White Sox

Christmas gift: Holiday basketball in Illinois

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Christmas gift: Holiday basketball in Illinois

Holiday basketball was founded in Illinois, at Pontiac in 1926 and at De Kalb in 1928. Now tournaments are conducted throughout the state during the Christmas season. We take them for granted. But few other states schedule high school tournaments during the holidays.

I discovered holiday tournaments when I was working at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1966. I had heard about the Centralia tournament, founded in 1943 by legendary coach Arthur Trout, so I was anxious to attend and experience the competitive atmosphere of southern Illinois basketball.

At the same time, I attended the biggest holiday tournament in the country, at Normandy, a St. Louis suburb. The field of 32 teams always included most of the top programs and players in the St. Louis area. The talent wasn't comparable to Illinois but it wasn't chopped liver.

When I was hired by the Chicago Daily News to cover high school sports in 1968, I couldn't wait to feast on the holiday tournament menu. Pontiac and De Kalb were established, Proviso West was just starting up and other Christmas events -- East Aurora, Rich South, Chicago, Lemont, Wheeling, York, Elgin -- were in the works.

Pontiac and East Aurora were the dominant events in the 1970s. Bloom and Quincy were state powers and gave Pontiac a lot of flair, as Simeon does today. East Aurora featured Ernie Kivisto's host Tomcats, East Leyden and Maine South.

Then Proviso West stormed into the spotlight in 1968-70 when its three winners--Evanston, Proviso East and Lyons--went on to win state championships. All of a sudden, Proviso West was the place to be...the best teams, the best players, the biggest crowds.

In the early years, I used to play a game on the opening day of the holiday events. I'd try to figure out how many tournaments I could attend in one day. For example, I would start at Pontiac because they used to schedule the top-seeded team (Bloom or Quincy) in the 10 a.m game on opening day.

One year, I started in De Kalb, then went to East Aurora, Lemont, Chicago and Proviso West. Another year, I started at Wheeling. Another time, I started at Rich South. The Chicago event, conducted at Illinois-Chicago's old gym on Roosevelt Road, was unique because it scheduled its championship game in the afternoon of New Year's Eve.

My favorite holiday tournament memory? Watching Tom Parker score a then single-game record of 50 points as Collinsville defeated Alton in the championship game of the Carbondale tournament in 1967.

Parker, a 6-foot-5 forward, had one of the most extraordinary seasons in state history. He averaged 33 points per game. Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall recruited him to Kentucky, where he was the SEC's freshman of the year and a three-time All-SEC selection.

After Proviso West became established as the place to be, I used to show up at 8 o'clock on opening day, wish tournament director Joe Spagnolo the best of luck, then sit down in a comfortable chair under the big scoreboard on the east side of the gym and watch every game of the four-day event.

Because of the fierce competition, there were so many dramatic moments.
Fortunately, Spagnolo has brought them back to life for basketball fans by listing them on the Proviso West website, which has had over 2.5 million hits in three years.

How many of these games did you attend or how many of these incidents did you witness?

1. In 2005, with his future college coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke watching, Glenbrook North's Jon Scheyer scored 21 points in 75 seconds and set a single-game tournament scoring record with 52 points--but the undefeated defending state champion lost to Proviso West 85-79 in the quarterfinals.

2. In 1967, Evanston and Bob Lackey defeated Proviso East and Jim Brewer
60-48 in overtime in the championship game. Evanston went on to win the state title. Proviso East, led by Brewer, won the tournament and the state title the following year.

3. In 1994, Farragut's Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields of Farragut won the championship and dominated the tournament in rock star fashion, drawing huge crowds and signing autographs after each game. After the season, Garnett was a the No. 5 pick in the NBA draft.

4. Speaking of overflow crowds, Isiah Thomas and St. Joseph bested Glenn "Doc" Rivers and Proviso East 88-72 in the 1978 championship game.

5. In 1995, a Ronnie Fields windmill dunk over a Loyola player is the most remembered of his many slams. He drew a single-game record crowd of 4,188 and contributed 17 points and 14 rebounds as Farragut edged New Trier 47-44 in a quarterfinal thriller. Farragut held the ball and ourscored New Trier 4-3 in the final eight minutes.

