White Sox

Curie's Alexander looks to be more offensive

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Curie's Alexander looks to be more offensive

Curie's 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander and Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor are best of friends. "We are close, like brothers," Alexander said. They also are two of the top four or five high school basketball players in the nation in the class of 2014, maybe 1-2.

They'd like to go to college together, which would be the equivalent of landing Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell in the same recruiting class. The odds of that happening, according to Alexander, are 7 out of 10. Both are being recruited by Kentucky, Michigan State, Illinois, DePaul, North Carolina State, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

For the time being, however, they are focusing on the 2012-13 season. Each believes he can lead his team to a state championship, something they failed to do a year ago, so they have put the recruiting process on the back burner until after the season.

"Michigan State and Kentucky are the ones I like most, also Baylor," Alexander said. "I want to get an offer from UCLA, also North Carolina. I would like to consider them. But I haven't heard from them. It bothers me a little bit."

Like Okafor, he has no timetable for making a decision. "I will commit after next season. I'm not paying attention to the recruiting process now. I'll think about it at the end of this season. I want to focus on this season," Alexander said.

As he continues to develop his skills, especially offensively, more school can be expected to join the pursuit. He has 22 offers as he prepares for Curie's Nov. 30 opener against perennial national power Oak Hill Academy in Benton, Kentucky. Other big dates are Homewood-Flossmoor in the Derrick Rose Shootout on Dec. 8-9 at the Ray Kroc Center in Chicago and the Pontiac Holiday Tournament.

In last Friday's opening 72-39 loss to perennial national power Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, Alexander had 26 points and 13 rebounds.

In last Sunday's 37-36 loss to Benet, Alexander was limited to six points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He was outplayed by 6-foot-9 junior Sean O'Mara, who had 13 points, including a game-winning free throw with 12.5 seconds left, as Benet scored the last six points.

Despite an 0-2 start, Curie coach Mike Oliver remains optimistic.

"Potentially, this could be the best team I have had," said Oliver, who has won more than 300 games in 16 years. "We have a lot of talent, a lot of new players and the best player (Alexander) I have ever had. Our guard play will be good. We are quick, play well together and can shoot well from the outside."

Last year's team finished 26-3, losing to state champion Simeon in the Public League final and the Pontiac Holiday Tournament final and to Marist in the regional final at the buzzer.

"It hurt bad. It took a long time to get over it," Alexander said. "We have to come out stronger this year. It's my team. I'm the only returning starter. I have to step up. Last year's team was better than this year. It had more talent. But we can pull it out this year. We have good shooters. They will take pressure off me and let me operate on the post. My eyes light up when when they don't sink in and double me."

Oliver has a new game plan for Alexander this season. And his eyes light up every time he thinks about it. Alexander reminds Oliver of New York Knicks star Amare Stoudemire, a shot-blocker who is very athletic, like former Public League stars Leon Smith of King and Russell Cross of Manley, who dominated games on defense.

"He knows how to play the game now. He will bet the ball a lot more this year. We have added low post moves to his game so he can dominate more on offense than before. He has gotten stronger. He spent a lot of time in the weight room. He is thinking more offense this year," Oliver said.

Last year, Alexander averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. This year, Oliver hopes he will average 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Alexander's personal goals are 25 points and 15 rebounds.

"He doesn't have to impress anyone. He is like a big kid in a candy factory," Oliver said.

It took some time for Alexander to realize that basketball, not football, was his game. He didn't play basketball in grammar school. Until his freshman year, he thought he would be a football player in college and maybe beyond. "I didn't think I had a future in basketball," he said.

But Alexander said he got hooked on basketball as a freshman and forgot about football. "I liked dunking," he said. Now his game is so much more.

"The coach wants me to be more dominant on offense this year and that sounds good to me. I have been staying after practice to work on post moves and jump shots. I went to summer camps...Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, adidas. I have post moves this year. And I put on some muscle. I'm much stronger and I feel in much better shape.

"I have to be the most dominating player on the floor every night. My skill set is better. My attitude has changed. I want to come out every game and dominate. Last year, I didn't do it every game. I folded up. I didn't do too good. My teammates and coaches tell me to dominate every game, to bring the dog out. That's what I plan to do."

Oliver will surround Alexander with 6-foot-1 senior guard Marcellus Davis, 5-foot-9 senior guard Demarcus Richardson, 6-foot-6 senior Malik Elbey and 6-foot-3 junior Joseph Stamps. Davis, a transfer from De La Salle, averaged nine points off the bench last season.

Top reserves will be 6-foot-4 sophomore Joshua Stamps, Joseph's brother, and 6-foot-3 junior Sheriff Matlock.

