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Cube is TV site for prep sports

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Cube is TV site for prep sports

HighSchoolCube.com is the best thing to hit high school basketball since the three-point shot, the next best thing to being there.

Imagine sitting in the comfort of your living room and watching live coverage of games from four of the most competitive holiday tournaments in Illinois -- Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South.

Who woulda thunk it?

It's all brought to you up close and personal by HighSchoolCube.com, which promotes itself as "the leading broadcast platform for high schools." Founded in January 2011 by a couple of Texas entrepreneurs, it has established start-up companies from coast to coast.

"It is a way for high schools to showcase everything they do and people can watch it wherever they are," said Jim McAteer, the Chicago executive producer who recruits and schedules crews to cover a multitude of events.

"If you can't attend a game, we will give you an opportunity to still watch it, live or replay. At the moment, 40 schools in the Chicago area are involved. Nationally, too. We have done games in Hawaii, New York and Indianapolis. We have set a schedule through March with 40 schools that have agreed to allow us to do their games."

It isn't ESPN or NBC or CBS or ABC. By their equipment standards, HighSchoolCube.com is primitive broadcasting. A crew consists a play-by-play announcer and a cameraman. The lone camera is situated at mid-court and covers all the action as the state finals were covered on a tiny black-and-white screen in the 1950s at Huff Gym in Champaign.

But it is live and nobody misses a shot. According to McAteer, his four cameras covered 117 games at Pontiac, Proviso West, Rich South and Hinsdale South. And it doesn't get any more exciting that the two semifinal contests between WarrenCurie and SimeonPeoria Manual at Pontiac.

"We knew what viewers want and what makes a good broadcast," McAteer said. "They want a game they can watch from start to finish, know what the score is and who is winning and follow the action and get information from the announcers as if they were sitting in the gym. We're trying to make it the closest thing to being in the gym."

McAteer, 40, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1989, received a journalism degree from St. Mary's College in Winona, Minnesota. He was a weekend sports anchor for an NBC affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, for 10 years. He met one of the founders of HighSchoolCube.com in Chicago and got hooked.

"I recalled in South Bend that the number of people who would watch a 30-second clip of high school football and basketball was off the charts," McAteer said.

He is always looking for people to do play-by-play at games and continues to add announcers, cameramen and schools to their broadcasting platform. He also visits schools, including Fenwick and Benet, to teach broadcasting. Benet has its own students covering the games.

"Last week really helped to get our name out there," McAteer said. "We had over 3,000 views for the Proviso West and Pontiac finals, our highest numbers to date. A year ago, we weren't even out there.

"This definitely is a success. We're still trying to get the word out. We probably would have had another 3,000 people who would have watched Simeon if they knew it was on live. The challenge is to get the word out. If they knew about it, they would watch it.

"It's growing every day. We started doing a couple of games with a couple of crews. Then we did 117 games with four crews last week. We also plan to do football, baseball and volleyball. Also plays and concerts. There is a passion and a following for high school sports. We will continue to grow and get bigger. Our goal? To include every school."

The five play-by-play announcers who were employed to do the four holiday tournaments -- Andrew Braverman (Proviso West), Matt McLaughlin (Hinsdale South), Jim Dragna (Rich South) and Brian Snow and Emil Williams Jr. (Pontiac) -- are typical of the type of people who are getting involved in front of and behind the camera.

"I love working with high school sports," said Braverman, 27, a 2002 graduate of Glenbrook North who has worked as a radio sports talk show host in Nashville, Tennessee, and as a morning drive host at a sports radio station in Denver, Colorado.

"I want to be 100 percent intertwined in high school and college basketball recruiting. I don't want to do play-by-play at the professional level, maybe college. But I love to follow prospects. I love to speak to coaches and athletes and travel around the country to big events like the Super 64 and Peach Jam.

"Getting to call Proviso West is a dream. Basketball is my passion. When I was at Glenbrook North, Chris Collins was a hero. So was Billy Donlan. I loved Glenbrook North basketball in the pre-Jon Scheyer era. It's worth losing my voice over, 20 games in four days."

