Bears

HS hoops star makes his college decision

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HS hoops star makes his college decision

From Comcast SportsNetCHICAGO (AP) -- Jabari Parker still had just about everyone guessing. Then, he pulled out that blue T-shirt with a white "D," and, finally, it became clear.The prized prospect from Chicago's Simeon Career Academy, one of the most highly touted recruits in years, is headed to Duke to play for Mike Krzyzewski. Parker made the announcement in front of a national TV audience Thursday, in his high school gym, surely delighting Blue Devils fans.A 6-foot-8 forward with the ability to nail jumpers from just about any spot when he's not throwing down vicious dunks, Parker can't sign his letter of intent until April 17. But he made his intentions clear with one highly anticipated oral commitment.Michigan State, Florida, Stanford and Brigham Young also made his top five and caps from each school lined a table next to the podium. But he said it really came down to three schools, with the Gators and Spartans right there with the Blue Devils.In the end, he chose to play for Krzyzewski for at least a year before making what many believe will ultimately be a jump to the NBA."Duke is always going to be a team in the tournament," he said. "You can't go wrong at the program and most importantly, the long-term investment. I feel like if I go there, I can get a good degree. I can also stay close to home where it's easily accessible to my parents, my family. It's not too far away. Coach K, that's one of the best coaches ever, and I wanted to be able to experience the things that he has next year."Parker said he might play two or three seasons in college. Either way, he vowed to get a degree. He also said he didn't decide on a school until about 1 p.m. Central, and he apparently kept his parents in the dark until just before he made his announcement.His mom Lola said Jabari whispered his decision to her and her husband, Sonny, as they were walking into the gym. A few minutes later, he pulled out that Duke T-shirt, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd packing the bleachers behind the podium.Parker committed to join a program next season will lose two key frontcourt players -- seniors Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly -- from a team that earlier this week rose to No. 1 for the first time since February 2011.Parker figures to fit right in on a talented group of players that will include Quinn Cook, who's expected to be in his second year as the starting point guard, and returns pure shooter Andre Dawkins, who's expected back after redshirting this season.Turning down the other programs, particularly Michigan State, wasn't easy, particularly after coach Tom Izzo's final pitch Wednesday.Simeon coach Robert Smith was so impressed he said, "If he was recruiting me yesterday, I would have committed."Parker didn't. He saw a potential for controversy with him and the Spartans' Branden Dawson playing the same position. Instead, he's headed to Duke even though he said that was his "worst" on-campus visit."I didn't do what I wanted to do -- that's be a kid," he said. "But I know being at college, it's all business. That's what they wanted to do, to show me. I know I didn't have a good time, but they just wanted to tell me, prepare for me and give me a little bit of a taste of how it's going to be in college."Lola Parker said she was more interested in Krzyzewski the person than the Krzyzewski the coaching icon. She mentioned his character, his discipline and his final home visit on Tuesday."The first time Coach K came in, he stood up and showed Jabari where his foot should be on an offensive or a defensive play," she said. "He showed Jabari where his arms should be. This guy doesn't sit down. We kind of laughed about it, and it was the same thing Tuesday. I moved my coffee table to the side to make sure he had room right there to get up."Given Jabari Parker's skills, it's easy to see why just about every major program was interested in him.Parker just might be the greatest prospect to come out of Simeon, and that's saying something considering Derrick Rose played there. All he did was go on to become the MVP with the hometown Bulls.As for Parker, his credentials to this point sure are impressive.He received the Gatorade Boys Basketball Player of the Year award after leading Simeon to its third straight state championship while averaging 19.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a junior.His father played six seasons with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA after starring at Chicago's Farragut Career Academy."He has a gift and he has what's called It'," Sonny Parker said.Religion also plays a big role in Jabari's life. He is a devout Mormon, just like his mom, and he has talked about going on a mission. He's not sure if he will do that, but he did make one thing clear:He plans to get his degree.Now that he's made his college choice and assuming he doesn't have a change of heart, Jabari can focus on leading Simeon to another state title and getting his conditioning back after being slowed by a broken right foot.The injury over the summer caused him to push back some recruiting trips and delay his decision rather than commit during the early signing period last month. He's also missed a game this week because he's trying to work his way back from the injury, an obstacle for a player rarely stopped on the court, but this moment was years in the making.Lola Parker recalled in an interview at the family's house earlier this year that she could see it when Jabari, the youngest of seven children, was in the second grade going against the fourth and fifth-graders in a league run by Sonny, who established a foundation to help inner-city youth in Chicago after he retired.Scholarship offers started rolling in when Jabari was in the sixth grade, and now, it's not uncommon for him to get mobbed by fans at games, even though they're often not from Simeon.Usually, he'll accommodate them, but sometimes, he needs an escape.He finds one in religion. That means rising several days a week at 5 a.m. for Bible study and heading from the family's brick bungalow on the city's South Side to worship a few miles away, near the University of Chicago.The day of the interview at the house earlier this year, there was a reminder on Jabari's door to "put the Lord first" along with several sheets of 8-by-10 white paper. One listed the Ten Commandments, the other personal rules such as "don't be quick to judge" and "Think positive things."For now, big things are happening for Parker. He's headed to a storied program. And then?"His potential, the sky's the limit," Sonny Parker said.

