Bears

Breese Central's Brandon Book is a big-timer

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Breese Central's Brandon Book is a big-timer

Every once in a while, while observing the small-school basketball tournaments, you see a player who has what it takes to compete at the mid-major or even the major Division I level in college.

Breese Central's Brandon Book is one of those players.

Whether he is as good or better than some of the small-school standouts of the past -- Lawrenceville's Jay Shidler and Marty Simmons, Normal University's Jim Crews, Eldorado's Mike Duff, Cairo's Tyrone Nesby, McLeansboro's Brian Sloan, Providence-St. Mel's Lowell Hamilton, St. Anne's Jack Sikma, Leo's Andre Brown, St. Martin de Porres' Jerry Gee, Providence's Walter Downing, Springfield Calvary's Rennie Clemons -- remains to be seen.

But Book, a 6-foot-6 senior, clearly was the best player on the court last weekend in Peoria. If there was an MVP in the Class 2A tournament, it was Book.

Breese Central coach Stan Eagleson knew it, too.

"We always feel we have the best player on the floor," Eagleson said before the tournament began. "When he is on his game, he is as good as anyone the other team can put on the floor. He can post up but he also is a leading perimeter shooter."

The leading scorer in school history, Book (21 ppg, 9 rpg) is being recruited by Southern Indiana, Arkansas State, Millikin and Southwest Illinois College. The list of suitors should increase significantly in the wake of his sensational performance in the state finals.

Book had 24 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks as top-ranked Breese Central dispatched second-rated Seton Academy 57-47 in the semifinals.

He scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half and grabbed 11 rebounds as Breese Central won its 18th game in a row and completed a 34-1 season by edging Normal University High 53-47 for the Class 2A championship.

"I knew I had to come here and play as hard as I can," Book said. "Winning the state championship sends chills down my spine."

Playing against a Normal U-High team led by highly touted sophomore Keita Bates-Diop, Book converted two successive three-point shots and two free throws to give Breese Central a 34-28 lead after three quarters.

Normal U-High, which annually plays one of the toughest schedules of any small school in the state, fell behind by 10 but closed within two on two occasions in the last minute. But Book made a basket and Nick Grapperhaus made four free throws in the last eight seconds to seal the victory.

"He struggled early," Eagleson said about Book, who shot 3-of-12 in the first half. "Then he put us on his back."

Class 1A basketball to a large degree and Class 2A basketball to a lesser extent are acquired tastes, like girls basketball. The viewer must understand it is a different game, athletically and fundamentally. Limited athleticism, no slam dunks, no crossover dribbles, everyone playing below the rim, few if any major college recruits.

But once you accept the fact that this isn't Kentucky vs. Kansas or Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson or Simeon vs. Proviso East, you can be entertained by watching a game straight out of a coach's playbook, filled with X's and O's rather than dribble penetration and blocked shots and tomahawk dunks and up-tempo, up-and-down action that more resembles a Stanley Cup hockey game.

Book provided that type of entertainment and excitement last weekend. So did his team, which played in-your-face man-to-man defense against Seton and Normal U-High. Against a quicker Seton team, the Cougars disrupted Seton's offense and didn't allow a single fast-break basket. Against taller Normal U-High, they prevented the Pioneers and Bates-Diop from dominating on the boards.

Eagleson is one of the winningest coaches in state history. He has won 586 games in 30 years, including 30-3, 30-5, 30-3 and 34-1 in the last seasons. His team was fourth in 2010. Last year's team lost in the supersectional. The only blemish on this year's record was a loss to Kirkwood Vianney, a St. Louis suburban power.

"Since 1996, we have had a nice run of good basketball players and good basketball players with good size, 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 kids who can play," Eagleson said. "Going into this season, I felt this team was potentially the best I have had. It has a lot of kids with good basketball sense."

The Class 1A final was entertaining, too. Woodlawn, which had eliminated top-ranked Mounds Meridian for the second year in a row in the supersectional, trounced North Shore Country Day 62-44 in the semifinals, then rallied to edge Carrollton 48-45 for the title.

No, it wasn't like watching someone cut grass. A.J. Webb made a three-pointer with 16 seconds left to overcome a one-point deficit and Christian Hollenkamp made two free throws with two seconds left to clinch the victory as Woodlawn closed out with a 5-0 run.

Gabe Owens was an effective three-point shooting threat and Webb was a lockdown defender and clutch performer for Woodlawn. Carrollton's Joey Coonrod, a three-sport star who pitched his school to a state championship last year, also stood out. Coonrad had 16 points and 17 rebounds in the final.

Only one complaint: While television announcers Lee Hall and Dave Bernhard and color commentators Greg Starrick, Camron Smith and Matt Rodewald were informed and informative, Starrick closed with a tiresome comment stolen from Dick Vitale that always sends chills down my spine.

"Both teams were well-coached," said Starrick, a former Marion star who was one of the most prolific scorers in state history.

