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Hicks is better than advertised

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Hicks is better than advertised

OK, it's a foregone conclusion. Case closed. Everybody agrees. No debate whatsoever. All precincts have reported. Let the post-election party begin. No, this has nothing to do with the presidential race. It's all about Mr. Basketball and the winner is...Simeon's Jabari Parker.

Parker will be the first junior chosen since Illinois' player of the year award was introduced in 1981.

But what about Tony Hicks?

"Nobody in the state has had a better season than Tony Hicks, with the exception of Jabari Parker," St. Rita coach Gary DeCesare said. "He has meant so much to our team. He has kept our team together with all the injuries we had this year.

DeCesare may be biased, of course, but he might be right. Hicks is averaging 26 points per game against a bone-crusher schedule that includes four nationally ranked teams. He has had five 30-point games, eight 20-point games, is shooting 49-percent from the floor and 44.3 from beyond the three-point line.

In St. Rita's toughest games, the 6-foot-2 senior scored 26 points against New York's Christ the King, 31 and 17 in two victories over Catholic League rival De La Salle and 22 against St. Ignatius. On Saturday, the Mustangs (14-8) will test highly regarded New Trier.

Hicks is a good human-interest story, too. He has a 3.6 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, scored 27 on his ACT, ranks No. 60 in a class of 165 and is committed to the University of Pennsylvania.

"I have had a lot of coaches from BCS conferences who have watched our games and said to me that they missed the boat on Hicks, that they should have recruited him," DeCesare said. "If he continues his growth, he'll have a great career in the Ivy League. He could play in the Big 10. But Penn did their homework and Tony has no regrets. He'll get a chance to play great basketball and get a great education, too."

DeCesare said Division I colleges aren't the only ones who "missed the boat" on Hicks. "Scouting services didn't do their homework, either. The system isn't right. People listen to people who don't know anything about the game. Tony still is vastly underrated. He hasn't got his props for this year," the coach said.

One scouting service doesn't rank Hicks among the top 20 seniors in Illinois. But the same service ranks Hicks' teammate, A.J. Avery, who hasn't played this season because of a broken wrist, at No. 18. Go figure.

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye rank Hicks among the top 15 players in the state in the class of 2012. "He is our choice as Player of the Year in the Catholic League. In our minds, he is an ideal mid-major recruit and a perfect fit for Penn. He has great scoring capability, is a tough-as-nails defender, a leader on the floor and a super young man to boot," they said.

Hicks was determined to rank among the best players in the state this season. He averaged 12 points per game as a sophomore and 16 as a junior. His goal was 20 as a senior. He didn't dream about averaging 26. But he was totally focused on basketball.

"He wanted to be one of the best players in the state this year--and he has done that," DeCesare said.

"I'm not surprised," Hicks said. "The coach preaches hard work and it is paying off. I never thought he would have as much faith in me to take as many shots as I take and get as many minutes as I have played.

"But I still think I am underrated. I try not to focus on it. But I feel if I am playing as I am, people will notice. I guess some people don't think I'm that good, until they see the statistics sheet.

"It is kind of funny to me. I know the local players real well and they give me respect. But the coaches and scouting services don't. I don't think about it. It is more important that the players think I am good and give me respect."

Hicks, who recently surpassed the 1,000-point milestone for his career, worked hard over the summer and accumulated 10 scholarship offers, including Penn, Loyola, South Florida, George Mason, Ohio and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In October, he chose Penn.

"I knew that was where I wanted to go after my first visit to the campus," he said. "The atmosphere felt like St. Rita. There was a lot of support, history and a great education."

He had a choice because more than a few college recruiters recognized his talent. "I am a completely different player from last year. Some people took me out of my game real easy last year. Now I have a feeling that no one can stop me offensively," he said.

"I took the game more seriously over the summer, knowing what I had to do to be better. I went to the recreation gym around the corner from my house every day, for 3-4 hours every day, all by myself, shooting, working on my ball-handling, working on my moves.

"I didn't have a set routine. I just picked up the ball and started working out. I didn't make any changes in my shot, just more repetitions. Everything has gotten that much better, including my pull-up jumper from 15 feet. I never worked so hard. I have a lot more confidence than last year."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They discuss the pair of puck-carrying defensemen that the Blackhawks selected on Friday, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. When can we expect to see these first-round picks play in the NHL?

Boyle also goes 1-on-1 with Boqvist and Beaudin. The guys spoke with Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville on Friday.

The guys also share their biggest takeaways from those interviews, which includes your daily Corey Crawford update and Quenneville appeared excited that the team has plenty of cap space to spend in free agency.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.