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Basketball creating a buzz at TF South

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Basketball creating a buzz at TF South

Before every practice and every home game, Paul Pierce walks into the gym at Thornton Fractional South in Lansing and gazes at the plaque hanging on the wall, the one that celebrates the basketball team's victory in the 1963 regional championship, the only title in school history.

"Our goal is to accomplish what the 1963 team did," Pierce said. "Coach reminds us of that every day. We came close to Thornton two years ago, then lost to Plainfield South by one point in the first game of the regional last year. It is important for us to do something that hasn't been done before."

In his third season, TF South coach John O'Rourke is trying to turn hamburger into filet mignon. A TF South graduate of 1995, he played basketball for four years and served as former coach Marc Brewe's assistant for three years. When Brewe became athletic director, O'Rourke moved up.

He knows the drill. TF South has never won a conference title in basketball. It is a football and basketball school. Pierre Thomas and Curtis Granderson went there. Brewe had only one winning team in seven years. He went from 1-24 in 2007 to 22-5 in 2008. Last year, the Rebels were 11-16.

"It was a challenge that I wanted to take on," O'Rourke said. "I wanted to build off what coach Brewe had started in his later years. Now we have started to get more kids in the building who are dedicated to basketball.

"This year we have a good group of kids who work hard, listen and want to improve every day. To be successful, you need kids who are committed. I believe is what we are doing and the kids have bought in. We're seeing more success. The community and staff and parents are more excited about the product on the floor. There is a buzz in the school."

TF South is 6-3 after losing to Joliet West 62-59 and Argo 63-60 last week. But two fender-benders don't make a train wreck. And they certainly don't force a sudden closing to an otherwise promising season. The Rebels hope to regroup as they prepare to meet Lincoln-Way Central in the opening round of the Lincoln-Way East Holiday Tournament on Dec. 26.

Their shortcoming is a lack of size. They were burned by Joliet West's 6-foot-9 Marlon Johnson, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

"Our biggest fear is if we face a big team that can handle the ball and can make plays. That would be a problem for us," O'Rourke said. "The strength of our team is good shooting. We play very hard for four quarters. We pressure the ball and harass the ball-handlers. That's why we press and play full-court man-to-man and trap all over the floor. We have to create steals and get scoring opportunities."

Pierce, a 6-foot senior, is one of the best players ever produced at TF South. He averages 15 points and six rebounds per game. He is attracting interest from North Park, Roosevelt and Northern Kentucky. A good student (he has a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale), he wants to play basketball in college.

O'Rourke ranks Pierce in a class with former TF South stars Brian Flaherty, son of Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty who played at St. Xavier, and Paris Carter, now at Illinois-Chicago, who is described as "our best player ever."

"Paul is coming off a down junior year. He averaged only five points per game and struggled a lot. He lost his confidence," O'Rourke said. "But he improved a lot over the summer. He got his shot and his skills back. He is the leader of our team on the floor."

Pierce starts along with 6-3 senior Ira Crawford (13 PPG, 7 RPG), 5-foot-9 junior Donald Hardaway (7 PPG), 5-foot-8 sophomore point guard Robert Ryan (11 PPG, 5 assistsgame) and 6-foot-2 senior Kaleb Garrett (6 RPG). Kenny Doss (10 PPG), a 6-foot-1 junior, and Mychelle Bullock (7 PPG), a 6-foot-2 senior, come off the bench.

Pierce admits he lost confidence last year and credits his brother for reminding him that "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." He never stopped working hard even though his shot wasn't falling and his scoring average dropped.

"Last year, I took a backseat because we had a lot of seniors on the team. It was their team, not my team," he said. "I was over-thinking, not just playing basketball. My shot was flat, not smooth. I was determined to turn things around."

Usually, Pierce goes to Starkville, Mississippi, in the summer to work out with his cousin, NBA player Travis Outlaw. Not last summer. Instead, he chose to stay in Lansing to play with the Illinois Wolverines, an AAU team featuring several players that Pierce had played with since sixth grade.

"I slept in the gym. I took 100 shots in the morning, then 300 the rest of the day. I got my confidence and my shot back," he said. "But the last two games told me that I have to take more control of the game, step up and take charge. I learned that when we face a big man that all of us have to crash the boards and play defense. We have to play as a team if we're going to accomplish our goal."

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

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USA TODAY

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Explaining the roster move as Cubs switch backup catchers

Chris Gimenez is in.

Victor Caratini is out.

Gimenez will not be Yu Darvish's personal catcher.

