Bears

Curie getting better and better

643040.png

Curie getting better and better

If you think third-ranked and once-beaten Curie is too good to be true, you'll be interested to learn that coach Mike Oliver predicts his team is about to get better and even better.

"This is the best team I have had, better than last year's (26-3) team," said Oliver, in his 16th season at the Southwest Side school. "We have 10 seniors who have won 100 games and lost only five in four years. As sophomores, they won the city title. They know how to win.

"We have experience at every position. We have size and speed. Our big guy (6-foot-9, 230-pound sophomore Cliff Alexander) complements our guards. We have good shooting. Our kids enjoy playing with each other. They don't get rattled much. They take success in stride."

Despite the intimidating presence of Alexander, who ranks as the No. 6 player in the class of 2014 nationally according to recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com, Oliver insists there isn't a superstar in the lineup, probably because the easy-going Alexander doesn't treat himself as a superstar.

"You can't think that you can beat Curie if you stop Alexander," Oliver said. "He respects his role as a rebounder, our inside presence, someone to control the paint. Our kids don't mind sharing the ball. Our second five can easily be our starting five."

If that isn't enough, the Condors added more depth and talent last week when 6-foot-3 guard Joseph Stamps, described by Oliver as "one of the best sophomores in the state," regained his eligibility. And Iowa-bound football star Maurice Fleming will rejoin the squad within the next week or two.

Stamps, who already has scholarship offers from DePaul and Ball State, is an outstanding scorer. He scored 53 points in an AAU game last summer. Fleming, who missed the football season with a torn ACL, is a 6-foot-1 senior who will back up point guard Jabreel Jackson.

"I feel good about how things are shaping up," Oliver said.

Curie carried a 13-1 record into Monday's game against North Chicago and high-scoring Aaron Simpson at Whitney Young. The Condors will host Harper on Tuesday and Lindblom on Thursday, then play at Whitney Young on Sunday in a matchup of two of the Public League's premier teams.

Last week, they overwhelmed King 88-43 as Alexander had 17 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks and Devin Foster added 14 points, Malcolm Hill-Bey and Marcellus Davis each had 11.

Their only loss was to top-ranked and unbeaten Simeon 45-28 in the championship game of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. On the positive side, Curie only trailed 20-17 at halftime. On the negative side, the Condors managed only four points in the fourth quarter. And Alexander missed eight free throws in a row.

"We took a lot out of that game," Oliver said. "We know we can play with them. It was our second game of the day. We're encouraged that we saw them early. We know we have a lot of work to do to beat those type of teams, what it takes to win the state title. We have to work hard to get on their level.

"We have to continue to get better on defense, to accept our roles, not get big-headed, not to let the rankings get to our heads. We must continue to strive to be No. 1 at the end of the year, not early in the year. We want to be sure that we haven't peaked too early."

Alexander averages 12 points and nine rebounds per game. But the team leader, according to Oliver, is 6-foot-3 senior Devin Foster (17 ppg, 7 rpg). Other starters are 5-foot-10 senior point guard Jabreel Jackson (8 ppg, 7 assists, 2 steals), 6-foot-5 senior Thomas Smith (7 ppg) and 6-foot-1 senior Joshua Baston (6 ppg).

There is plenty of punch coming off the bench with 5-foot-10 senior Malcolm Hill-Bey (12 ppg), a transfer from Mount Carmel, 6-foot-6 junior Lavonta Jones and 6-foot-1 junior Marcellus Davis, the team's best shooter.

And now Oliver has to make room for Stamps and Fleming. It's a pleasant problem to have.

"These kids don't care who scores baskets. They just want to win," the coach said. "I just tell them to stick within their system. That's what winners do, believe in their system. I'm trying to get my kids to do that, to play their roles to the best of their ability."

For example, Oliver is looking for more leadership from Jackson, whom he calls "one of the best point guards in the city." Jackson has heard his coach's message loud and clear.

"It took us a few games to understand our roles, to understand what we have to do to win," Jackson said. "For me, I know I can score and make assists. But coach wants me to be more vocal and a leader on the court. Last year, I was more of a shooter. I wasn't used to passing, having the ball in my hands. As the point guard, I have to run the team and tell everybody what they have to do.

"By nature, I'm not a vocal person. I'm more of a laid-back kind of guy. That won't get it, the coach tells me. I have to take control, let things cruise. In our first game, against Gary (Indiana) Bowman, we were losing. Coach said I needed to step up and I didn't. We won the game but I didn't encourage my teammates. Coach pulled me aside after the game and let me know what my role is. I should be the coach on the court, he told me. Ever since, I've tried to be more of a leader. I get in their face if they aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing."

Foster believes Curie should have won the city title last year, that it lacked the experience and maturity that this team has. "We're playing like a family, like we are brothers. My role is to be a leader. I like to pass. I'd rather pass than score," he said.

Meanwhile, college recruiters keep trying to persuade Alexander to play football. They project him as an offensive left tackle. He played football as a freshman but wanted to concentrate on basketball. "Basketball is my strong point, what I am good at right now," he said.

Alexander also sees a bright future in basketball--for himself and for his team. "We can go somewhere and do things that we haven't done before. We can make history, like getting to the final at Pontiac. We have a lot of talent. We don't look at the rankings. We just want to win the last game of the season. That's the most important thing," he said.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

10-20codyparkey.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”