really just focused on now and, while I’m in the instructional league, trying to get better, trying help the people around me. Those things don’t bother me, but I know they’re going to be there my whole life. But I’m not worried about it at all.

“I’ve won at every level I’ve been at so far, going back to Little League, high school and college. That’s something I want to continue doing. And it seems like this organization is the perfect fit for me.”

So how quickly could Madrigal force the issue and reach the big leagues? His bat will likely determine the answer to that question, and we’ll see what the results are next season. He’s not concerned about it, however. He seems to share the confidence of many of his fellow White Sox prospects. He definitely shares the knowledge that the decision on when he reaches the bigs is not his to make.

Whether at second base, shortstop or third base — or catcher (not really) — Madrigal has a bright future ahead, another reason for fans to be so excited about this team’s future. How long will this particular waiting game last? You’ll just have to, well, wait.

“It’s kind of out of my control at this point,” he said. “Whatever the organization needs me to do. I can definitely see this being a home for me sometime soon.”