Cubs

Du Sable recalls the good old days

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Du Sable recalls the good old days

Theo Williams remembers the way it was when Du Sable was one of the most successful basketball programs in the city. A graduate of 1998, he played point guard on a team that lost to Quentin Richardson and eventual state champion Whitney Young in the semifinals of the Public League playoff.

But Williams, 32, concedes that his players don't know very much about the history and tradition of a program that finished second in the state in 1954 and has produced such outstanding players as Sweetwater Clifton, Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown, Shellie McMillon, Mike Lewis, Maurice Cheeks, Sam Gowers, Larry Cross and Stephfon Butler.

"The kids know very little," Williams said. "I knew it all. When we went to the Final Four in the city playoff in 1998, that's when it all came out, newspaper articles about how powerful the basketball program was in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

"These kids don't know about the tradition. Sweetwater Clifton (the first African-American to play in the NBA) and Maurice Cheeks (a former NBA coach and future Hall of Famer) graduated from Du Sable. But they don't know them. They see the 1954 trophy and know the history of what happened when that team went Downstate.

"Even when I played, there was no atmosphere like the 1970s. Not today, either. The gym used to be rocking. Now kids just sit and watch the game. We can't get them fired up. In fact, our team plays better on the road. But there is a buzz around the school about what we are doing. And alumni are coming back to watch the team."

Williams' players may not be aware of the history and tradition of Du Sable basketball but they are listening to their coach's daily sermons about defense. And Williams insists man-to-man defense is what has propelled the Panthers to within two victories of earning their first trip to the state finals in nearly 60 years.

Williams played for Larry Lewis, another former Du Sable player. After starting for four years at Du Sable, he attended Eastern Arizona and Minnesota StateMankato, then graduated from Robert Morris in Chicago. After college, he assisted coach Richard Morgan at Du Sable, then became head coach when Morgan became principal six years ago.

Last year's team finished 19-11, losing to Harper in the regional final. With three starters returning, Williams was optimistic about this season...if only his players would learn to play defense.

"The kids weren't ready to play defense for me. That's why we lost early in the season," Williams said. "I was a defensive stopper when I played. This team can't score that well so we have to play defense to generate offense. Defense and free throws will win for us. I told the kids: 'If we don't play defense, we can't compete.'

"Good teams will pick-and-roll and get any shot they want. If we don't make them uncomfortable, it will be a long night for us. We must force them to do what they don't want to do and force them outside so they can't run their offensive sets."

Now 15-9, Du Sable has won six games in a row after upsetting top-seeded St. Ignatius 51-44 on Tuesday night in a Class 3A sectional semifinal at St. Ignatius. The Panthers will meet Dunbar for the championship on Friday night.

Malik Williams, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, came off the bench to score 11 points in the second quarter 6-foot-5 junior Christopher Galbreath had 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks as Du Sable pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the state tournament to date.

"We may look sluggish on offense," Williams said, "but we play hard on defense and as a team and rebound the ball. I never question our effort on defense. Our kids are now committed to defense."

The Panthers finally got their coach's message loud and clear after beating Crane 62-52 on Feb. 21, the team's Senior Night.

"Everybody thought we'd lose to Crane," Williams said. "But we forced them into a lot of turnovers. And those turnovers translated into easy offensive points. It make our kids realize that defense translates to easy baskets."

The converts are Malik Williams (8 ppg), Galbreath (10 ppg, 10 rpg), 6-foot-1 senior Evance Gayles (13 ppg, 4 assists), 6-foot-4 senior Andrew Richmond (5 ppg, 7 rpg), 6-foot-1 senior James Scott (6 ppg) and 6-foot-2 senior Jermayne Akons (9 ppg).

Williams likes to put the ball in Gayles' hands late in games because he is makes good decisions and is an effective finisher. He describes Richmond as "the heart of the team" because he takes two or three charges in each game and the team feeds off his energy. Akons, also a gifted football player, has offers to play quarterback in college.

But Williams still has issues. "I never know who will show up or won't show up. The problem is to get everybody on the same page all the time and be ready to play," he said.

Just like they did in the 1970s.

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

For on-the-rise White Sox, learning to win also means learning to lose

The White Sox lost Saturday night.

That’s baseball, of course, they’re not all going to be winners. And this rebuilding franchise has seen plenty of losses. But the feelings have been so good of late — whether because of Eloy Jimenez’s 400-foot homers or Lucas Giolito’s Cy Young caliber season to this point or a variety of other positive signs that make the White Sox future so bright — that losing Saturday to the first-place New York Yankees seemed rather sour.

Obviously there will be plenty more losses for this White Sox team before the book closes on the 2019 campaign. Back under .500, these South Siders aren’t expected to reach elite status before all the pieces arrive, and it would be no shock if they’re removed from the playoff race in the American League by the time crunch time rolls around in September.

But don’t tell these White Sox that an 8-4 defeat is a return to reality or a reminder that this team is still a work in progress. Even if, for a lot of players, development is still occurring at the major league level, the “learning experiences” that have been such a large part of the conversation surrounding this team in recent seasons and their daily goal of winning baseball games aren’t mutually exclusive.

“The Yankees are sitting in first place and they lost two games in a row,” catcher James McCann said Saturday night, providing a reminder of how the first two games of this weekend series went. “Just because you're expected to win and expected to be World Series contenders doesn't mean you're not going to lose ballgames. It's how you bounce back.

“And it doesn't mean you're going to win tomorrow, either. It's just, how do you handle a defeat? How do you handle a bad at-bat? How do you handle a bad outing, whatever it may be? But it doesn't mean that we step back and say, ‘Oh, we're back under .500, we're supposed to lose.’

“We expect to win when we show up to the ballpark. You can take learning experiences whether you win or lose. Do I think a game like tonight reminds us we're supposed to be in a rebuilding mode? No. We still expect to win, and we're going to show up tomorrow with that mentality.”

Maybe that’s a description of the much-discussed “learning to win” young teams supposedly need to do on the road to contender status. Maybe that can’t happen until a team figures out how to bounce back from a defeat — until it learns how to lose and how to act in the wake of a loss.

For all McCann’s certainty about the team’s expectations on a daily basis, his explanation was peppered with questions. He said he’s seen the answer to “how do you bounce back?” from this club, and his three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday night was fairly convincing evidence that the White Sox didn’t use up all their fight just getting back to .500.

So while the White Sox know they won’t win every game — that no team will — they need to know how they handle defeat. Losing, it turns out, might end up being more instructive about when this team is ready to win.

“I think we've done a pretty good job (bouncing back),” McCann said. “You look at the road trip in Houston and Minnesota where we took two out of four from a good Houston team and then played really not very good baseball for three days in Minnesota only to come home and have an extremely good homestand.

“It's the big picture. It's not the very next day. It's not, ‘We've got to bounce back and win.’ It's not a must-win situation in the middle of June. But it's how do you handle yourself? How does a game like tonight, do you show up flat tomorrow and let it snowball into a three-, four-game spiral? Or do you fight?

“And that's what this team's been really good at doing is fighting and not giving in.”

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