White Sox

Curie, Alexander building a reputation

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Curie, Alexander building a reputation

Most basketball addicts in Chicago, from NBA coaches to everyday fans, are probably aware of Jabari Parker, the next potential homegrown superstar in the Windy City. In addition to the 6-foot-8 high school junior at Simeon Career Academy, Derrick Rose's alma mater, many observers also know about Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center at Whitney Young Magnet High School, considered the best big-man prospect in his class nationally.

While it's hard to predict the future, even at their precocious stages of development in their careers, Parker and Okafor are regarded as near-guarantees to be college stars and eventually, NBA players. Add a third player to that list: Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-9 sophomore at Curie Metropolitan High School who doesn't have the same recognition as the aforementioned pair -- although his summer AAU and camp exploits led some talent evaluators to rank him alongside Okafor as one of the top players in their class -- but that could change in the near future.

One look at Alexander and it's easy to come to the assumption that he has some potential. To go along with his height, the sophomore is also extremely long and already possesses a chiseled, college-ready frame. He runs the floor with ease, snatches rebounds and blocks shots like his life was on the line. He throws down ferocious dunks in traffic and even possesses a feathery touch on his elbow jumper. He's still a bit raw as a player and needs to polish the rough edges of his game, but that's expected, as he only has three years of organized basketball experience under his belt.

"Cliff's got a big upside. Ever since we got our hands on him when he was 13, 14, we knew he had a big upside, but it was just more about his work ethic," said Reggie Rose, the older brother of the Bulls point guard and the man in charge of Alexander's AAU team, the D-Rose All-Stars. "Now, he's getting a work ethic, we keep him traveling with adidas Nations, so as a big man, I think his skill level is great for a big man,"

"He reminds me of Rashard Griffith a high school All-American at King High School before playing at the University of Wisconsin and having a brief NBA career, who I played against. He's more of a rebounder, shot-blocker," continued Rose, a high school star himself at Hubbard High School before playing his college ball at the University of Wyoming. "He's going to be a more complete big man. He's not one of those big men out there on an island, dribbling and trying to shoot jump shots. I think he's going to be more of a dominant big man down low,"

Added Alexander's high school coach, Mike Oliver: "We knew he was big, but he was a kid we really thought we could work with, a kid who really wanted to work hard.

"Then, he wanted to change his environment. He came from the heart of the West Side and then when we brought him up into Curie, he fell in love with it because it was a different atmosphere," he continued. "You don't have to worry about all the extra stuff going on, concentrate on school and basketball."

Oliver said Alexander's father is former Robeson High School and Kennedy-King College standout Clifton Terry, a 6-foot-7 player about whom Oliver claimed, "What we used to refer to him as was a 'poor man's Scottie Pippen.'" Terry declared for the 2001 NBA Draft out of Kennedy-King, a two-year community college, and had a brief stint in the NBA D-League, but is presently incarcerated.

Although Oliver says basketball is "in his genes...Cliff, he knows the game," Alexander was a late bloomer for practical reasons.

"You just can't go to the court because of safety," said Oliver of Alexander's neighborhood, the West Side's Brian Piccolo community. "And Cliff had no interest in basketball."

Still, Alexander adapted quickly during his freshman campaign at Curie and by the end of the season, word of his play had started buzzing in the city's hoops community, not to mention among college coaches.

"It was very, very important for Cliff that he got a chance to play right away. He stepped into a situation where we really didn't have any big guys in front of him. People fail to realize that Cliff missed the first 10 games of the season because he had a heart murmur, so we knew he was going to be a player, but we didn't think he'd be ready that fast," said Oliver of Alexander's eye-opening debut season. "I think we really started jelling in the playoffs when he had a couple of breakout games. Cliff is better on defense right now than offense. He's only been playing basketball three years. But Cliff's a hard worker. Personally, I was very surprised that he developed that fast."

"Personally, he reminds me of a young Amar'e Stoudemire, Six-ten, real long, but still very athletic for a big guy. He can step out and hit that 15-footer. But people haven't seen the best of Cliff," he continued. "His timing and the way he runs the floor, and he gets involved in every play. Cliff is actually a good jump-shot shooter, but by him being so big, everyone wants to play him inside. He's got all of the tools."

Alexander continued his progress over the summer, with strong performances in front of coaches during the July evaluation period, highlighted by outings in a Las Vegas tournament, as well as a televised August showing at the finale of adidas Nations, the sneaker company's camp that has training sessions bringing together top domestic and international talents from the spring throughout the summer before a final event, held in California this year.