6. Representatives from the Chicago Public League's Red-West Division won nine straight championships from 1994 to 2002. Farragut's 1994 squad, led by Garnett and Fields, won every game by at least 20 points.

7. Proviso East dominates the all-tournament selections with 30 different players, including Brewer, Rivers, Al Nunness, Joe Ponsetto, Michael Finley, Sherell Ford, Donnie Boyce, Roderick Floyd, Shannon Brown, Dee Brown, Kenny Davis, Jamal Robinson and Sterling Brown.

8. In 1996, en route to claiming consolation bracket honors, two Dunbar players broke the backboard in a first-round game, causing a one-hour delay.

9. The Proviso EastLyons rivalry in the 1960s and 1970s saw one of the schools advance to the championship game in 13 consecutive years. In 1970, Proviso East edged Lyons and Owen Brown, then the defending state champion, by a 71-68 margin.

10. King dominated the tournament in the 1980s, winning 16 of 19 games, and winning the championship in 1985, finishing second in 1981, 1983 and 1984 and fourth in 1986 with Efrem Winters, Marcus Liberty and Levertis Robinson. In all, coach Landon Cox won 24 games, two titles and eight trophies in 14 years.

Spagnolo has some special memories, too. "Two of my most favorite memories of the Proviso West tournament had to do with the weather," he said.

In 1987, eight inches of snow fell overnight before the second day of the tournament and teams arrived 30 minutes late for the first game. But the assigned officials never made it to the gym. So Spagnolo and Bruce Joslyn were summoned from the scorer's table and told by tournament director Bernie Skul, Proviso West's athletic director: "Move the game along to get us back on time."

"After the first overtime ended with the game still tied, Bernie came to me and said: 'You'll never officiate again.' Since then, I've gone on to become a full-time officials, working boys IHSA regional championship games for the last five years. But Bernie's remarks still hold true. I haven't worked a game at Proviso West since," Spagnolo said.

In 2010, only 30 minutes before the start of the tournament, the roof started leaking in the main gym, causing a 90-minute delay prior to the opening tipoff. Before the day was over, the tournament was back on schedule.

That night, Spagnolo had a dream. "What if we played games in the field house at the same time that games were being played in the main gym?" he said to himself.

So he arranged for a portable playing court to be installed in the adjacent field house and doubled the size of the tournament so it is the largest high school holiday basketball event in the country under one roof. Spagnolo's dream led to this year's plans for expansion to a 32-team field.

Finally, Spagnolo reports more history will be made on Dec. 26 when St. Joseph plays Manley in the 16th and final game of the opening round. But the focus won't be on the teams, players or coaches. It will be on the officials.

Three generations of the Olesiak family will be working the game together. Ron Sr., who worked the Proviso West tournament before becoming a 21-year official in the NBA, will work with son Ron Jr. and grandson Forrest. It will be Junior's 11th appearance at Proviso West. He was assigned to the IHSA's sectional at Glenbrook South last year.

Ron Sr. still recalls the first high school game he ever officiated--at his alma mater, Kelvyn Park. "Joe Tadelman was the coach. The ball was in-bounded in the backcourt and I blew the whistle after five seconds. Joe said: 'You can't have five seconds in the backcourt.' I said: 'You're right.' I was working with Burt Levinthal. What a good time we had," Olesiak said.

A Hall of Fame softball player, Olesiak has officiated for 45 years. He started at the high school level in 1969 and worked the state finals in 1986. He worked in Division I for seven years before moving to the NBA. He worked Big Eight and Missouri Valley tournaments and worked the NBA playoffs and two all-star games.

Now he is working with his son, who is 45, and his grandson, who is 20. They worked together for a few games last year and have worked together about 15 times this season. This is the first time they have worked together at Proviso West.

"I never had one game that I felt was my biggest game," Ron Sr. said. "Every time I go on the floor is the biggest game. Every game was a big game for me, high school or college or NBA."

