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High school hoops: South side vs. West side

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High school hoops: South side vs. West side

A documentarian came to see me the other day. He is doing a study on high school basketball in Chicago, specifically the heated competition between the West Side and the South Side, and he wanted to get my impressions dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.

The subject raises several questions about how the game was played and who played it, how the game has changed in the city over the last 60 years, before the demographics changed, before blacks began to immigrate from the south to Chicago in the 1950s.

Prior to 1953, when Al Willis, then the executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, desegregated the state basketball tournament, the Chicago Public League was rarely represented. Most of the star players in the city were white. There was one significant exception, Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton of Du Sable.

In fact, there were so few opportunities for blacks in the 1920s and 1930s that some of the elite players opted to compete on semipro or traveling teams. One of them eventually evolved into the Harlem Globetrotters.

Until Willis forever changed the complexion of the state's signature event, the all-black schools in southern Illinois had formed their own conference and conducted their own state tournament. The championship game was played between the IHSA's semifinals and finals on Saturday afternoon in Huff Gym. Hardly anyone noticed.

But all of that changed in 1953. The 1950s were a breakout decade for city schools. Du Sable finished second in the 1954 state tournament with three All-Stater players, Sweet Charlie Brown, Paxton Lumpkin and Shellie McMillon. The Public League also produced Abe Booker, Tommy Hawkins, Art Day, Mel Davis, Frank Burks and Bernie Mills. And Marshall, led by sophomore George Wilson, became the first all-black team to win the state title in
1958.

CraneMarshall was the most exciting rivalry on the West Side. On the South Side, it was DunbarDu Sable. Carver, which was a state runner-up in 1962 with Cazzie Russell and won a state title in 1963, also emerged as a power.

In later years, Westinghouse, Collins, Farragut, Whitney Young and Manley emerged as powers on the West Side. Westinghouse featured Mark Aguirre and Eddie Johnson. Manley, led by 6-foot-10 Russell Cross, won a state title in 1980. Whitney Young, behind Quentin Richardson, won a state title in 1998.

On the South Side, Hirsch, Phillips and Morgan Park won state titles in the 1970s. Harlan won three city titles. CVS also was a factor. SimeonKing dominated the 1980s and King extended its mastery into the 1990s while Simeon has been the state's premier program over the last 10 years.

There were great players, to be sure, but they were molded by great coaches who were able to blend talent and egos and create winning teams. Tony Maffia, Eddie O'Farrell and Bill Postl got the ball rolling in the 1940s. Jim Brown and Spin Salario followed in the 1950s.

Larry Hawkins came along in the 1960s and Herb Brown, Lee Umbles, Wardell Vaughn, Harvey Hartenstein, Charles Stimpson, Willie Little, Jim Foreman, Frank Lollino and Bill Warden made their mark in the 1970s.

The 1980s were dominated by Bob Hambric and Landon Cox, who turned the SimeonKing rivalry on the South Side into a high school version of LakersCeltics. Roy Condotti and Luther Bedford did the same for WestinghouseMarshall on the West Side.

Today, Simeon's Robert Smith, who played and coached under Hambric, has turned the Public League into his own private fiefdom. The Wolverines, with Derrick Rose and now Jabari Parker, have won four state championships in the last six years and are heavily favored to win again this season.

What happened to King? It was converted into one of eight selective enrollment schools in the CPS, which means its 900 students must apply for acceptance based on academic achievement and test scores. It no longer is a basketball power.

The same thing happened to Westinghouse, which was converted into a selective college preparatory school with a college to careers program. Like King, it no longer is a basketball power.

On the West Side, Whitney Young has emerged as the pre-eminent program under former coaches George Stanton and Lamont Bryant and current coach Tyrone Slaughter. Stanton produced a state champion in 1998, Slaughter in 2009.

Young is a highly selective public school that opened in 1975 as the city's first public magnet high school. Admission is based on an entrance exam and elementary school grades and is open to all residents of Chicago. Each year, 10,000 apply for 450 freshman openings.

Marshall and Crane, two of the oldest and most storied programs in the city, are seeking to restore their old glory under coaches Henry Cotton and Chris Head, who won a state title at Westinghouse in 2002.

In fact, until Simeon's recent domination, Westinghouse enjoyed the most success of any Public League program until its reconstitution. From 1992 to 2005, Westinghouse won seven city titles.

While Simeon and Whitney Young have emerged as the city's strongest programs in recent years, they haven't become a rivalry a la MarshallCrane and SimeonKing or even KingWestinghouse.

From 1984 to 1990, King won four city titles, Simeon three. From 1955 to 1982, Marshall won four city titles, Crane three. In the 1980s, King beat Simeon twice and lost once. In the 1990s, King beat Westinghouse twice and lost once.

