Cubs

Egekeze is future star at Huntley

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Egekeze is future star at Huntley

Huntley coach Marty Manning projects Amanze Egekeze as a future star, another Scottie Pippen at the next level or beyond. The 6-6 sophomore already is attracting interest from several Big Ten schools.

In the wake of his 21-point performance in Huntley's 55-49 victory over previously unbeaten Crystal Lake Central in the championship game of the Jacobs Holiday Tournament, his popularity will continue to soar.

Manning is cautious, however. "I thought Derrick Rose would be a flop in the NBA because he couldn't shoot. I think college coaches will have a better understanding of where Amanze will fit in their programs," he said.

But Amanze isn't so sure that he will be the best player in his own family. His younger brother, Uchenna, a 9-year-old third grader, is ahead of Amanze's development and projects to be the best Egekeze of all.

"It's looking that way," Amanze said. "He already has been exposed to things and knows more about basketball than me and my older brother Kemdi (who also is on the Huntley varsity) knew at the same age. He is tall for his age and will keep growing. He has huge feet for his age.

"He already is one of the tallest kids in his age group. And he is playing as a guard right now. He could be a 6-6 or 6-7 point guard, which is what I am trying to develop into now. At 16, I've just been focusing on getting better every time I go on the court."

Manning, who was a point guard on a 27-4 Hoffman Estates team that lost a one-point decision to Westinghouse in the state quarterfinals in 1996, said he started "salivating" about Egekeze when he saw him as an eighth grader.

"I saw him in feeder tryouts, shooting right and left-handed hooks, finishing at the rim, making pull-up jumpers with great form, swishing every shot," Manning said. "When you see a kid that tall (he was 6-5 at the time), you know he is something special, that he has great potential.

"What is intriguing about him is he has a base of accumulative skills -- ball-handling, passing, shooting -- and he is a straight-A student. All those qualities make him a major Division I prospect. What is holding him back is he is only a sophomore and he isn't physically overwhelming. He has to get stronger in his legs."

Egekeze is aware of his shortcomings. He is working on his guard skills, his ball-handling and his perimeter defense. He plans to get involved in a weight training program. He is constantly reminded of some sage advice his father keeps drumming into his ear.

"My fathers says: 'Bring something different every year.' I should try to get better at some aspect of my game every year, like Derrick Rose improving as a shooter," he said.

Amanze's parents -- his father is a doctor, his mother is a nurse -- immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. Born in Chicago, the family settled in Huntley when Amanze was in third grade. His father was a soccer player but Amanze preferred basketball.

"I never understood soccer. I thought it was boring, too slow compared to basketball," he said. "When I watched basketball, I understood it. I knew the basics. I liked the idea of putting the ball in the basket."

Now he hopes to combine basketball and academics into a sound college education. Maybe engineering. But he admits it is too early to be thinking about college and recruiting, not when his high school team is 10-1 and preparing for a rematch with Crystal Lake Central on Wednesday at Huntley.

"The Big Ten is what we're looking into right now but I would look at other options," he said.

Egekeze averages 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks per game. Troy Miller, a 6-foot senior point guard, averages 13 points and three assists and is a 42 percent shooter from three-point range. Justin Frederick, a 6-3 senior, averages 10 points and five rebounds and is an outstanding offensive rebounder. Bryce Only, a 6-foot junior, averages eight points and is the team's best defensive player. Jake Brock, a 6-2 senior, also is a defensive stalwart. Ryan Craig, a 6-3 junior, and Ryan Lussow, a 6-3 senior, come off the bench.

Miller, who is attracting interest from such Division III schools as Augustana, St. Norbert and Lake Forest, was the most prolific three-point shooter in the northwest suburban area last season. Only is a hard-hitting third baseman who has major league potential and is attracting interest from Division I schools.

"This team has the potential to be the best team I've had," Manning said. "It is more dynamic. It has guards who can shoot and a post player who can score in the post. You have to have good guards to advance in the state tournament. Overall, this is the most talented team I have coached."

Manning, 34, is in his sixth year as Huntley's head coach. Armed with a degree in business administration and a masters in secondary education, he teaches computer programming, advanced placement computer science and introduction to business.

He worked his way up the basketball coaching ladder, from varsity girls assistant to sophomore boys coach, then the varsity. "Even if I decided to play basketball in college at Augustana or Ripon, I still wanted to coach basketball in high school," he said.

At one time, Huntley was a doormat for high school basketball. But the McHenry County is growing faster than malls can keep up with it and the high school enrollment has increased from 1,200 nine years ago to 2,400 today with a projection of 3,000 in four years.

