Bulls

Lauri Markkanen thanks John McCain for helping him get visa

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen thanks John McCain for helping him get visa

If it weren't for the late John McCain, Lauri Markkanen's career path may have taken a different route.

The 21-year-old rising Bulls star went on Twitter on Sunday morning to thank McCain, who passed away from brain cancer on Saturday, for helping him get a visa to play basketball in the United States.

Here's what Markkanen had to say:

A big Arizona Wildcats fan, McCain offered his assistance to Markkanen prior to the 2016-17 college basketball season.

“There was some delay in getting him a visa,” McCain told ABC News’ Rick Klein and ESPN’s Andy Katz in March 2017. “Obviously he had to have a student visa and there was a question about whether he was a student or not in Finland. I’d like to tell you it was the hardest struggle I ever had. Actually, we just kind of weighed in and said, ‘hey, how about expediting this’. It was not as big a deal as I would like it to be.”

The rest is history.

Markkanen would go on to have a stellar year with Arizona, leading the Wildcats to a Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He would declare for the NBA Draft after the season, getting selected by the Bulls with the seventh overall pick.

Thank you, John McCain.

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

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USA TODAY

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

Lauri Markkanen's timeline back from his elbow sprain remains the same, but he took the next step toward getting back on the court by participating in the non-contact portion of practice on Monday.

Markkanen was seen getting shots up with the team as Monday's practice began. This comes after Markkanen shed the brace he wore for the first month after suffering the injury

"We’re excited to have him out there," Fred Hoiberg said. "We’ll see how he responds and if we can up his activity level after that."

Friday marked the seven-week point since Markkanen initially suffered the elbow injury on Sept. 28. His initial timeframe, 6 to 8 weeks, was bumped up to 8 to 10 weeks, so the second year forward appears to be on track to debut sometime in early December.

Whenever he does return - Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine are still much farther away - he'll help a Bulls team in desparate need of his scoring, playmaking and athleticism. The 4-13 Bulls have lost four straight by a combined 93 points and Zach LaVine is battling an illness (but said he'll play Wednesday against Phoenix).

"I think a lot about that," Hoiberg said when asked about how Markkanen will be implemented into the offense. "I thought a lot about it in the offseason. He’s such a versatile player and with the added strength and added size, it’s something I think you can do a lot more of.

Last year, (opponents) switched a lot. We ran a lot of high-low type actions. Hopefully, we’ll be more effective this year with (Markkanen's) added size and bulk."

Markkanen's return will help a Bulls offense currently ranked 29th in efficiency. He'll also help LaVine, who after a red-hot start has seen his efficiency plummet to the tune of 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep the last eight games.

"I see him working out, running and getting his shots in. Hopefully his elbow’s feeling a lot better," LaVine said. "He’s one of the main key pieces in this organization. He’s such a sensational player on the offensive end and it helps out defensively as well. I can’t wait to have him back."

NOTES

G-League wing Rawle Alkins will practice the next two days with the Bulls but won't stay with the team when they're back in action Wednesday against the Suns.

Alkins, an Arizona sophomore who went undrafted in 2018, is averaging 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds with the Windy City Bulls. Last week he scored 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting and eight rebounds in a win over the Grand Rapids Drive. For now he'll give the NBA Bulls a much-needed extra body in practice.

"He’s a good defender, a tough kid. We’re excited to have him here, help us out with practice," Hoiberg said.

Alkins likely won't see any time in the NBA this season - the Bulls are as shorthanded as they're going to be all year and he still hasn't been called up - but he's a nice developmental piece at a low cost.

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For one night in the Hoiberg household, Fred wasn't basketball's biggest name.

His son, Jack, scored his first two collegiate points in Michigan State's 101-33 victory over Tennessee State on Sunday night.

Jack, a walk-on for the Spartans, connected on both free throw attempts in the final seconds that put the Spartans over the century mark.

Fred messaged his son after the game congratulating him and also said that, depsite the score, the free throws couldn't have been easy.

"To shoot a free throw for that 100th point, it’s not easy," Fred said. "I remember the first time I had that opportunity here. It was free tacos for everybody if I made that. Thankfully, I made it. So for him to step up and knock that down, it was fun to see. You want to see your kids happy and having fun. That’s what I saw."

Did Lauri Markkanen just troll Donald Trump?

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@MARKKANENLAURI

Did Lauri Markkanen just troll Donald Trump?

Lauri Markkanen remains undefeated on Twitter.

Sunday, Markkanen tweeted a photo that seems to be an attempt to troll President Donald Trump. Take a look:

Look at that sly smile. The photo seems relatively harmless, but it's clear that Markkanen is trolling Trump based on the president's comments regarding the devastating California wildfires. From The New York Times:

“You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference in Paradise, Calif., on Saturday. “I was with the president of Finland and he said: ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem.”

In addition to the obvious rake reference, Markkanen, of course, is Finnish. All jokes aside, Markkanen used the tweet to promote donating to those affected by the wildfires. What a guy!