It isn't like it was for many reasons. In the old days, kids shoveled snow off the playgrounds to play at Gladstone, Murray Park, Davis Park, Meyerling, Beasley, LeClaire, South Park, Garfield Park and Altgeld Gardens. Today, they play on AAU teams that travel from coast to coast and are subsidized and sponsored by shoe companies.

"Teams in Illinois aren't half as good as they used to be...not the players, either," said veteran girls coach Derril Kipp of Maine West, who has won more than 600 games and a state championship in 1988.

"There isn't as much interest in basketball as before. There are too many other things for kids to do. For many of them, it is too much hard work. Schools aren't pushing basketball as they once did. There aren't as many good players or teams as before. It isn't as competitive."

Calvin de Haan practices with Blackhawks for first time: 'I really want to play that first game'

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NBC Sports Chicago

Calvin de Haan practices with Blackhawks for first time: 'I really want to play that first game'

Calvin de Haan has been skating for a while now, but he got the clearance from team doctors on Tuesday to participate in his first practice with the Blackhawks. The 28-year-old defenseman has been recovering from a shoulder injury and groin strain.

"Still taking my time with the shoulder and stuff," de Haan said. "Got a timeline for that, sooner than later. Other than that, feel pretty good. It's nice to be out there with the guys. Feels good to pass the pucks and get in the corners with the guys and just get into some game-like situations."

De Haan had shoulder surgery in May and was put on a four-to-six-month timeline by his former team, the Carolina Hurricanes. He admitted that his shoulder "feels fine" and it's his groin that's "been a bit of a hinder" more than anything, an injury he said he sustained pushing too hard to get back.

"Not really, no, " de Haan said when asked whether he feels limited. "A little banged up in the lower body right now. But other than that I'm working through that. Just typical bumps and bruises trying to get back into the swing of things. I feel pretty good. It was fun to be out there with the guys."

The Blackhawks announced on Day 1 of training camp that de Haan will be out of the lineup for two to three weeks. The timeline hasn't changed, but de Haan's goal is and always has been to be ready for Opening Night in Prague on Oct. 4.

"I hope so," de Haan said. "That's my game plan, anyways. I'm going to do everything in my power to be ready and hopefully make it a tough decision on the doctors and the staff to not let me play ... but at the end of the day it's their decision. I feel good. I'm just going to keep working and do as I'm told.

"I really want to play that first game but so be it if [I can't]. There's another 81 after that so there's not really a big rush."

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Alex Nylander making strong first impression, but will he start 2019-20 season with Blackhawks?

Alex Nylander making strong first impression, but will he start 2019-20 season with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks are a team that likes to take chances on young players who were highly regarded coming out of their draft but have underachieved to start their professional careers.

Take Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome for example. Both of them are former first-round picks, with Strome being drafted No. 3 overall in 2015. 

Alex Nylander is somebody who falls under this category. Taken No. 8 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2016, he put up decent numbers in the AHL but couldn’t take that next step in the NHL and hasn’t been able to stick. He's trying to change that in Chicago after being acquired by the organization in the summer for Henri Jokiharju.

"I'm just trying to work hard every shift, be consistent out there and just play my game," Nylander said. "Make plays and be good defensively as well."

Nylander has been a standout in Blackhawks training camp so far. He shined in Sunday’s team scrimmage at the United Center by scoring a highlight-reel penalty shot goal and followed that up with a multi-point effort in his preseason debut on Monday, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Washington.

It's the consistency and how he plays when he doesn't have the puck that's going to determine whether he sticks with the big club and ultimately thrives.

"I just think learning how to play at a higher pace away from the puck," Jeremy Colliton said. "He is a good skater. He can fly. You can see when he's hunting, he's on offense, he can really skate. We're going to want him to show us that persistence away from the puck to try and get it back. Obviously when his teammates have the puck (or) when he has the puck — when he's on offense — he's a terrific player. He can be a real asset for us. So we want him to put himself in those situations as much as he can."

There are legitimately eight or nine forwards that are competing for the two or three roster spots on Opening Night. Nylander is one of them. He has such an elite offensive skillset that it's hard to ignore him for one of them, and he's probably better off playing with guys who think the game the same way.

"He can make a lot of plays and he can see the ice as offensive players do," Colliton said. "He's got a great shot, great release. ... Having said that, for him, the more versatile he can show that he can be then it gives us more options and different places to fit him into the lineup. It's a lot easier to make the team. So he'll probably move around here as we go through preseason and see if there's a fit."

While Nylander, in the big picture, is simply competing for a spot on the 23-man roster, he also finds himself battling for a role within the team in the process. But he's not looking that far ahead.

"I'm just trying to do my best out here and take whatever is given to me," Nylander said. "Just do good, play my game and good things will happen I think. I've just been working really hard this summer and I'm trying to take that with me from the past three years in Buffalo and try to be the best player I can be.”

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