The quality of basketball has improved, too. "When I first got here, there were talented kids but the school tended to play teams out west," Manning said. Now the school has moved from the Big Northern Conference to the Fox Valley's Valley Division and Class 4A. Manning beefed up his schedule and hired two top-notch assistants -- Tony Jones, a former All-Big Ten player at Purdue in the 1980s, and his former coach at Hoffman Estates, Bill Wandro.

"We tried to build a relationship with the junior high school and feeder programs. But we didn't have to do too much else," Manning said. "As we grew, parents came from the northwest suburbs and wanted to get their kids involved in athletics."

His first team went 23-6 and lost to Rock Falls in the sectional semifinal. In 2008, his team lost to Sterling in the sectional final. Last year's team was 25-5 and lost to Rockford Auburn in the sectional final. So this year's goal is obvious to one and all.

"Our goal is to go beyond the sectional for the first time in school history, to accomplish something that has never been done before," Manning said. "Amanze is the difference-maker. He won't dominate for us -- maybe as a junior and senior -- but he gives us what we didn't have last year, a post presence that opponents must respect. He makes us more dynamic."

As Huntley's tallest player, Egekeze plays in the post even though Manning admits the youngster probably will be a guard at the next level. But he'll do whatever is best for the team.

"As the team's tallest player, the coach says he needs me to be more aggressive on the boards and to score inside," Egekeze said. "It clashes a bit because I'm trying to develop my game for the next level. I'm trying to find ways to score in the post but also working on my guard skills."

The victory at the Jacobs tournament showed Egekeze and his teammates what their potential is and how well they can play against a good opponent in a big game when they are mentally prepared.

"I knew I had to have that type of game (21 points) for us to win," Egekeze said. "I am getting double and triple teammed a lot so I have to work on other ways to be effective on offense.

"But I really like this team. It is more fun playing with them this year. We've grown up playing basketball since the playgrounds in seventh grade. Last year was a lesson to prepare us for this year. Rockford Auburn was a good team, a fundamentally sound and athletic team, the kind of team we have to beat to go farther in the state tournament. It was our first taste of real competition.

"So losing that game taught us how much harder we have to work. We want to do something that the school has never done before. Our ultimate goal is to go Downstate. Based on how we played at the Jacobs tournament, we learned how committed we are defensively. We surprise a lot of teams with our man-to-man pressure defense. I think we're one of, if not the best, defensive team in our area."

Maybe the early exit was just what the Cubs needed

Maybe the early exit was just what the Cubs needed

A year ago, the Cubs world was in essentially the exact same place — trying to find answers for a season that ended earlier than expected.

There was only one difference: Time.

The 2018 Cubs woke up on the morning of Oct. 22 having been out of action almost three full weeks. That's a long time in terms of decompressing, letting your body heal and evaluating what went wrong.

A year ago today, Ben Zobrist was in the midst of trying to heal his ailing wrist after a third straight trip deep into the postseason.

A year ago today, Theo Epstein was roughly 48 hours removed from his annual end-of-season eulogy.

A year ago today, Kris Bryant was trying to catch his breath after what he called the most draining campaign of his life.

Yet we woke up Monday morning 19 full days removed from the latest iteration of Epstein's end-of-season eulogy, Zobrist is making light-hearted Instagram videos and Bryant is already nearly three weeks into the process of letting his left shoulder heal completely and adding strength.

Of course, that trio of Cubs figures would gladly trade in these extra few weeks of time off for another shot at the NL pennant, even if they fell short in the NLCS again.

Still, there's a lot of value in extra time off, especially after three straight falls where they went deep into October playing high-stress baseball. The Cubs absolutely will go in 2019 much fresher than they went into this year's spring training.

For example, Jon Lester threw 8.1 fewer innings this October than 2017 and 29.2 fewer innings than 2016. Zobrist played 8 fewer games this October than 2018 and 16 fewer than 2016 (he also won the World Series in 2015 as a member of the Kansas City Royals). That matters when players' ages start creeping up into the mid-to-late 30s.

It shouldn't take the sting out of the disappointing end to 2018 for the Cubs or their fans, but extra time off for these guys is certainly not a bad thing. 

The Cubs have already gotten the ball rolling on offseason changes, including replacing Chili Davis at hitting coach with Anthony Iapoce

On top of that, each individual player has now had enough time to evaluate why or how they went wrong offensively down the stretch.

"A full winter — especially this extra month that we unfortunately have — is a luxury in baseball," Epstein said. "There are things that come up all the time during the course of the season with teams and with individual players that you say, 'We'd love to address.' But that's so hard to address during the season because there's always another game tomorrow. 

