Cubs

Banged up Wolverines prepare for Pontiac

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Banged up Wolverines prepare for Pontiac

On Thursday the Simeon Wolverines travel to Pontiac, Ill. for the 82nd Pontiac Holiday Tournament. The 16-team field is a solid one, packed with very good squads from around the state, giving the Wolverines an opportunity to continue to build their rhythm.
Simeon will play its first game at 7:30 Thursday night against United Township High School of East Moline, Ill.
The Wolverines head into Pontiac banged up, as Illinois commit Kendrick Nunn is nursing a hip injury and Jabari Parker, who committed to Duke last Thursday, is still working his way back into playing shape while continuing to rehab his injured foot.
On Wednesday, Simeon held its final practice before departing for Pontiac Thursday. And while Parker was able to participate, Nunn instead opted to spend his time in the swimming pool working on his hip.
On Tuesday I bruised my hip in practice, so today I just tried to work it out in the pool trying to get it loose, explained Nunn after practice. Its still tight, but Im going to ice it and see how I feel on Thursday. I should be able to play in the tournament I probably wont be 100 percent and in a couple of days, I should be better.
As for Parker, hes been working extremely hard to get himself back into form. The All-American hasnt played since Dec. 15 when the Wolverines competed in a tournament in Memphis, Tenn. He missed all the teams practices and games against Carver and Brooks last week as he continues to rehab and work on his conditioning.
Im feeling alright. Going through rehab has been a pain. But Im just glad I get to practice with my guys, Parker said after practice on Wednesday. I feel a lot better, though. I feel like my legs are getting better, my hips are getting stronger which helps out my feet, and Im just getting my rhythm back, gradually.
Coach Robert Smith had his team go through a full-court scrimmage during practice and, instead of having Parker play with the starters like he normally would, strategically placed him with the second group. During the scrimmage seniors Russell Woods and Dayton commit Kendall Pollard pushed their star player, and Smith was pleased with what he saw.
I liked the intensity today, and thats probably because Jabari was here and he was on the opposite team as the starters today, Smith said. He was really competing with Kendall and Russell and the intensity was just so much better.
Parker appreciated the challenge from his coach and commended both his teammates for doing all they can to make him work hard and improve.
Im trying to just finish strong at the basket trying to draw fouls. Russell pushes me there because hes so athletic and I have to alter my shot sometimes. But Im working on just trying to go to the basket as strong as possible, Parker said.
Kendall is a real good player. Hes probably one of the best in Chicago and in the country. Hes helped me continually, ever since I was a freshman. I just keep on going at him and he goes at me twice as hard. Thats what makes it so competitive.
Today was the best that Jabari has looked in a while, opined Smith after practice. Hes starting to look like himself a little bit. He still looks a little winded, but thatll come in time. But offensively he was able to move and defensively he was able to move. He looked like he could explode off the ground and I think its because hes lost the weight. But were just taking it day by day and hell continue to get better.
Smith said he is looking to see his team continue to jell and improve as a unit in the upcoming tournament. With only five games under their belt since Dec. 1, the Wolverines are still playing catch up with teams who already have established their rhythm and havent been beset by injuries.
Im looking for us to get better offensively, defensively, and to just have better cohesiveness, Smith said. Kendrick is a little banged up and hopefully he can get on the court and we can have our full team. We still havent played a game with our full team yet. I think Jabari is probably at 45 or 50 percent now, and if Kendrick can get out there on the floor and we can get into a rhythm with our full group, I think well look pretty good.

Where Cubs stand in updated All-Star voting

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USA TODAY

Where Cubs stand in updated All-Star voting

The Cubs were swept in four games at the hands of the Reds. The news on the All-Star ballot hasn’t been kind as well.

Starting positions for Cubs players at the 2018 MLB All-Star game is looking a little bleak. But catcher Willson Contreras is still in striking distance.

MLB updated its third round of All-Star ballots for the National League. Dating back a week ago, Contreras was behind Giants catcher Buster Posey by 90,000 votes. As of now, that number is quite similar with Posey up 92,000 votes.

For other Cubs players, the margins have continued to grow in the wrong direction as the week has gone along.

The race for first base is a clear cut path for Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman. With nearly 2,200,000 votes to Freeman’s name, he’s ahead of Anthony Rizzo by nearly 1.3 million votes. At this point last week, Rizzo was down 870,000 votes.