"The highlight to me was when I went down to Vegas and watched him play. Just to see him compete against the other major big men that's in his class and the poise he showed, and the jump shot he's been working on," observed Rose. "Everything he had been working on from adidas Nations, he took that into the summer."

More significantly, added Oliver, "He got a chance to play against the better players around the world and got a chance to experience life outside poverty, so he got a chance to just go out and relax, get away from all this nonsense in Chicago.

"The problem we have is that everybody's in his ear, trying to get him to transfer and I hope he understands, you make your own name. He's made his name -- where were all those people before he became Cliff Alexander? -- and I think if we keep him in that frame of mind, he'll be OK. By him going to play with adidas Nations, he's getting a chance to see the world, be around a lot of other positive people, and Reggie, with his foundation, that's really helped him a lot," he continued. "We're telling Cliff, 'With the notoriety you've got, a lot of people are looking up to you,. so you've got to use that as a positive tool to help the younger guys that's behind you,' and even some of the juniors and seniors. When he speaks, people listen

"He's a great kid. He's one of those kids you'd love to take your daughter out. He's very humble, he's not stuck on himself. Sometimes he's too friendly. He's just a heart-warming, appreciate everything you do for him, 'yes, sir; no, sir' type of guy. Some of the kids who get the publicity he gets can't handle it well. So far, he's been doing a great job handling success."

Oliver acknowledges that with Alexander, Curie's team could also garner more attention. The program, which flies under the radar despite annually being at least a contender in the Public League and annually sending players to Division I colleges, lost last year's star, current UIC point guard Greg Travis, to graduation, also boasts a backcourt of seniors Devin Foster and Malcolm Hill-Bey, both Division I prospects, as well as Iowa-bound football star Maurice Fleming (who will start the season on the sidelines, due to a knee injury) and another sophomore big man, 6-foot-10 Detalion Jackson, who's viewed as much more of a project than Alexander.

"In our open gyms, we had some of the top coaches in the country watching this kid, a sophomore, work out," said Oliver, who coached current Louisville freshman Wayne Blackshear during his first two seasons before the swingman, a McDonald's All-American as a high school senior, controversially transferred to CPS rival Morgan Park. "If everything goes right, we'll be that nationally-known team, like Whitney Young, like Simeon."

Curie will have the chance to test out theory, as they could play Simeon in the Pontiac holiday tournament and have a matchup with Whitney Young in a January shootout, in which Alexander would be pitted against the aforementioned Okafor. In the meantime, Alexander continues to get besieged by attention from colleges, including Michigan State, DePaul and Illinois, although Oliver claims Kentucky, which hasn't yet been active in his recruitment, is the program Alexander talks about the most.

Still, Oliver emphasizes that his prospect is far from a finished product.

"We want him to get better on defending the post. He's going to become a better scorer because that just comes with a lot of easy baskets," said the coach. "Right now, we want him to concentrate on playing 32 minutes, concentrate on playing a whole game. Sometimes, being a young guy, he takes plays off."

But after seeing him power over and through an opponent -- another well-regarded big man for a strong city program, who will remain nameless -- for an earth-shattering, gym-rocking dunk on the final day of Oliver's fall league tournament, it's hard not to accentuate the positive. Alexander has a ways to go, but with his already-impressive basketball foundation and God-given gifts, it's clear that with continued work and improvement, he could one day play on the highest level.

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

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USA TODAY

Adjust your White Sox free-agent wish list? Gerrit Cole's teammates predict he'll land in California

Gerrit Cole is rightfully at the top of many White Sox fans' free-agent wish list. But might those hopes already need adjusting?

Cole looks to be on track to land the richest pitching contract in baseball history when he hits free agency after the Houston Astros' playoff run is over. The White Sox are shopping for starting pitching, and what team wouldn't love to top their rotation with the guy who might be awarded the AL Cy Young?

But whether or not you're part of the Twitter-using faction of White Sox fans that believe the team would never spend such money to land a pitcher the caliber of Cole, it might not matter.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale spoke to a couple of Cole's fellow Astros, and they told him they think Cole will end up playing in California. The South Side, at least in the Astros' clubhouse, it seems, is not a betting favorite.

"It will be west of Nevada," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We know he wants to be a West Coast guy. He’s a California guy, so he probably wants to be close to home. I know he mentioned Oakland a couple of times because of how he’s pitched there in the past. ... But that probably won’t happen. They’d have to clear the whole roster to afford him."