McLaughlin, 40, a Lyons graduate of 1989, did play-by-play for the Schaumburg Flyers minor league baseball team for four years and currently works for a trade show marketing company. He also free-lances as an announcer for DePaul and Buffalo Grove sports events.

"If the stars align, my ultimate goal would be to get a play-by-play job, hopefully in major league baseball. My dream job? Once upon a time, it was to be the lead voice of the Cubs or do college basketball in the Chicago area. It would be fun to get back into that arena and sharpen my skills.

"As someone who grew up in the western suburbs, it was fun to watch the matchups at Hinsdale South and players from different schools from all over the area. I'm really impressed with what HighSchoolCube.com has done. It seems clear to me that there was some forethought put into it before the launch. There was vision behind it. There is a high degree of professionalism. They arrive at the sites prepared."

Dragna, 54, a St. Laurence graduate of 1976, majored in journalism at Arizona State, was a bike messenger in Chicago and once served as a mascot for the Chicago Cubs in spring training. His only regret? His two scheduled gigs for CubsWhite Sox games were snowed out.

A substitute teacher, he graduated from the Illinois Center for Broadcasting in 2011 and did play-by-play for the Benet basketball team on the school's website last season. He did the SimeonBenet game that attracted over 4,000 views.

"My goal is to try to get work with a radio station to do play-by-play. That's been a dream of mine since they put Walter Cronkite's name on the journalism school at Arizona State, the opportunity to talk on camera, all I want to do I life," Dragna said. "I did a five-day tournament in Arizona. At Rich South, if they had asked me, I would have done eight games a day. Rich South was nirvana for me, what I was cut out to do."

How far can HighSchoolCube.com go? "I think it's goal is to become the ESPN of the Internet. They think one day that everything will come through the wire, even newspapers," he said.

Snow, 39, a 1990 graduate of Fenger, started his own Internet broadcast company in 1995, called Interscholastic Sports Network Chicago. With good friend Alvin Washington, he covered Chicago State basketball and Public League schools. At the moment, while free-lancing with HighSchoolCube.com, he is trying to raise funds to stabilize his company.

"I'm having the time of my life, especially after being hooked up with HighSchoolCube.com," Snow said. "For the first time in six years, I'm really have fun again. For a while, it became how much money I could make, how many games I could to, to pay my bills. But why did I get into this business in the first place? I've done 35 games for HighSchoolCube.com so far. I want to establish something like the Cube, have a fully company of my own to do high school sports and continue to do play-by-play."

Snow said he was influenced by former Chicago Bulls announcer Jim Durham. "He gave me the bug. He was the main reason I got into play-by-play. I loved to listen to him, such timing and detail," he said.

"People who say it's just a high school event don't understand how much fun it is and how these kids grow up playing it. I've been covering high school sports for 16 years and I've never seen a tournament go down the way it went down in Pontiac. And I enjoyed every minute of it."

Williams, 27, a 2002 graduate of Lane Tech, majored in radioTV in college. A bowler at Lane Tech, he earned a bowling scholarship to Lindenwood College in St. Louis. and currently is working in media relations for the National Bowling Congress. But his goal is to be a full-time play-by-play announcer in the NBA or college basketball.

"At Lane Tech, I took a radioTV production class as a junior and liked it. When I went to Lindenwood, I started to do color commentary, then play-by-play for a radio station on campus. Last August, I was looking on Google and came across the Cube."

Williams and Dragna worked together at Pontiac. They weren't Pat Summerall and John Madden or Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall but they were entertaining and informative, all you could ask for.

"I've seen a lot of high school basketball but nothing I've ever seen was on that level...the environment, the gym, the fans, fantastic games. It felt like a movie, a great presence. Something magical was happening,"
Williams said.

"I want to get more repetitions. I want to make a name for myself in this kind of market. The Cube can help me out with that. It is really taking off. I'll stay with them as long as they will have me. They have a perfect vision for high school athletics. Chicago has so much talent but no outlet until the Cube to let people see it."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.