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Howard, balance key to St. Ignatius' success

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Howard, balance key to St. Ignatius' success

Brian Howard, St. Ignatius' leading scorer, wears No. 5 on his jersey. Not 23 or 1 or 34 or 7 or other popular numbers worn by other athletes. But there was a sound rationale behind his decision to choose a single digit that isn't a number of choice.

Oh, Howard is aware that a baseball legend, Joe DiMaggio, wore No. 5. And his father's favorite NBA player, Jason Kidd, wore No. 5 when he played for the New Jersey Nets.

"My dad teaches me to try to be my own person," Howard said. "You don't see a lot of 5's on the court, especially in the NBA. I want to make my own identity. Maybe people will come along and follow my identity, like other players with other numbers."

Howard, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, is making a reputation for himself this season as St. Ignatius has won 11 of its first 13 games and emerged as a leading contender for the Class 3A championship.

He has averaged 20 points per game against one of the state's most competitive schedules. In the last three games, the Wolves defeated highly rated Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York but lost to St. Rita last Friday 50-42.

Against St. Rita, Howard was limited to 12 points while St. Rita star Tony Hicks scored 15 of his game high 22 points in the second half. St. Rita forced 18 turnovers, including 10 in the third period. The Mustangs closed out the third period on an 11-0 run and St. Ignatius never recovered.

The schedule doesn't get any easier. St. Ignatius will host St. Joseph Friday, then face Farragut Sunday in the Martin Luther King Classic at Whitney Young. They'll have a rematch with De La Salle on Jan. 20.

"We play one of the toughest schedules in the state," coach Rich Kehoe said. "It's a challenge to play in a high-quality league and play a top-rate schedule against good coaches and good teams. This isn't the best team I've coached. But, potentially, it is the best team that can go a long way in the state tournament."

In his 23rd year of coaching, the 66-year-old Kehoe believes he is getting better with each passing season. This is his second tour of duty at St. Ignatius. He was fired in 1986 but continued to teach at the school. Asked to assist former coach John Tracy from 1995 to 2002, he succeeded Tracy. In the last nine years, his teams were 141-54.

"I wasn't turned off (to coaching) after being fired in 1986. In fact, I got back into it the next year with a one-year stint at Maine East. And I interviewed at other schools," Kehoe said. "I wanted to get back into the arena as a head coach. What else can it do? I like coaching. I feel I'm getting better at it. And I have good talent to work with."

Kehoe has five senior starters, three of whom started on last year's 20-8 finisher that lost to Whitney Young in the regional final. Two are three-year starters, including both guards -- Howard and 5-foot-10 senior point guard Jack Crepeau (nine points per game, five assists).

Last year's squad was led by massive 6-foot-11, 245-pound Nnanna Egwu, now at Illinois. He was a huge presence in the post and an outstanding shot blocker. While this year's team has some size, its strengths are shooting (over 50 percent from three-point range), balance, defense and guard play.

With Howard and Crepeau in the backcourt, the front line is 6-foot-8 senior center Peter Ryckbosch (13 points, six rebounds per game), 6-foot-4 senior Marty McClure (10 points per game) and 6-foot-3 senior Abdoulie Conteh (nine points per game). Off-the-bench support is provided by 6-foot-8 senior Bill Lawrence, sophomore shooting guard Lester Larry, junior defensive stopper Billy Langhenry and 6-foot-1 senior Brandon Felton.

"We have six guys who have scored in double figures. Every starter is averaging in double figures. Opponents can't key on one player," Kehoe said. "And these kids have been playing a long time together, 37 games in the summer, two fall leagues. The more we play, the better we get. I hope we don't peak early.

"What York told me is we can come from behind to win against good competition and we can play solid defense for four quarters, something that was lacking earlier this year. This has to be the most cumulative team I have coached, the most interlocked team I have coached. Everybody has to pull together."

Kehoe said he discounts his team's 11-2 record. "January is an acid test when we play ranked teams," he said. St. Rita was a good start. "We have to make a concerted effort to improve. We can't sit on our laurels. We can't let Thanksgiving to Christmas be the highlight of our season. The easiest part of our schedule is over," he said.

If there is an indispensable player, it is Howard. Call him Mr. Clutch. He is a superb three-point shooter. Since his sophomore year, he has converted game-winning or tying shots or game-clinching free throws on 11 occasions. In the final at York, he hit the last-second shot against De La Salle that forced overtime.

"He is a big-time player," Kehoe said. "He has a lot of moxie and plays well under pressure. He came to us as a smallish kid and built himself up in the upper body. He isn't just an outside shooter but he can muscle to the basket. He is a role model of what hard work and weight lifting can do."