For the Bears' tight ends, there remains an adamant belief that a turnaround is coming soon

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USA Today

For the Bears' tight ends, there remains an adamant belief that a turnaround is coming soon

Matt Nagy has never been shy about the role tight ends play in his offense. The evidence is plain to see: Trey Burton is one of the team’s ‘adjusters,’ a label used for the handful of players that the Bears’ offense relies most-heavily on. Drafting Adam Shaheen with the 45th overall pick in the 2017 Draft is another example. 

Complimenting one with the other was supposed to open up the offense, with Burton operating as the “U” and Shaheen playing more of the traditional “Y” role. Instead, through the first quarter of the season, the pair has combined for 18 catches and 107 yards. Neither have found the end zone yet, and the longest reception from either of them has been 11 yards. 

“I wouldn’t say they’re playing poorly,” Bears’ tight end coach Kevin Gillbride said on Tuesday. “... but I don’t think we’re playing great. I think that we do have improvements to make. But again, I do like where their heads are at. They understand exactly where they need to improve, and how it’s going to help our team win.” 

The production needs to improve, but with the additions of Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, and David Montgomery, there are a few more mouths to feed this season. 

“We’ve added a lot of weapons as well,” he said. “You’ve got to find that groove as an offense as well. I think as an offense we’re still figuring that out. But there are a lot of people to deliver the football to. And that’s never a bad thing, you know.” 

Some of Burton’s issues are still health-related, as he’s working to feel normal again after dealing with groin issues all offseason. Coaches have been pleased in recent weeks with how Burton’s looked in practice, and feel the unit as a whole isn’t far from the production that’s been expected from them. 

“It’s hard to really put into quantitative terms,” he said. “But it might just be the speed with which we’re running our routes, the way that we’re getting in and out of breaks, the way we’re finishing on the backside of a zone scheme. The better footwork and pad level on a front side of a play. There’s a number of different things that have improved.” 

One byproduct from the unit’s lack of production has been gameday opportunities for J.P. Holtz, who has seen his snap count go (modestly) up in each of the last two games. For a group that’s looking for any type of spark, Holtz’s contributions in both the pass and run game haven’t gone unnoticed. His 16-yard reception against the Raiders was a season-high from a Bears’ tight end. 

“Adding JP to that mix has helped,” Gillbride said. “He’s shown up as far as having catches and things of that nature, because of toughness he’s shown in the running game that have now led to open completions. I mean, that’s the reality of it. It really is all interwoven.” 

It’s been an undoubtedly disappointing start to the season, and Gillbride has had to spend time in meetings making sure that his guys know how close to breaking through the group is. They’ve addressed their shortcomings as a whole, and through the last couple weeks have spent time focusing on the little moments that could have, as he said, turned a “two-yard run into a 40-yard run.”

