Preps Talk

The Cubs have Sorianos back

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The Cubs have Sorianos back

Alfonso Soriano is one of the few remaining players who remembers what it was like in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games and turned every day at Wrigley Field into a huge block party.

Now, of course, that might as well be ancient history, as far away as 1908, because there are people thinking that the big-market Cubs are incapable of competing until 2015.

Theo Epstein has promised to avoid the huge spending spree the Cubs made after a last-place finish in 2006, while the Tribune Co. positioned the team for a sale. The new Cubs president has also distanced himself from some of the bad contracts on the Red Sox payroll, highlighting Bostons homegrown core.

While the Cubs wait for the future, Soriano tries to get his aching knees ready, puts in extra work on his defense and never turns down optional hitting.

But as these two last-place teams came together on Saturday night in front a national television audience, there was another flashpoint in a game the Red Sox hung on to win 4-3.

There were two runners on and two outs in the sixth inning when Soriano hit a rocket line drive at Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who appeared to have secured it in his glove. Soriano stood at home plate with the bat in his hands before Middlebrooks dropped the ball and threw to first.

That set off a very loud chorus of boos from the 40,766 fans inside Wrigley Field and an equally strong and opposite reaction from those inside the clubhouse.

They dont understand the game, Soriano said. Its a line drive. Theres nothing you can do about it. If its groundball and I dont run, they can do whatever they want. But a hard line drive, right off the glove? I dont know what they want.

When Dale Sveum took this job last fall, outsiders expected a showdown between the new manager and the aging star with an eight-year, 136 million contract.

But Sveum quickly recognized Sorianos energy and warmth and the 36-year-old slugger is tied for the team lead in homers (12) and no Cub has driven in more runs (41). Sveum had no problem with Sorianos split-second reaction.

Thats one of those things where 100 percent of every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing, Sveum said. Youre mad because you just crushed the ball and the guy should have caught (it) and you take your eye off it.

Obviously, that contract comes into play sometimes with that kind of reaction, but the fact of the matter is everybody in this clubhouse knows how hard Sori works and how hard hes played this year.

Jeff Samardzija who took the loss after giving up three runs in 5.1 innings spoke for everyone in the room.

Anybody that hits that ball does the same thing, Samardzija said. Alfonso Soriano is one of the best teammates you can ever have. He plays the game the right way. Every day, he prepares to play.

Anything Alfonso does when hes playing with me in my lineup, I got no problems with. I hope hes in there every day when I pitch.

Sori takes a lot of heat for a lot of things (but) theres not a guy in that locker room that has anything bad to say about him. Hes a great player and we love him in the lineup and we love him in the locker room.

You heard the boos again after Soriano struck out to end the eighth inning and cap an 0-for-4 night. The Cubs are 22-43 and there are going to be more ugly moments like this.

Soriano still had his weightlifting gloves on when he walked into the postgame clubhouse and walked straight to his locker and answered questions from the media. He understands that this is the way it works with Cubs fans.

They always come to the game waiting for something negative or something positive, Soriano said. They come here to root for something, good or bad. Its nothing that bothers me. Im just going to keep doing my job and working hard to get better.

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

63 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

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: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Andrew Porter, Ron Rivera, Chris Lewis, Ryan McGuire and Clint Connelly

How they fared in 2017: 8-2 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A state football playoff field. The Astros lost to Marmion Academy in opening round action. 

2018 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 24 @ Leyden

Sept. 1 @ Stagg

Sept 7 vs Hillcrest

Sept. 14 vs Eisenhower

Sept. 21 @ Richards

Sept. 28 @ Oak Lawn

Oct. 5 vs Reavis

Oct. 12 vs Evergreen Park

Oct. 19 @ Argo

Biggest storyline: First-year head coach John Rone. Can the Astros challenge once again for the South Suburban Red conference title under a new head coach?

Names to watch this season: RB/LB Chris Harrison and TE/DE Kevin Graham

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros bring back 10 returning starters (five offense, five defense). Overall depth could also be a concern.  

EDGY's Early Take: Shepard will be led by former Eisenhower assistant Rone, who was able to retain an experienced staff at Shepard. It will help ease the transition from former head coach Dominic Passolano this summer. If the Astros can get off to a good early start they have the overall talent to again make a state playoff appearance in 2018. Can they challenge conference power Richards in the South Suburban Red race?

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

Boise State coach Leon Rice believes Chandler Hutchison, Bulls are a 'match made in heaven'

The Bulls ended long-standing speculation and drafted Boise State senior wing Chandler Hutchinson with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-7 Hutchison has been linked to Chicago since opting out of the 2018 NBA Draft Combine in May as he gives the Bulls a versatile and experienced wing on the perimeter.

