Preps Talk

Curie getting better and better

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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.

IHSA Preps Girls Basketball AP Poll

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AP

IHSA Preps Girls Basketball AP Poll

Here are the rankings of Illinois high school girls basketball teams in each class, according to an Associated Press panel of sportswriters with rank, team, first-place votes, record and total points.


Class 4A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Evanston Township (5) 19-2 68 3
2. Benet (2) 21-2 61 1
3. Edwardsville 18-1 58 2
4. Maine West 20-3 45 4
5. Marist 21-3 37 6
6. (tie) Lincoln Way West 21-2 37 5
7. Whitney Young 18-6 25 7
8. Libertyville 18-4 22 8
9.  Homewood-Flossmoor 18-5 12 9
10. Hersey 20-6 6 NR

Others receiving votes: Joliet West 4. O'Fallon 3. York 3. Fremd 2. Maine South 1. Bolingbrook 1

Class 3A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Morton (9) 25-0 90 1
2. Montini 22-4 70 3
3. Simeon 22-2 68 4
4. Richwoods 21-5 60 5
5. Bethalto Civic Memorial 22-3 46 2
6. Geneseo 20-3 39 T7
7. Peoria Central 19-3 35 6
8. (tie) Kankakee 22-4 32 T7
9.  Decatur MacArthur 21-2 17 9
10. Rock Island 19-7 14 NR

Others receiving votes: Kenwood 8. Riverside-Brookfield 6. Washington 3. Grayslake Central 3. Fenwick 1. Mattoon 1. Burlington Central 1. Rich South 1.

Class 2A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Paris  (9) 25-0 99 1
2. Knoxville 26-1 83 2
3. (tie) Quincy Notre Dame 19-2 73 4
4. Carterville 21-2 49 3
5.  Riverdale 18-3 48 7
6. Chicago Marshall (1) 12-8 41 6
7. Harrisburg 23-3 27 5
8. Carlinville 20-3 26 10
9. Pleasant Plains 17-3 24 NR
10. Illini West (Carthage) 20-4 23 NR

Others receiving votes: Teutopolis 13. Petersburg PORTA 10. Normal University 8. Marshall 7. Lisle 6. Hamilton County 3. Rock Falls 3. Stillman Valley 2. Eureka 2. Nashville 1. Pana 1. Eldorado 1.

Class 1A

No. Team W-L Pts Prv
1. Lewistown (5) 24-1 86 2
2. Amboy (4) 22-1 83 1
3.  Lanark Eastland 23-3 62 4
4.  Jacksonville Routt 20-2 61 5
5. Princeville 24-3 45 T8
6. Hope Academy 17-2 43 7
7.  Brimfield 21-3 40 3
8. Aquin 20-6 33 6
9.  (tie) Altamont 20-3 18 10
10. Aurora Christian 21-3 13 NR

Others receiving votes: Shiloh 4. Colfax Ridgeview 3. Father McGivney Catholic 2. Illini Central 1. Galena 1.

Forget a Yolmer Sanchez return to White Sox, he reportedly has deal with Giants

Forget a Yolmer Sanchez return to White Sox, he reportedly has deal with Giants

The dream many fans had of Yolmer Sanchez returning to the South Side for the 2020 season might be over.

According to reports, Sanchez has a minor league deal with the San Francisco Giants. Sanchez, who won an American League Gold Glove at second base last season with the White Sox, reportedly turned down a couple major league offers to compete for the everyday second baseman's job in San Francisco.

Sanchez was a fan favorite during his tenure with the White Sox, a positive clubhouse presence who earned a reputation as a fun-loving teammate through his various on-field antics, including repeated pranks involving the dugout's Gatorade bucket. He also proved himself to be one of the game's finest defensive infielders, a valuable skill even if his offensive production rarely lived up to the same standards. Last season, as the starting second baseman, Sanchez hit .252/.318/.321 with a pair of home runs and 43 RBIs.

Even after the White Sox non-tendered him earlier this offseason, team brass spoke positively of him, an indication that the door might not be closed on a reunion. But the White Sox infield is fast filling up with long-term pieces. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada had huge seasons on the left side in 2019, and Nick Madrigal, one of the top-rated prospects in baseball, is expected to reach the major leagues in the early portions of the 2020 season. Madrigal, the White Sox first-round draft pick in 2018, had an excellent offensive season in the minors last year and carries a similar defensive reputation as Sanchez. Whether Madrigal will make the Opening Day roster remains to be seen — it sounds unlikely — but he's expected to be the team's starting second baseman for the bulk of the 2020 campaign.

Given that crunch on the infield, Sanchez, even after his Gold Glove win, seemed destined for a reserve role had he returned to the South Side. Who knows if the White Sox were one of the teams that extended a major league contract offer to Sanchez, but there didn't seem to be room for him to have a starting job with this group. He can at least compete for such a role with the Giants.

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