“It’s not as far off as everyone’s making this out to be,” he added. “It’s really not.”  

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On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

Even before his surprise mid-September call-up, things were shaping up for Nico Hoerner to be a big part of the 2020 Cubs.

Now it looks like a certainty after the way he played in his 20-game cup of coffee in the final few weeks of 2019.

The organization's top prospect excelled at every level after the Cubs made him a first-round pick (24th overall) in June 2018. A broken wrist cost him two months this summer, but when he returned to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs had him playing second base and center field in addition to shortstop, his natural position. That only boosted his value, as the Cubs clearly have holes at both center and second that they need to address this winter.

When he was pressed into duty after injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell, Hoerner proved the moment was certainly not too big for him. He hit .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI in 20 games while playing solid defense at shortstop and displaying his great contact skills. 

While it's not unheard of for 22-year-olds to come up and immediately make an impact in the big leagues, Hoerner's case was particularly impressive given he played just 89 minor-league games and had not taken an at-bat above the Double-A level.

And Hoerner didn't just turn in solid production on the field — he was actually credited with helping provide a spark to the rest of the club, even though the season ultimately didn't end up the way the Cubs wanted. 

"He's been a little bit of a spark plug for us," Jon Lester said at the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand. "Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — just not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball. Sometimes we all need to get back to that. Sometimes we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

His former manager, Joe Maddon, called Hoerner a "differencemaker" down the stretch and felt confident he could stick at shortstop long-term.

It was also Hoerner's attitude and temperament that really drew rave reviews. Everybody — from Maddon to Theo Epstein to fellow teammates — were blown away by his sense of calm and confidence even while playing in pressure-packed big-league games. Those are the intangibles the Cubs have loved about Hoerner since they drafted him and don't expect that to change anytime soon.

"This is the type of human being he is," Epstein said. "He processes things really well he has strong character, he's in it for the right reasons, he's got a great family. He's really an invested member of the organization, a teammate and a winner."

This is the way he's always been, as his mom, Keila Diehl, explained to Kelly Crull in an interview on NBC Sports Chicago's broadcast on Sept. 14.

"He's just not full of himself," Diehl said. "He could be, and he's just not. ... He's just like this nice, ordinary guy — no attitude. Always brings a lot of energy and positivity to any team he's on."

That's exactly the guy we saw in Chicago in the final three weeks of the season. 

So as he recovers from his first full season of professional ball, Hoerner is in a position to forge a huge role for himself in Chicago next year. At the moment, it's reasonable to expect that to come at second base, but his ability to play shortstop might very well make Russell expendable this winter, especially with MLB Trade Rumors projecting the latter would be due $5.1 million in arbitration in 2020. 

The Cubs made it a point to get Hoerner some playing time at both second base and center field in the final two games of the 2019 season and he could at the very least offer a depth option in the outfield. 

His versatility, intangibles, and competitive drive present an intriguing package and his offensive skillset can help bring some diversity to the Cubs lineup. Hoerner is not really a power hitter at this point in his career but his hand-eye coordination and contact ability provide a refreshing style to this offense.

Simply put, Hoerner is just a good *baseball* player and profiles as the type of guy that can help any winning team in some capacity. 

The only question now is: Will the Cubs stash him in the minors for the early part of the season or let him continue to develop at Wrigley Field?

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A," Epstein said at his end-of-season presser. "It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something under the extraordinary circumstances that he could handle. I think it’s important that player development continues at the major-league level. 

"These days, it’s becoming a younger player’s game. If you look around baseball, the best teams have young players dominating. Yes, it’s not linear. There’s gonna be regression at the major-league level. But our players have had some real regression that’s taken them a while to dig out from. That’s something that we have to solve — finding ways to finish development off as best you can in the minor leagues, but understanding too that you need to create an environment at the major-league level with players who are expected to perform night after night are still developing, still working on their weaknesses, still making adjustments to the league." 

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