Last year, Howard played in Egwu's huge shadow and averaging about 12 points per game. "I saw myself more as a shooter," he said. This year, he believes he is a more complete player, more aggressive, more of a leader -- and a more dangerous scorer. It isn't his team, but...

"We are more balanced this year. More kids are contributing," Howard said. "In order to win, sometimes I need to score more points. Or other times they need me to be a passer or play harder on defense, whatever they need for me to do.

"We're not surprised to be 11-2. We are where we should be. During the summer and fall, we improved a lot and beat some very competitive teams. We have a certain confidence about us. We believe in each other and trust in each other to make the right plays at the right time."

Despite its success in recent years -- Kehoe has produced five 20-game winners and his 2008 and 2009 teams were 42-13 -- St. Ignatius struggles to gain its fair share of celebrity or respect in the Catholic League and beyond. It is often stereotyped as the academic school that also plays a good brand of basketball from time to time.

"Most of us feel like we didn't get as much recognition as we should have gotten," Howard said. "That was one of our motivations going into the York tournament. We still feel we are underdogs and have something to prove on the court. We play with a chip on our shoulders.

"At York, we learned we have a lot of heart to fight against teams that are perceived to be better than us, teams that are rated ahead of us. When the pressure is on, we have poise because of our senior leadership. That's the difference-maker, our senior leadership.

"Everybody's dream is to win a state championship and ours is no different. In any given game, somebody can step up, like in the York tournament. Someone can step up and make the winning shot. That's the luxury we have with this team this year."

It might be Bear Weather, but Sunday's forecast complicates things for Nagy and Co.

It might be Bear Weather, but Sunday's forecast complicates things for Nagy and Co.

The high temperature in Green Bay on Sunday is going to be 18 degrees. That won’t come until 2-3 p.m., though – when the Bears and Packers kick off two hours earlier, temperatures will be floating in the low teens. Of course, considering windchill, that feels more like five or six. It took 15 weeks and a 200 mile drive north, but the 2019 season is finally getting some Bear Weather.

“You’re talking about two teams here in Chicago and Green Bay that are kind of used to it,” Matt Nagy said on Wednesday. “I would say [the weather is an issue] probably more so if you’re dealing with teams from the West Coast, or more from the warmer weather coming into this.” 

It’s shaping up to be the type of game where 1000 photos of the linemen’s breath scatter the internet, and someone will *absolutely* use the phrase black-and-blue, or bare-knuckle-brawl to describe the matchup. It wouldn’t be Bears-Packers canon without a frostbite warning, but as fun as it is to show up to the frozen tundras dangerously underdressed and maybe overserved, the cold may end up being the Bears’ biggest adversary not wearing #12. 

“What I’ll say is this – I’ve heard from older family members that when it’s cold outside, you feel a little something when you’ve had an injury in the past,” Akiem Hicks said. “But hopefully I don’t have to feel anything like that. Pray for me”

Hicks is one of two defensive starters that should return to action on Sunday, frost forgiving. Cornerback Prince Amukamara, who missed last Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury, was a full participant in practice all week, and will be out there with the starting 11 again this weekend. 

“It’s big because with some of the things they do schematically, the wide receivers they have, Prince brings a lot of experience,” Nagy said. “So having that experience out there against such a quality quarterback in Aaron, that’s huge.” 

Another issue? The kicking game. While he’s quietly kicked well over the Bears’ three-game win streak, Eddy Pineiro has been open about how he’s still learning how to adjust to kicking in cold weather. He’s struggled at times with how the ball comes off his foot differently when the temperatures dip, and he’s worked – primarily outside – with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to get a better feel for the environment. 

“We really don't talk about it to be honest with you,” Tabor said. “To be honest, the weather is the weather. We have zero control over it. Obviously, it won't travel as far but he just has to go up and hit his football. I mean we went outside and kicked yesterday, that was an awful cold day and he did just fine. So that was good."

A third issue? (Don’t you feel great at this point?) There have apparently been concerns this season about Lambeau’s turf, which historically has been considered one of the best. Add a bad field to frigid conditions, and all of a sudden that 10-3 result from Week 1 doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. 

“It affects every position. I mean, we’ve looked at the tape, there’s guys in previous games on that field where there’s long snappers that are slipping,” said Nagy, who then credited Bears’ equipment manager Tony Medlin for having a full plan in place for if players start slipping and sliding. 

“... our guys will be prepared, but obviously the skill positions – the guys that are breaking and cutting, running deep--DBs, wide receivers – is probably where you see it the most. Sometimes, you can see it with edge rushers as they go to cut the corner, you can see some slipping and falling. So we want to be smart.”