"Guys are surviving. We have to wait 'til the offseason, then we can get right physically, then we can wade into the mental game, then we can address this swing change, then we can handle this fundamental. Well, we now have that luxury — unfortunately — of a full offseason. How do we take full advantage of this so we're never in this position again?

"We don't want to be a part of an offensive collapse in the second half again. We don't want to be part of losing a division lead late again. We don't want to be part of looking back and recognizing that, gosh, maybe a greater sense of urgency from Game 1 through 162 would've led to one more game and then we're still playing. We don't want to be part of that ever again, so we need to make good use of this time."

The early exit also helps to create a chip on the shoulder for each member of the organization. It's hard to see the Cubs spending much time in 2019 lacking the same "urgency" they had this summer. The painful NL Wild-Card loss will leave a bad taste in their mouths that can carry over all the way until next October. 

Like Lester said, sometimes you "need to get your dick knocked in the dirt in order to appreciate where you're at." 

We saw that play out on the North Side of Chicago from 2015 into 2016 and Cole Hamels has seen this script before with a young core of players in Philadelphia.

In 2007, the Phillies made the playoffs, but were swept out of the NLDS by the Colorado Rockies. They rebounded to win the World Series the next fall over Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays.

"That [2007 sweep] really kind of taught us what the postseason experience was and what it was to not just play to the end of the season and instead to play to the end of the postseason," Hamels said. "This is a tremendous experience for a lot of guys and you have to go through the hardships before you get to enjoy the big moments.

"I know there's a lot of players here that have won a World Series, but there's also a lot that didn't have that sort of participation that you would kind of look towards, so I think this is great for them. 

"It's exciting to see what they're gonna be able to do next year and the year after that because this is a tremendous team here with the talent that they have. It's gonna be a great couple years."

No, it actually doesn't make sense for the Bears to trade for Patrick Peterson

No, it actually doesn't make sense for the Bears to trade for Patrick Peterson

Things around the NFL got real  interesting this morning: 

Between Paterson's strong language and the fact that the Cardinals are one of the three-worst teams in the NFL this season, it seems like a pretty safe bet that this trade happens. 

As is tradition, each NFL team's fanbase started tweetin' about it: 

The guess here is that this trade caught Bears fans at exactly the wrong time. Between Brock Osweiler's 380 YDS, 3 TD game and Tom Brady's 277 YDS, 3 TD performance, people aren't exactly clamoring to buy stock in the Bears' passing defense right now. 

As of Week 6, however, the Bears pass defense ranked 1st in DVOA. No one was better. Granted, that's not where they'll be when DVOA is updated to reflect the last two games, but bailing on the Bears' pass D after two games (although a case could be made that their pass D wasn't THAT bad against New England) is foolish. There's also the fact that the Bears' secondary is already super-talented, highlighed by Bryce Callahan and Eddie Jackson both making it onto Pro Football Focus' first quarter All-Pro team. Granted, Kyle Fuller's had a slow start and Prince Amukamara hasn't been able to stay on the field, but the depth and talent of the Bears' secondary won't be their downfall. 

Positional need aside, the money just doesn't make sense for Chicago. First and foremost, the Bears just probably don't have what they'd need to bring in Peterson. According to Sportrac, the Bears have roughly $5.4 million in cap space this season - good for 23rd in the NFL (not that rank really matters, but just to give you an idea). 

That's not technically a deal breaker when it comes to Paterson, whose $11 million base salary is actually around $5.2 million once you prorate it for the first eight weeks of the year. So, if the Bears *wanted* to make a move for Peterson, the space is there. 

With that said, Peterson would come at a price that the Bears most likely don't have the luxury of affording. As of today, the market for trading top-tier secondary players has probably been set by this winter's Marcus Peters deal. In that trade, the Chiefs sent Peters and a sixth-round pick for one 4th-round pick this year and a 2nd round pick the following. As it stands, the Bears don't currently have anything better than a 4th-round pick until 2021. They definitely don't have the draft capital to match the Peters deal -- which was actually considered a light return at the time. 

And sure, the Bears could come at the Cardinals with a package built around current players, but why would that interest Arizona? Would a rebuilding team be THAT interested in Leonard Floyd, or some sort of Kevin White-Proven Vet combo? There's no incentive for the Cardinals to listen to any offer that doesn't include high round draft capital, and the Bears can't offer that. Paterson on the Bears would be an embarrassment of riches, but not one that the Bears can realistically swing.