Preps Talk

Carey, NIU ready for Miami

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Carey, NIU ready for Miami

DEKALB -- George Rainey admitted sleep was a little hard to come by on Christmas night.

But the Northern Illinois defensive end was alert and smiling early Wednesday as Orange Bowl reality set in as the Huskies began a nearly 1,300-mile trip to Miami in pre-dawn darkness.

"I was so excited that I couldn't really sleep at all," said Rainey, a redshirt junior from Milwaukee as he boarded one of six buses carrying players and staff to Rockford Airport. "But I'm wide awake."

Fifteenth-ranked Northern Illinois (12-1) plays on the biggest stage in program history when it meets No. 12 Florida State (11-2) at Sun Life Stadium on New Year's Day.

"I'm expecting to have fun, expecting a new experience, something new for all of us," said Rainey, who recorded 24 tackles in 12 games, including 2 12 sacks. "(And) we'll be playing in warm weather."

Temperatures were predicted in the low 80s in Miami, a big contrast to DeKalb where it was windy and in the upper 20s early Wednesday.

Dawn was still two hours away as the Huskies gathered at a far west campus parking lot for the ride to Rockford and a charter flight to Florida.

Buses were already nearly filled at 5:10 a.m. and the final stragglers boarded over the next 20 minutes.

The nearby Convocation Center was bathed in orange lights as head coach Rod Carey briefly stepped out of his bus to check on arriving players.

"They're excited to be up this early and at 'em," said Carey, named NIU head coach nearly three weeks ago after Dave Doeren's departure for North Carolina State. "Everyone's looking forward to it. We'll have a little reception down there and go right to practice. There's a sense that they want to get this going."

Carey spent the last two years on Doeren's staff and served as offensive coordinator this season after Mike Dunbar stepped away to concentrate on a battle against cancer. Carey will continue to call offensive plays for the Orange Bowl.

The NIU caravan rolled out at 5:31 a.m. to catch a scheduled 7:45 a.m. flight. The Huskies were set to arrive in Miami around 11:30 a.m., then hold the first of five practice sessions at Barry University in Miami Shores.

But it won't be all work for Northern Illinois.

A Thursday beach party is planned at the Fontainebleau Beachfront in Miami Beach. Other days will feature dinner outings, a prayer breakfast, a hospital visit by players and a series of press conferences and receptions.

Winners of a school record 12 straight games, the Mid-American Conference champs bring the nation's No. 9 scoring offense (40.77 points per game) against the Seminoles' No. 6 scoring defense (15.08 points).

The Huskies will play in a postseason bowl for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, but never one so lofty. They are first MAC team to appear in a major Bowl Championship Series game and meet Florida State, the Atlantic Coast champ, for the first time.

NIU is 3-6 all-time against teams from the Sunshine State and 2-6 against current members of the ACC.

The Orange Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. (Eastern) next Tuesday and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

93 Days to Kickoff: West Aurora

93 Days to Kickoff: West Aurora

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting July 30, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 24.

School: West Aurora

Head coach: Nate Eimer

Assistant coaches: Tony Melchiori, DC Bob Fowler, DL Patrick Stremel, LB Charlie Graves, DB Mike Runge, OL Joe Howell, RB Ron Murphy and QB Alex Shaw

How they fared in 2017: 7-3 (4-1 Upstate Eight Valley Conference). West Aurora made the IHSA Class 8A playoff field last season. The Blackhawks lost to Naperville Central 35-14 in opening round action.

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Larkin

Aug. 31 @ West Chicago

Sept. 7 vs Streamwood

Sept. 14 @ Glenbard East

Sept. 21 vs Bartlett

Sept. 28 vs Glenbard South

Oct. 5 @ Elgin

Oct. 12 vs East Aurora

Oct. 19 vs South Elgin

Biggest storyline: Game 11. Can the Blackhawks get back to the IHSA state playoffs for the fourth straight season and then advance past the opening round?

Names to watch this season: QB Will Tammaru, RB/DB JaQuan Buchanan and DT Denver Warren

Biggest holes to fill: The Blackhawks welcome back an impressive 17 starters (nine offense, eight defense) to the mix. However, the group will be a bit inexperienced in some spots on both the offensive and defensive line.  

EDGY's Early Take: The Blackhawks' turnaround under head coach Nate Eimer and staff has been a terrific story to follow. That said, the bar for West Aurora football has also been raised. No longer are they satisfied by just "getting" to state. The Blackhawks welcome back a deep group on both sides of the football led by a potentially high powered, balanced offense. On paper, this team has the makings of being one of the better Blackhawks teams in their history. They will challenge for the Upstate Eight conference title and get another shot at the Class 8A playoff field. 

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.