Bulls

Glenbrook North loses McAuliffe for 4-6 weeks

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Glenbrook North loses McAuliffe for 4-6 weeks

One day, Glenbrook North coach Dave Weber was lamenting about issues he has with a lack of depth on his 2011-12 basketball team. The next day, his star player, 6-foot-8 junior Andrew McAuliffe, suffered a knee injury. On Monday, Weber learned that McAuliffe will be sidelined from four to six weeks.

"He has a fractured patella. He won't be back until mid to late January. He'll miss 10-12 games, a big chunk of the season," Weber said. "We have to get through this stretch of games without him and it will be tough because we have to go to the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"We have to totally change our whole offense, all that we have done up to this point. And everybody will have to step up. We have to get game experience and get guys off the bench to play."

Ironically, McAuliffe was injured during what Weber described as his best game of the year and his team's best game of the year. Despite suffering a knee injury, he scored 29 points and grabbed six rebounds in last Tuesday's 67-39 rout of Niles North.

"Then we played our worst game of the year," Weber said, referring to last Friday's 48-42 overtime loss to Deerfield. It was the first of several games that McAuliffe will miss.

Among the players who will be counted on to step up are 6-foot-5 senior Mark Johnson and 6-foot junior point guard Kurt Karis. Johnson scored 28 points against Niles North, then had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Deerfield. But Karis was befuddled and frustrated by Deerfield's box-and-one defense and never got untracked. It was a lesson he won't forget.

"We have to scrap more. We don't have the 6-8 presence that we had," Karis said. "We didn't make shots on Friday. And we were 5-for-13 from the free throw line. The defense packed in with a box-and-one on me. I scored only four points. It was very frustrating."

Afterward, aware that McAuliffe would miss some time, Karis texted all of his teammates. "We didn't play a good game. We have to work harder in practice. We have to work even harder and scrap harder. And I need to step up and be the player I can be, shoot more, be more confident," he said.

"One loss doesn't make a season. We need more balance. That loss shows how much harder we need to work. It is good that this happens to us early rather than later so it shows what we need to do."

Even before McAuliffe was injured, Weber complained about lack of depth. Three players already had left the program. Point guard Joe Prince moved back to California. Backup point guard Ethan Schmidt quit the team before the season began. And Cory Dolins transferred to Niles West.

Weber planned to build around McAuliffe, who was averaging 15 points and five rebounds and is being evaluated by Northwestern and other Division I schools, and Karis, who is averaging 13 points and four assists and was MVP of the Niles West Thanksgiving Tournament.

Without McAuliffe, he will count on Karis, Johnson, 6-foot-2 senior Mitchell Lev, 6-foot-1 senior Adam Chick and 6-foot-1 senior Trevor Ponticelli to fill the void. Johnson obviously got the message. He was averaging 10 points per game but scored 47 in his last two games.

They'll take a 6-1 record and debut their new lineup and revamped offense on Tuesday against Conant, then play Highland Park on Friday before meeting St. Patrick in the opening round of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"This team will be very competitive throughout the season," Weber said before McAuliffe's injury. "We won't blowout a lot of people. We have to win a lot of close games. We won't score a lot of points. We don't hit a lot of three-point shots. We play slower than we're used to playing."

Like many kids growing up in Northbrook, Karis was inspired by the spectacular play of former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer. His brother was on Scheyer's state championship team.

"So I went to every game. My dad played basketball and pushed me to play. Watching the state championship team made me want to play for Glenbrook North," Karis said. "Scheyer was amazing to watch. It was incredible to see what he could do. His supporting cast knew their roles. It inspired me to play my heart out to be able to play on the varsity.

"I was in Peoria when they won the state title. My brother didn't play a minute in the final game but he was the happiest he ever was. He played the last minute of the semifinal and got fouled and made two free throws at the end. It was his great moment of glory."

Now Kurt faces a big challenge if his team is to advance on the state tournament trail. "I'm the quarterback out there. My major role is to distribute the ball. We have desire. All the seniors want to win. It's a hard thing to win a state title but we haven't had a big challenge yet to see if we are the real deal. Now we do. But we think we can do it," he said.

Meanwhile, Weber has his own challenges to deal with. In his 17th season, he has won 325 games and one state championship. But he has noticed how the game has evolved and he isn't sure it is for the better.

"The high school season isn't as important to these kids as before," he said. "They play so much outside the school. The main focus used to be high school. Now it is AAU. They are tired and worn out. They play so much AAU and go to personal trainers and weight training coaches. By 3:00 in the afternoon, when they come to our practice, they are exhausted.