Have you ever heard a radio or TV analyst refer to a team -- high school, college or professional -- as poorly coached?

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

The Packers beat a bad Bears team in Week 1. In Week 15, they'll get a totally new one.

All week, reporters at Halas Hall tried to get Matt Nagy and the Bears to compare who they were during Week 1’s game against Green Bay to where they are now. And all week at Halas Hall, Matt Nagy and the Bears wouldn't bite. 

“We're both different. They're a little bit different, we're different,” Matt Nagy said. “They did a great job both as players and their coaches, so like I said yesterday, it feels like a while ago and that's why you play. You have a 16-game season and in division you get two chances. We'll just do everything we can to put it behind us and try to be better.” 

Different might be an understatement. Gone are Kyle Long and Bobby Massie. The Starting-Center-James-Daniel experiment is over, and Mike Davis is playing in the NFC South now. Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton – though the latter didn’t play in Week 1 – are on IR, too. Normally, losing two starting tight ends, a ‘starting’ running back, and the entire right side of the offensive line means you’re spending the last month of the season scouting for 2020. Instead, the Bears head to Lambeau Field on Sunday with a path to the playoffs still in front of them. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now. We’re a different team,” Mitch Trubisky said. “There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. 

“I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Perhaps the biggest difference between Week 1 and Week 15 has been the play of Trubisky, who looked like he was headed for a clipboard in 2020 before regaining his form over the last month or so. His comfortability in the offense is night and day compared to some of the struggles he went through during the first half of the season. If you ask him – which, duh, we did – he’ll tell you he’s felt the most growth off the field. 

“I just would say mental toughness, the ability to block out things on the outside,” he said. “Adversity, obviously, early in the season with people talking on the outside and then having to play through injuries and stuff, and just coming together closer as a team. My teammates having my back, that really gives me the most confidence.” 

The 14-week turnaround isn’t all about confidence, as Nagy 202 has morphed into something not expected but effective nonetheless. The running game has stabilized and they’ve found successful plays out of 4 WR sets – even if one of those receivers is Montgomery/Tarik Cohen. In Week 1? Montgomery had six rushes and the Bears ran two plays out of 10 personnel. Nagy said that he thought something clicked on Trubisky’s touchdown pass to Ben Braunecker against the Lions. 

“There's something there,” he said. “We felt it a little bit in the Chargers game, we just weren't effective in the red zone. But because we won the [Lions] game it magnifies it a little bit more … And then we just kind of started putting things together and I think over time we've just felt like it's just started to click. I don't know if it's specifically one play or not but that's probably my best guess.” 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as the team prepares for what Nagy calls a “cat-and-mouse” game against Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who perhaps knows Trubisky better than any other opposing coordinator in the game. 

“Coach Pettine has done a great job throughout his career of being almost tendency-free,” he said. “And they’re even better now with how they deploy those guys, and it’s kind of a perfect, perfect storm of scheme and talent, and the guys on the back end help them out too.” 

The Bears are playing with a looseness that might come from essentially being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but oddly, it continues to work for them. And when you have to go play Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau with your season on the line, you don’t question what works. 

“I love it. You want to go against the best all the time,” said Akiem Hicks, who was taken off IR and will start on Sunday. “If you’re a true competitor, you want the best competition.”

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

Clippers coach and Chicago native Doc Rivers weighs in on Bears-Packers

With Doc Rivers, Patrick Beverly and the Los Angeles Clippers in town to face the Bulls, you knew the question was coming. Both Rivers and Beverly are from Chicago and not shy about their affection for the city. 

"Do you and Pat talk about coming to Chicago?" a reporter asked, during Rivers' pregame media scrum, Saturday night.

"We talk about Chicago, probably every single day," Rivers said with a hint of a smile. "We talk about the Bears the most."

That led to Rivers rapid-fire addressing a number of ruminations on the current state of the Bears, including his respect for head coach Matt Nagy.

"I’m a big Bears fan. A big Nagy fan. I think he’s a terrific coach," Rivers said. "I just do, every once in a while you get a feeling about someone, and I have that about him."

High praise coming from Rivers, the 13th-winningest coach in NBA history and an NBA Finals champion in 2008 with the Boston Celtics.

Now, he coaches the third-winningest team in the league in the Clippers, but he still finds time to keep up with current Chicago affairs.

"[Beverly and I] talk about everything with Chicago. We talk about the dominance of Proviso East [Rivers' high school alma mater] over Marshall [Beverly's alma mater], and every other team. He doesn’t like that conversation very much," Rivers said.

He added that he even contemplated driving down for the Bears' Week 14 matchup with the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football (the Clippers were in town for a game with Milwaukee that Friday).

And as for tomorrow's crucial division game against the Packers, Rivers made his position abundantly clear.

"Well, you know what I think," Rivers said, when asked for a prediction for the contest. "Are you kidding me?"

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