The race for second base is a bit closer. Javier Baez has complied 1,186,243 votes, but he still trails Braves’ Ozzie Albies by 222,000 votes.

But Baez shouldn’t be too comfortable. Reds second basemen Scooter Gennett is just 19,000 votes behind him. Gennett could leap frog Baez, with still 10 days left to vote.

If Baez can get his name ahead of Albies, he’d become the second Cub to start at second base for the second time in three years, when Ben Zobrist started in 2016.

Kris Bryant, who has struggled this year offensively, is still struggling in the Midsummer Classic standings. Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado leads Bryant by 646,400 votes, compared to 447,000 votes last week.

Rounding out the infield with Addison Russel at shortstop, he still sits in third place, trailing Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and Giants Brandon Crawford.

In the outfield, it is more of the same for Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, and Ben Zobrist. Heyward sits in seventh place with 750,688 votes. Schwarber in eighth has 706,374 votes, and Zobrist has 694,377 votes in ninth.

Even though the Cubs probably won’t see multiple starters on the field this time around, it doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to be selected as reserves.

Cub faithful still has time to get their players to the All-Star game. Voting ends July 5 at 11 p.m. CT.

The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming

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USA TODAY

The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming

It seems like yesterday the Blackhawks were scraping for young, impact defensemen prospects. Just one, even.

Oh, how that's changed significantly over the last 12 months.

In 2015 and 2016, the Blackhawks did not own a first-round pick. And before that, they hadn't drafted a defenseman in the first round since Dylan Olsen — 28th overall — in 2009. Luckily, they had already hit on Duncan Keith (second round in 2002) and Brent Seabrook (first round in 2003) in back-to-back drafts, and two years later on Niklas Hjalmarsson (fourth round in 2005).

That was a long time ago. Keith is turning 35 in July and Seabrook turned 33 in April. The Blackhawks have gotten that second wave of talent up front with Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Sikura. The same can't be said for the defense.

But it's coming.

Since last June, the Blackhawks have added defensemen Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin to their pipeline and used each of their three first-round picks in the past two drafts to do it. Mitchell was the lone second-round pick, and he had an oustanding freshman season at Denver, meaning he could be ready sooner than later — probably after his sophomore campaign.

Despite the need for defensemen, the Blackhawks never wavered on their draft approach and the desire to add instant help didn't impact how they went about this past weekend. Draft the best player available and you can't go wrong.

The good news for the Blackhawks is, the players that were rated highest on their board when their picks rolled around were positional needs. How fitting.

"Coming into the draft, we're just looking for the best value players we have; guys ranked the highest at their spots," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on drafting Boqvist and Beaudin. "It just so happened they're both defensemen, which is great because that's a very important position. I think they're the highest valued assets.

"Calling around this week about potential trades and looking for players and they're the hardest things to find. We didn't draft them just because they're defensemen. We like both of their style of play, their skill set. I think they both play the modern NHL game. Both have bright futures."

There are high hopes for all four of them.

Then you look deeper inside the organization and you'll find Gustav Forsling, who was once considered the Blackhawks' top defensive prospect and currently finds himself in the five-spot. Yet, he's the most NHL ready and could have a full-time role with the Blackhawks next season.

Peel the next layer and you'll see Blake Hillman, who showed promise and great situational defensive awareness in his brief stint last season. Dennis Gilbert, who brings size and physicality, offers a different element and will continue his developement with the Rockford IceHogs. And then there's Lucas Carlsson and Carl Dahlstrom, both of whom could make things interesting in training camp.

Suddenly, the Blackhawks are faced with having, what you would call, a good problem to have by putting together one of the best young defensive farm systems in the league.

Now, that's not to say that each of these guys are going to pan out the way the Blackhawks are hoping they will. But you're increasing your chances by collecting a number of players with high-end talent and creating competition.

The real question is when they'll all be ready.

While there may be temptation to push them along to help the Blackhawks in the short term, it's important to resist that because the future on the back end looks promising if they each grow at their own pace.

Boqvist has the potential to be Erik Karlsson as a best-case scenario. Even if he can be half of that, that's a win. Jokiharju's ceiling is whatever he wants it to be, and throwing Boqvist into the mix perhaps alleviates some pressure off his shoulders. Beaudin and Mitchell each have top-four potential and should develop as such.

Knowing what they could be capable of with proper development, there shouldn't be any reason to rush it. Just be excited they're on the way.