Over the years, Oliver has been one of the most successful coaches in the Public League without generating much fanfare. He has won 20 or more games for the last 10 years, has won the Central Division title 12 years in a row and reached the Final Four in the city playoff for the last two years and the final eight in nine of the last 10 years.

A 1987 graduate of Curie, Oliver was the No. 3 scorer in the state as a senior, in a class with more celebrated Marcus Liberty of King and Joe Daughrity of Crane. He attended Aurora University, then became sophomore coach at Curie in 1992. He won back-to-back city titles, then became head coach in 1996, succeeding James McLaughlin, who went to Homewood-Flossmoor.

"We play pressure defense and an uptempo offense. We play more like a Red-West team but we are on the Southwest Side, which is why we have been so successful," Oliver said. "We get in your face and we are aggressive. We push the ball. We're not afraid to play four guards."

As long as Alexander is in the middle of them.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

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USA TODAY

After Reynaldo Lopez said White Sox 'looked like clowns' in Cleveland, Rick Renteria fine with his pitcher's comments

The White Sox are on a seven-game losing streak and are 25 games below .500.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the losses have piled up in a season that was always going to be about player development and advancing the rebuilding effort. Rick Hahn didn’t call this the hardest part of the rebuild for nothing.

But losing is fun for no one, and to be in the midst of such results on an everyday basis can unsurprisingly cause frustration to build.

The most verbalized display of that frustration to date came earlier this week, when at the end of a sweep at the hands of the division-rival Cleveland Indians, pitcher Reynaldo Lopez said he and his teammates “looked like clowns.”

“It’s unacceptable for us to look the way we looked today,” Lopez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, through a translator after Wednesday’s 12-0 loss in Cleveland. “Nobody is happy about the way we looked today. Honestly, we looked like clowns there, starting with me. But I know we can do better. It’s a matter of us to keep grinding, improving and working hard.”

Calling the people you work with “clowns” might cause some problems in the average workplace. But the leader of this team, manager Rick Renteria, was fine with what Lopez said and complimented him for making the comments, not a dissimilar reaction to the one he had after veteran pitcher James Shields said he didn’t care about the rebuild and wanted to win now earlier this season.

“Good for him,” Renteria said of Lopez on Friday. “I think he was just speaking what everybody was probably sensing. I think nobody was hiding it. I think the players knew it. I think we addressed it a little bit. You know, when the pitcher comes out — I mean, he took accountability for himself, that’s one of the things we were talking about, that’s a good thing.

“I think when these guys express themselves to each other and make it known that we expect certain things and we’re not doing those things and we want to get back to what we’ve always preached.

“I think they’re all accountable. They look in the mirror. They understand, I believe, that he was speaking from a place of trying to get us back to understanding that there’s a level of play that you expect, there’s a level of focus and concentration that you’re looking to have, and it’s the only way you have a chance in order to compete.

“I mean, you’re playing against some of the best teams in the game of baseball. You need to have that focus and concentration in order to give yourself a chance. He just made it known.”

As Renteria kept saying, Lopez was just as hard on himself, and he had a right to be. He allowed five runs on six hits and four walks in just 4.1 innings. Surely he’d be happy to avoid the Indians again this season: In two starts against them, he’s allowed 11 earned runs on 14 hits over seven innings.

But he wasn’t alone in Wednesday’s ugliness. The offense mustered only two hits in the shutout, Yoan Moncada committed another fielding error, and the bullpen allowed seven more runs, six of them charged to Bruce Rondon.

Similar vocalizations of this team’s frustrations have come from the likes of Hahn, Renteria and Shields. But now it’s coming from one of the young players who are the reason for this organization’s bright future. Lopez has pitched as well as any White Sox pitcher this season, and he figures to be in the mix for a spot in the team’s rotation of the future.

“I think it speaks volumes for him,” Renteria said. “You can’t be scared to voice what you believe is, in your opinion, something that you’re viewing, especially (about) yourself. And then you can direct it, if you need to, to the rest of the club. And I think he did a nice job. I thought he did it very respectfully, to be honest.”

The level of talent on this roster obviously isn’t what the White Sox hope it will be in the coming years, and because of the development happening in the minor leagues, many of the big league team’s current players aren’t expected to be around when things transition from rebuilding to contending.

But the attitude and identity that made “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” a rallying cry is still expected to be on display every day. It’s hard to find that kind of thing in a 12-0 loss.

Of course these players don’t want to lose, and Lopez’s comments are a way of saying that. Hence why the manager of the supposed no-quit boys was happy to hear them.