OK, we all caught up?

It's a lot more complicated than that, but those are the three main takeaways from the Cubs' early roster moves Saturday afternoon as they optioned Caratini back to Triple-A Iowa, recalled the veteran Gimenez and designated first baseman Efren Navarro for assignment to make room for Gimenez on the 40-man roster.

Then, roughly 45 mins before Saturday's game was to start, the Cubs announced they were placing Darvish on the disabled list with right triceps tendinitis.

Gimenez, 35, has been friends with Darvish since he was the pitcher's personal catcher with the Texas Rangers in 2014.

Darvish's last two starts have been solid but overall he's struggled since signing a $126 million deal with the Cubs prior to the season. Many have thought Gimenez could help make the dynamic starting pitcher feel more comfortable.

The Cubs were also faced with losing Gimenez on June 1, the date of the opt-out in his contract if he were not called up to the big leagues by that point. So the Cubs were on the clock.

"It has nothing to do with [catching Darvish]," Maddon said. "I can sit here and try to explain that and I think there'll be skeptics. It has nothing to do with that at all. It's all about Caratini's development.

"This is something we talked about in spring training. Not to say that Gimmy might not catch him in the future, but this move was purely based on Caratini and the fact that Gimenez is available, veteran, can sit on the bench in a manner that you don't feel like you're injuring their development."

Maddon managed Gimenez with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012-13 and knows he can trot the journeyman out in the outfield, first base or even on the mound.

Gimenez also has 9 career appearances as a pitcher, including 6 last season with the Minnesota Twins where he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings.

He's not sure yet how he'll be used, but is ready for anything, including lending moral support to the injured Darvish.

"From top to bottm, this is a class organization," Gimenez said. "Nothing but class. They treat you with respect, with dignity and it's just fun to be able to get to experience that up here now. It's still your dream, it doesn't matter how old you are.

"Any day you get to spend up here is a blessing and I'm just thankful for it. I'm excited to do whatever the heck they want me to do. I'll be a cheerleader, I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Of course, he's been watching every single one of Darvish's starts in a Cubs uniform.

"I wouldn't be a good person if I haven't. ... I'll text him a few things here and there and apparently it hasn't worked very good," Gimenez joked. "Hopefully I can cheer him on and he'll work through it. He'll be just fine.

"I know it's almost June now, but I think there is that little bit of that grace period that we all don't wanna have, but you kind of have to have it - getting to know guys. Spring training is one thing, but when you get out here in the real deal, it's a little different.

"I think eventually it's gonna turn around for him and he'll be fine. I'll be here to make fun of him to do it."

The Cubs believe they have the most talented catcher in baseball in Willson Contreras, so it was difficult to sit him and find time for the 24-year-old Caratini.

Caratini started just 8 games at catcher this season and 5 at first base when Anthony Rizzo was injured last month. He's had just 69 plate appearances and only 13 trips to the batter's box since May 8.

With the extra off-days added into the schedule this season plus the unexpected days off due to rain, the Cubs have been able to lean on Contreras more than they anticipated in spring training.

This week is a perfect example, where the Cubs were off Monday and Thursday, then a day game Friday, a night game Saturday and then a night game Sunday, so Contreras could play all 5 games the Cubs had this week while also getting plenty of rest.

The Cubs don't have much catching depth in the system beyond Contreras, Caratini and Gimenez and it would've been silly to let Gimenez leave the organization given his background with Darvish and the high chance of injury catchers face on a regular basis.

Gimenez has 9 years of experience in the big leagues with 361 games under his belt, but he said he had no trouble staying patient waiting for the call to Chicago.

"Really, you take it a day at a time and if it happened, it happened. If it didn't, I understood that, too," Gimene said. "I'm sad for Vic because I don't feel like he deserved it and I feel like he's done a great job up here. 

"But kinda knowing that coming into it that was something that could happen and it's just gonna further develop his career."

The Cubs have raved about Caratini's at-bats, attitude and work ethic, but they also don't want one of their top prospects (who hit .342 with a .951 OPS in Triple-A last season) just rotting away on the bench as they try to live up to the World Series expectations bestowed upon this team.

"Not playing Caratini enough really bums me out," Maddon said. "That bothers me a lot. And he needs to play, so we gotta get him out playing again. Something will occur here where we're gonna need him on a more consistent basis.

"You know that it's likely to happen or if it doesn't, to just lose a year of development for him is just really sinful. So we wanted to get him out there to play and knowing he's gonna be back here relatively soon."