"And parents are into it more than ever before. The parents now are more hands on. The kids go home and tell their parents everything that happened in the day. The Internet has changed parental involvement. They want to see success. It isn't as much fun as it used to, nowhere near as much fun as when a kid came to practice and was excited to wear a Glenbrook North jersey.

"The pride and passion of playing for your high school isn't there anymore. When we used to scout five to 10 years ago, we would be exhausted. Now you scout and it's pretty much all the same...drive to the rim, not a lot of set plays. High school basketball isn't as structured as it used to be. It's all about athleticism, stopping dribble penetration, who is more athletic and who can drive and penetrate and kick. You used to have to figure out plays but not anymore."

Coaching without McAuliffe in the lineup could be his biggest challenge of all.

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

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USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

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What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

SoxFest brings the opportunity for fans to question team brass. And sometimes things can get a bit fiery.

This year, however, it was more of a victory lap for Rick Hahn after he loaded up the roster with an incredible amount of offseason acquisitions. Rick Renteria, too, got plenty of adulation after he came out and said the White Sox have their sights on reaching the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

But there were still questions. Fans stepped up to the microphone and got some answers out of Hahn and Renteria during a pair of panels Friday and Saturday.

Here are some of the more interesting and pertinent questions and answers from the two sessions.

Extensions for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito?

The White Sox have made headlines in each of the last two offseasons by handing out big-money extensions to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert before they played a game in the major leagues. But Saturday brought a fan question about whether the team was planning more extensions, specifically ones for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, two guys who broke out in a big way in 2019 and established themselves as the team's best all-around hitter and the ace of the starting staff, respectively.

These are not terribly pressing matters, obviously, as both guys are under team control for another four seasons. But the longer they go on their current deals and the longer they're allowed to keep improving, the more expensive they'll become to retain.

Hahn said that it's a White Sox priority to keep all of their talented young players together for as long as possible. He also mentioned that it has long been a part of the plan during the rebuilding process to be aggressive on extensions, as the team has shown with the deals for Jimenez and Robert. Players earn the right to reach free agency and explore the open market, but the White Sox do have a pretty good track record of retaining their own players, often on deals that have allowed them to keep some financial flexibility.

Tim Anderson in right field?

Whether it was a legitimate strategy proposal or a makeshift way to get Yolmer Sanchez back to the South Side, one fan suggested moving Tim Anderson to right field, pointing out Anderson's large number of errors at shortstop and that moving Anderson off the position would open room for Sanchez to work his defensive wonders on a daily basis.

Well, that suggestion didn't get much consideration from Renteria, who said rather definitively he will not be playing Anderson in right field.

The question might not have been the most realistic suggestion, but it allowed Renteria to express his belief in Anderson's defense. Though Anderson has made a ton of errors at shortstop — 88 of them in his four big league seasons — he continues to receive rave reviews from White Sox brass. Renteria said Saturday he believes Anderson will be "an elite shortstop in the big leagues," and Hahn said this weekend he believes Anderson will be a Gold Glove finalist one day.

As for Sanchez, he's still on the free-agent market despite winning a Gold Glove in 2019. And while the White Sox have shortstop spoken for with Anderson and second base spoken for with Nick Madrigal, eventually, Hahn was asked about the likelihood of a Sanchez return Friday night and basically reminded everyone to never say never.

More starting pitching?

Hahn said Thursday that while there likely won't be any more big-ticket additions, the White Sox busy winter might not be completely over just yet, with minor moves still being discussed by the front office. More starting pitching would seem to make plenty of sense considering there's not a ton of depth behind the five guys slated to make up the Opening Day rotation: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. Considering the plan for Michael Kopech has yet to be finalized and Dylan Covey is no longer with the organization, some small additions like the Ervin Santana deal last spring would be logical.

One fan asked why not add a slightly bigger ticket item, specifically bringing up free-agent pitcher Taijuan Walker, to further bolster the starting staff. Hahn wouldn't close the door on adding more starting pitchers but pointed out that because of the depth the White Sox have on the way — with Kopech factoring into things somehow and Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all working their way back from Tommy John surgery — the White Sox might not be the most attractive destination for a mid- or bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher, who could see his opportunity to pitch vanish once all those arms return to full strength.

A return for Dane Dunning?

Speaking of starting-pitching depth on the way, Hahn did offer up some sort of timeline for one of those guys, saying that Dunning could be pitching for a minor league affiliate come "June-ish." That's a made-up month on the same level as "Smarch," but it's also a good sign for the White Sox, who saw Dunning flying through the system before his injury.

Hahn said at last year's SoxFest that if not for the arm injury he suffered in 2018, Dunning could have factored into the Opening Day rotation for the 2019 season. Considering that level of potential readiness — a level most likely altered in some fashion by the surgery and long layoff — Dunning might be someone who could play a role in the 2020 season.

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