Cubs' status as championship contender is the light that awaits at the end of the White Sox rebuilding tunnel

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USA TODAY

Cubs' status as championship contender is the light that awaits at the end of the White Sox rebuilding tunnel

Cubs Twitter and talk radio feature a lot of discussion of panic levels and fretting over playoff pitching scenarios. It’s hard for the North Siders to live up to the immense expectations they brought upon themselves by going from Lovable Losers to World Series champions.

But on the other side of town, that qualifies as a really good problem to have.

The White Sox dropped the second Crosstown series of the 2018 campaign, one that’s been dubbed the “toughest part of the rebuild.” The White Sox will once again have a very high draft pick. The Cubs will once again be playing in October.

But while they aren't fond of complimenting the team from the North Side, White Sox fans can look at the Cubs and see what they hope to see from their own team in a few years’ time. The team that they simply do not care for is the perfect embodiment of a rebuild gone right. It’s the light at the end of the White Sox rebuilding tunnel.

“That’s a good team, man,” Carlos Rodon said after the Cubs’ offense jumped all over him Sunday and forced him into his shortest outing of the season. “Hopefully, throughout this rebuild when we get to the end of it, all the pieces start falling together and we can be a championship club like that, because that’s a good team.”

The Cubs aren’t the only team the White Sox have seen this season that qualifies as a rebuild success story. The Houston Astros are the reigning champs. The Cleveland Indians are American League Central winners again. The Kansas City Royals are down again but had their own brief time as baseball’s phoenix.

But with the Cubs so close by — and the fan bases constantly jabbing one another — it’s noteworthy that the White Sox are following such a similar path. For the Cubs, five straight fifth-place finishes turned into three straight trips to the NLCS. The Cubs went from hodgepodges of veteran fill-ins to homegrown stars like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Hendricks and Kyle Schwarber.

The White Sox have their own list of future stars, one not dissimilar from the list Cubs fans followed for years. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech have already reached the South Side. The waiting game is still on for Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and so many more.

The White Sox would obviously prefer fighting for a division title and playoff positioning to playing out the end of a losing season. They believe — and the Cubs are as good an example as any that there’s good reason for South Side optimism — that once all these youngsters finish their development and reach the major leagues, that that’s exactly what they’ll be doing on an annual basis.

“We see it not only in the Cubs,” Rick Renteria said, “we’ve seen it with the Astros, the Indians, a multitude of clubs that have gone through that process. The Braves. It took the Braves four years. It took the Astros four or five years.

“It’s a process that if you get frustrated along the way — which it can become frustrating because you want to win more games than not — if you really keep perspective of what you’re trying to do in the long term and really understand and appreciate what we have coming and the guys that are here working to try to remain with us, it’s hard for me to explain to the fans other than my own belief that what we have coming is going to be something that is going to be very fruitful in the near future.”

The Cubs have been through this process. They’ve been through these losing seasons. They’ve been through the waiting game with highly ranked prospects. They’ve been through it all — including watching those prospects turn into All Stars and waving to millions of celebrating fans during a championship parade.

The White Sox are in the thick of their own rebuilding process, and confidence about the future abounds. Perhaps because it’s a template that’s worked so well for several teams, including their Crosstown rivals.

“The similarities are simply that we’re going through a transition,” Renteria said before Sunday’s game. “We do have, not only these guys who are working here to try to show everybody what they’re capable of doing and what part they may play in us moving forward, but we certainly have a lot of young men who are coming up through the season that are hopefully going to be a part of who we are here in the near future.

“In that regard, that is very similar (to what the Cubs went through). I do think that some of the men that we have coming are going to be just as impactful of some of the guys they have on the other side.”

Bears fans on Twitter start to turn on Trubisky after another rough start against Cardinals

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USA Today

Bears fans on Twitter start to turn on Trubisky after another rough start against Cardinals

Mitchell Trubisky hasn’t had the breakout 2018 season that Bears fans were hoping for. The offense has struggled, particularly in the second halves of games, and the young quarterback’s accuracy has been a big part of the issue.

After another rough start against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, fans already started to turn on their developing passer. They took to Twitter to express their frustration with Trubisky and even suggest a quarterback change.