White Sox

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."

As White Sox continue to pile up the strikeouts, Rick Renteria is taking the broad view

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USA TODAY

As White Sox continue to pile up the strikeouts, Rick Renteria is taking the broad view

White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson has in his mind an ideal number of times he’d strike out in a season.

“If I had it my way I’d probably strike out 20 times a year but I don’t know how you do that, really,” Davidson said before the Sox defeated the Royals 9-3 on Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

It’s not realistic for an everyday player to go through the season with that few strikeouts, especially on a Sox team that entered Friday’s game with 1,163 of them, the second-highest total in the major-leagues behind the Rangers’ 1,168. The Sox were on pace to strike out 1,570 times, which would break the franchise record of 1,397 set last season.

Against the Royals, the Sox struck out seven times, but made more than enough contact—including three-run home runs from Jose Abreu and Nicky Delmonico—to win for the eighth time in their last 14 games.

With the Sox going through the trials and tribulations that come along with a radical rebuild, perhaps it’s not a surprise the team strikes out as much as it has the past two seasons. They are young, aggressive at the plate and still learning at the major-league level.

“It’s just some of the experience and learning your swing and trying to improve on it every single year,” said Davidson, who went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts Friday night. “I don’t think coming up (in the minors) everybody was striking out as much as we do here so that just shows that the competition is better and we’re just also trying to learn.

“The MLB (web site) has a section just showing how nasty pitches are,” Davidson added. “Guys are really good here. It’s just a part of learning. It’s about seeing the ball, learning the zone, learning counts and understanding when they’re going to throw stirkes and when they’re going to throw balls and also just putting the bat on the ball.”

The Sox were particularly susceptible to the strikeout when they fanned 10-plus times during an eight-game stretch from Aug. 5-13, a franchise record. They fell one game short of matching the dubious major-league record of nine consecutive games with 10-plus Ks set by the Brewers in 2017.

Sox manager Rick Renteria said the cause of all the strikeouts “depends on who you want to look at. You could look at it collectively (or) you can look at it individually. We have one of the young men (Yoan Moncada) who has quite a few under his belt, both looking and swinging (for a major-league leading 172 this season). Two-strike approach obviously is something we talk about a lot and still has to be implemented in practical terms so that it's useful. We don't want our guys swinging out of the zone. We do want them to be able to defend themselves and keep a ball in play possibly when need be.

“But I'm not thinking in regards of how (strikeouts) continue to mount and what that indicates or doesn't indicate,” Renteria added. “We look at all of our guys individually and figure out what it is we can help them with in terms of attacking that strike zone and being ready to hit.”

Rick Renteria still looking for 'a little better effort' from Avisail Garcia despite injury

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USA TODAY

Rick Renteria still looking for 'a little better effort' from Avisail Garcia despite injury

Rick Renteria proved once again that he won’t let his boys quit.

The White Sox manager pulled Avisail Garcia from Friday night’s 9-3 victory over the Royals after the outfielder failed to run hard out of the box during a first-inning flyout. It wasn’t the first time Renteria has made a point by pulling a player during a game. Garcia was yanked from a spring training contest for not running hard out of the box and Tim Anderson got the same treatment in July.

“I didn’t think (Garcia) had given me an effort on the Texas Leaguer,” Renteria said after Friday’s victory. “If the ball falls in, you have to possibly advance.”


Renteria was quick to point out that Garcia is playing with a right knee injury that the right fielder said would have to be addressed—likely with surgery—during the offseason.

“He does have a knee that’s bothering him a little bit,” Renteria said. “I told him, ‘you certainly looked like something was bothering you.’ He said, ‘I felt it click when I came out of the box.’ ‘I said you understand you can still give me a better effort out of the box (and) he said, ‘yes, I understand that. I’m feeling this.’ We addressed it a little bit. He’ll be back in there (Saturday night). He realizes he still feels he can give us a little better effort.”

Garcia, who has been on the disabled list twice this season due to hamstring injuries, said he understood Renteria’s decision. 

“I felt a click (in the knee) and I didn’t run,” Garcia said. “Even if I felt a click I can do a better effort if I want to play and I want to play. That’s why they take me out. I felt a click and I was a little bit scared about it but I’m OK.”

Renteria said it is important down the stretch to communicate with Garcia when it comes to managing his knee.

“That’s why we had the conversation,” Renteria said. “He doesn’t want to come out of the lineup. He says he can play every day, he says, ‘I can manage this, I can play through this, I’ll be fine.’ I said then give me a little more effort on some of those plays. I get it that you may feel it but if you feel it, just explain to me what’s going on and we can manage it that way. He really doesn’t want to come out. He wants to play.

“We’ve never had a problem with (Garcia),” Renteria added. “Despite a couple times here or there where we’ve taken him out, if you watch him he busts his rear end pretty much all the time. That was a rarity. At that particular point in time it was my decision to pull him out.”

Garcia said he will continue to play through the knee issue.

“I just have to keep going,” Garcia said. “But I was scared a little bit because I felt like a click. But at the same time, I didn’t run hard enough so I’m OK with it. I’m good to play.”

When asked if Garcia will get the knee taken care of following the season, he responded, “yeah, for sure. One-hundred percent.”