A late-bloomer both during high school career in Mission Viejo, California and during his four years at Boise State, Hutchison has always been willing to put in the work to reach the next levels of basketball. Hutchison elevated from a mid-major recruit into a top-100 national prospect by the end of high school. And similar to his prep career, Hutchison blossomed into a first-round pick after a slow start to his career at Boise State.

Broncos head coach Leon Rice offered strong praise for his former star player, as Hutchinson became the go-to player for the Broncos during his junior and senior seasons. Because Hutchison can play multiple spots, rebound, defend and push off the break, he's an intriguing piece for the Bulls' future rotation. Hutchison should be able to play on the wing alongside other rebuilding pieces like Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.

"I think the Chicago Bulls got a steal," Rice said to NBC Sports Chicago. "You look at the last four years, he's gotten better every year."

"I think it's a great fit. You've got a terrific coach out there for Chandler and the style that he is. It's just the same way. I think it's a really good match."

It wasn't always easy for Hutchinson at Boise State. Rice and former Broncos assistant coach Jeff Linder were both convinced that Hutchison had the ability to develop into a star from the time they started recruiting him. But Hutchison needed time to develop his strength and skill level before he became a standout player.

"Our assistant coach Jeff Linder, who I really think is one of our best evaluators, he went and watched this kid. And he calls me, and it's five minutes into the game, and he's like, 'I've seen enough. He's what we need,'" Rice said. "He's got a feel for the game, he's long. I think people labeled him a little bit because he's from Orange County. In my estimation, he didn't fit that label. He just wasn't developed yet. He was young and he looked young. He just wasn't mature yet, that's the bottom line."

When he arrived on campus, Hutchinson was a touted top-100 prospect -- a rarity for the program and the Mountain West Conference. But the program already had talented and experienced players ahead of Hutchison in the rotation. Earning playing time, and a spot in the starting lineup, wasn't guaranteed to Hutchison.

Junior wing Anthony Drmic was one of the best, and most competitive, players in the league as Hutchison had to earn his stripes by battling a veteran in practice every day as an underclassman. Forward James Webb III was another all-conference piece that was already in place for Hutchison to learn from. 

"By the time he got to Boise, there were a lot of strong guys to compete with. I think that brought him something positive. Things that he didn't have," Rice said. "Anthony Drmic is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached. Chandler got to go against him day-in, day-out as a freshman. I don't know if across the country, who had a tougher practice. It shapes who he is today."

When Drmic and Webb departed Boise State, Hutchison was ready to step up into a consistent double-figure scorer and go-to player before his junior season. Already putting in the work to become a more well-rounded wing, Hutchison set out to improve an inconsistent three-pointer that was never above 28 percent during his first two seasons with the Broncos.

The arrival of assistant coach Phil Beckner to Boise State was another huge part of Hutchison's personal development. An experienced coach who spent time developing Damian Lillard as an assistant at Weber State, Beckner also had NBA G-League coaching experience and trained NBA players. Beckner's work with Hutchison took the junior's game, and his jumper, to a new level during his final two seasons in college.

"I think the last two years there was a great jump. He got to work with Phil Beckner, one of our assistants, who has worked with Dame Lillard and a number of players. I think he's one of the best at player development. It was a lot of hours and a lot of time doing it. A lot of dedication," Rice said.

Hutchison saw his three-point percentage jump to 37 percent as a junior as he put up 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, helping lead the Broncos to an NIT appearance. Senior year was even stronger for Hutchison. Elevating to 20.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, Hutchison was named first-team all-conference while being named a top-10 national finalist for the Jerry West Award. 

"He led us in just about every category. And we had a good ballclub, too." Rice said. "He was a do-it-all player and he could do it at every position. He rebounded. He guarded big guys and small guys. Led the break. He's a great decision-maker with his feel."

Rice is also impressed that his star player was always coachable and easy to deal with away from the court. Hutchison earned his degree from Boise State, and even attended graduation in the midst of his pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Hutchison even flew straight back from his graduation and didn't miss his next pre-draft workout.

"He finishes. He got his degree and there's only two or three guys in the first round that got degrees and got it done. I mean, that's impressive," Rice said. "These guys that are elite-level players have so much demands on them with media and with the team and the workouts and all of these extra workouts. To get a degree while dealing with all of that is very impressive."

Hutchison has taken some time to find his footing in every level of basketball. Rice thinks playing around other talented, high-IQ players will help Hutchison's all-around game shine in the NBA. Rice in convinced that Hutchison's work ethic and versatility make him a great fit for the Bulls.

"That's what I love about him. I think he can fill a lot of different positions and a lot of different needs. Depending on what you need, night-in, night-out he can adjust his game and bring those things," Rice said.

"A great organization like the Bulls, he couldn't be more excited. It's a match made in heaven."