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

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USA Today

Thad Young addresses media in wake of reports of being dissatisfied with role

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Thad Young is dissatisfied with his role with the Bulls. Young addressed the report and other questions regarding his role to assorted media after Friday morning shootaround.

Questions are paraphrased for length and clarity. Our Tony Gill also has the full video of Young's comments.

On Young's thoughts on the report:

I mean, you know, y'all see my quote in the same article, so, the quote was, 'I'm gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, when I can and do what I do to help the team win games. We're just coming off a really good win for us, we're looking forward to the next game and that's all it is. No matter if I'm playing 20 minutes or I'm playing 30 minutes. You guys have seen all year long I'm just gonna continue to go out there and play as hard as I can to help my teammates. And that's what it's all about, me going out there for my teammates and just staying calm, staying patient and waiting for my time.

On if he's frustrated with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

I mean, everybody wants to play 30-40 minutes a game. Everybody wants to play, especially when they feel they can help the team. But like I said, at the end of the day, whatever coach sees fit to do, I'm falling in line, I'm rolling with it. I've said that in all previous interviews, you can see that from all my quotes they've all been the same. Nothing has changed, and I played 30+ minutes last game, but if I come out and play 18-20 minutes this game, I'm still gonna go out there and play as hard as I can, no matter what. Like I said, it's about me always being there for my teammates and my teammates knowing I'm gonna be there for them regardless in any type of situation.

On if he's talked with Jim Boylen about his playing time:

I mean, we've talked. But at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about what coach wants to do and I have to fall in line with what our coaches are putting out, and believing in the game plan. I do believe in our gameplan, I believe we can win each and every game, you know, we've lost some very, very close ones. But I do feel like I can help the team a little bit more, but at the end of the day, like I said, it's all about me going out there with the time I do get and taking care of business. 

On how he feels he can help the team:

In ways, specifically, impactful times in the game, when teams are making runs or we need some type of defensive energy and some defensive spurts in end-of-game situations. But like I said, we're in a stage where we're trying to win games and we're trying to develop players and we're trying to make sure everybody's on one accord. And like I said, with the times that I do get, I go out there and try to be as productive as I can, the same as each and every guy on this team.

On if the conversations he had with Bulls in the offseason match up with the way things are now:

I mean, like I said, the conversations in the offseason were the conversations in the offseason. But going into the season things change and things come out a little differently. But, for me, like I said, it's not really about what was said in the offseason and all of that. It's about me going out there day-to-day, doing the work, and making sure that I go out there and help my team win games, so that's been my focus, that's my only focus and coming here, my only focus is to win basketball games and I want to do that at all costs.

On if the timing of these reports surfacing soon after playing his highest minutes total of the season (33 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday):

Like I said, you've seen my quotes in the article. So, my quotes have always kinda been the same. Just to be ready at all costs, go out there and do my job when it's needed and go out there and whatever minutes I get, play as hard as I can in those minutes. So, I don't think about the timing or anything like that, I leave that timing thought process for y'all. But for me, like I said, it's all about coming to work and putting my hard-hat on each and every night.

On if he is disillusioned with the amount of playing time he's receiving:

Like I said, everybody wants to play more minutes. That's every guy on this team. Every guy wants to go out there and be able to play 30 minutes a night. It just so happens I came from a team — or my last seven, eight years — I've been playing 30 minutes a night and being very impactful within those 30 minutes. It's definitely a change, but like I said, whatever time that you do get, you go out there and you play as hard as you can, you continue to be professional, you continue to believe in what you're trying to build and you continue to believe in your teammates each and every night.

On if he should be rewarded for positive play with more playing time down the stretch of games:

I mean, yeah, I mean, it should be. But at the end of the day, like I said, we have different things that we're trying to do. Like I said, we're trying to develop guys and we're trying to win at the same time. But at the end of the day, the minutes. Yes, I would like to play more minutes, but if I'm playing 20 minutes a game, within those 20 minutes, I'm gonna try to give somebody hell during those 20 minutes. So, it is what it is.

On if he regrets joining the Bulls:

No, I mean, I love my teammates to death. Obviously the circumstances are not the best-case scenario. But at the end of the day, I love my teammates, I go to war with them each and every day, I love being able to help some of the guys get better. I love going out there and having fun with these guys, playing games. And I love getting into the film room with the coaching staff and going over different things that we can do better as a team. I just love everything about the game, I love everything that it brings, and like I said, the situation is not best case scenario, simply because I am only playing 20 minutes a game. But if coach sees fit to play me 20, sees fit to play me 25, sees fit to play me 30, I'm with whatever he decides. He's the man in charge, he's our chief, and we have to go out there and be able to follow behind our chief each and every night.

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