"I got the Angels," pitcher Wade Miley said, "and paying him at least $250 million."

Well then.

Certainly the Los Angeles Angels are not a new suggestion in the "where will Cole sign" discussion. Cole went to high school a 10-minute drive from Angel Stadium and pitched his college ball at UCLA. The Oakland Athletics? That's a new one.

Anyway, a lot of White Sox fans are probably out there thinking "here we go again" as we begin poring over every bit of minutiae in this winter's free-agent market, just like we did last offseason, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were both out there for the signing — and both White Sox targets. That months-long reading of the tea leaves, of course, was all kicked off when MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported the White Sox interest during the GM Meetings in November.

So far, there's nothing out there connecting the White Sox to Cole besides pure speculation, that and the fact that Rick Hahn has said his front office will be in the market for starting pitching. Cole, being a starting pitcher, fits the minimum requirement as a potential target.

In fact, in listing a boatload of teams that might make a run at Cole this winter, Nightengale left the White Sox out. He mentioned four of the five California-based teams: the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants and every White Sox fan's favorite, the San Diego Padres, who landed Machado back in February. He also mentioned the Astros, the New York Yankees (who Cole will pitch against in game 3 of the ALCS on Tuesday), the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals and the Texas Rangers.

No White Sox.

There are plenty of other variables in this sweepstakes than just geography, and chief among them figures to be money. The White Sox have plenty of financial flexibility gained as a goal of the ongoing rebuilding process, but Hahn said that's not the most attractive element when it comes to free agents signing up to play on the South Side.

"The biggest advantage we have is the talent base we've accumulated so far and the excitement to come and be part of that," Hahn said during his end-of-season press conference last month. "We do have some economic flexibility. That was part of the plan from the start. But I think if you're looking at advantages, a lot of teams have money. A lot of teams don't offer the ability to play with some of the players that are joining us here already and joining in the coming years and the opportunity to win a championship in a city like Chicago."

Whether that appeals to Cole or whether the White Sox will set their sights elsewhere remains to be seen. Certainly his fellow Astros' predictions aren't the be all, end all. Remember last winter when it was a foregone conclusion Machado would be a Yankee because he was a fan of that team growing up? Didn't work out that way. (It's here that I'll mention a pretty cool nugget in Nightengale's piece about Cole sitting in the front row cheering on the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. Is he destined to wear pinstripes because of it? No.)

For the White Sox, they certainly should chase Cole, who would count as the biggest free-agent splash in team history and do a heck of a lot to vault the team out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. But Hahn is hoping that whichever players he lands this winter can do that, along with the team's talented young core, and there are plenty of starting-pitching options out there not named Gerrit Cole: Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and maybe even Stephen Strasburg. It's an impressive list of possibilities, one that remains impressive for the White Sox even if they fail to meet any imaginary Golden State requirement from Cole.

Even as Cole readies to face off against the Yankees in the ALCS, attempting to go 19-0 since he lost to the White Sox on May 22, his role as the star of the hot stove season is already beginning.

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Hersey ATH Jordan Hansen pledges to NIU

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Hersey ATH Jordan Hansen pledges to NIU

Hersey senior QB/S Jordan Hansen (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) has decided to give NIU his verbal commitment. 

"I'm really excited about it (commitment to NIU)," Hansen said. "NIU started really recruiting me harder around the beginning of the season. The NIU coaches saw me earlier in the summer at one of the North Central College one day camps and we've been in regular contact ever since then."

Hansen, who was drawing fall recruiting attention from Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois, and Illinois State felt that NIU was the best overall fit for him.

"NIU has a lot to offer. They recruited me as a safety and I'm more of an athlete recruit for them. I really like all of the coaches at NIU. They are just great guys and they have a plan in place to keep the football program on top. NIU also has nice facilities and really everything at NIU is impressive. NIU is also close to home which is a plus. Distance from home was not a huge factor for me but it definitely works out great for my family."

Hansen is also happy and relieved to have made his college choice.

"It's a big relief for sure. I can just stay focused on my team and on my season without having to worry about recruiting."

Jordan Hansen is the 17th known verbal commitment to the NIU Huskies Class of 2020 and the 3rd known in-state pledge. Hansen joins Oswego OL Jack Hugunin and West Aurora DE Matt Johnson in the NIU 2020 in-state class.