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."

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease picked up a win in his first start, but his second did not go as well.

Cease pitched six innings Tuesday at the Royals and gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk. He struck out seven, but took the loss in an ugly game for the White Sox.

The game got off to an ominous start with Eloy Jimenez getting injured on the first batter Cease faced. The White Sox defense didn’t help Cease much either with three errors (Cease had one of those on an errant pickoff throw).

After giving up six runs in the first four innings, Cease settled down to retire the final eight batters he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts against just one walk and threw 67 of his 108 pitches for strikes.

Cease struck out six in his first start and is the first pitcher in White Sox history to strike out six or more in each of his first two career appearances.

A deeper look at Cease’s numbers show his swing and miss stuff hasn’t quite caught on as expected so far. Cease got 13 swinging strikes in 101 pitches in his major league debut. He got 12 whiffs on 108 pitches on Tuesday. His slider did get five swinging strikes on 25 pitches against the Royals.

Fastball command remains a key part to Cease’s success. He only threw 26 out of 54 fastballs for strikes in his debut. Cease improved upon that with 31 strikes on 50 fastballs against the Royals.

Most of the Royals’ damage came against Cease’s fastball as well. Six of the Royals’ eight hits off Cease, including all three extra base hits, were off heaters. Cease also gave up four hits with two strikes.

There has been plenty of hype surrounding Cease since he joined the White Sox, but he hasn’t hit the ground running in the majors just yet. Having 13 days between the first two starts of his career due to the all-star break and the White Sox giving him some extra rest also isn’t the ideal scenario for a young pitcher.

Cease’s ERA is now at 5.73, which isn’t going to set the world on fire. Still, there have been enough positives in his first two starts to see where reasonable improvement could lead to Cease becoming the pitcher the White Sox expect him to be.

 

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