Bears

It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

676802.png

It's a Mroz family affair at Ridgewood

There certainly isn't a sibling rivalry among the Mroz brothers on Ridgewood's basketball team. It isn't unusual to see a fatherson, coachplayer relationship at the high school level. But a 27-year-old coaching two younger brothers? That's a new twist.

Chris Mroz, who will be 28 on Feb. 27, is the oldest of four brothers. A graduate of St. Patrick in 2002, he played for Mike Bailey, then played at Bradley and Missouri-St. Louis, worked at a bank, assisted at St. Patrick and Ridgewood, then became head coach three years ago.

Pete Mroz is a 6-foot-3 senior guard who is averaging 21 points per game. An outstanding shooter, he won the Class 3A three-point shooting contest last year. In a recent three-game flurry, he scored 41, 22 and 33 points. He converted 11 three-point shots and took only 16 shots in his 41-point effort against Fenton.

Anthony Mroz, the youngest brother, is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who is averaging 11 points per game. He has been rated as one of the top 50 players in the class of 2014 according to one recruiting service. "He will be a special player," Chris Mroz said.

Along with 6-foot-1 senior Andy Mazurczak, who is averaging 24 points and six assists per game, they are the leaders of a 19-6 team that is seeded No. 2 behind North Chicago in the Class 3A sectional at Grayslake Central. A year ago, Ridgewood was 20-10 and lost to North Chicago in the sectional final. In its history, the school has never advanced beyond the sectional.

Ridgewood continued tuning up for its state tournament bid by beating Glenbard South 64-60 last Tuesday, Elmwood Park 61-51 on Friday and Galesburg 50-46 on Saturday. Mazurczak scored 22 points against Glenbard South, 22 against Elmwood Park and 21 against Galesburg. The Rebels will close their regular season against highly regarded Riverside-Brookfield on Friday with the Metro Suburban Conference championship at stake.

"We could be 22-3," Pete Mroz said. "In every loss, we had the lead in the fourth quarter. We led Leyden by 17 in the fourth quarter. We lost to Glenbard South on a 65-foot shot off the backboard at the buzzer.

"We are quick, we play hard and our guards are very good. We play four guards and one post player. No one is bigger than 6-foot-4. Our kids aren't the biggest but they play hard and want to get better. They have good attitudes. Best of all, we're playing well at the right time."

Pete and Anthony Mroz and Mazurczak are complemented by 6-foot-3 junior Adam Krozel (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 junior Mike Lizak (5 ppg). They got a big lift from 6-foot junior Igor Cirkovic, who came off the bench to make three three-pointers in the fourth quarter against Elmwood Park. Anthony Mroz contributed 15 points to the victory over Galesburg.

Saturday's trip to Galesburg was a unique experience for the Ridgewood team. Galesburg is one of the storied high school basketball programs in the state and playing in John Thiel Gym provided an atmosphere that the Rebels won't ever forget.

"To go deep into the playoff, we have to rebound and take care of the ball," Chris Mroz said. "Anthony does a lot for us. He knows the two seniors (Pete and Andy) are the go-to guys. His job is to defend, get after guys, make plays, be an energy and get the ball in the hands of our shooters."

Shooters as in Pete Mroz and Mazurczak. At the moment, the basket looks as big as the Grand Canyon to Pete, who had never scored more than 18 points in a game until he tallied 41 against Fenton. He once had 41 as a seventh grader and 32 in an AAU game last summer. But even he has a hard time explaining his recent hot streak.

"Pete has always been able to shoot. But he's starting to get hot. The basket looks pretty big to him right now," the coach said.

"Every time I shoot it, it feels like it is going to go in the basket. Everything I throw up goes in," Pete said. "I didn't have that confidence before. I was slow getting into the game. But this is the right time, as we're going into the playoff, to pick up my game."

Pete credits his older brother for his improvement. "When he became head coach, I knew he was going to be harder on us than anyone else. But he gives you confidence to shoot the ball and it pays off. Some coaches tell kids not to shoot the ball. But he has confidence in me, what every coach should have in their players. I feel comfortable shooting the ball from the volleyball line," he said.

"He doesn't act like my brother. He played at Bradley. It was cool to see my brother playing on a Division I floor. He always has been a good role model. He wants us to play hard all the time. I wanted to play for him. He taught me the game ever since I was a little kid. He's my idol. I wanted to be as good as him. That was my goal. I wanted to play for him."

Ironically, if Chris hadn't been hired at Ridgewood, Pete and Anthony would be at St. Patrick. Pete transferred from St. Patrick to Ridgewood after his freshman year and Anthony followed.

The coach describes Mazurczak as "one of the most underrated players in the city, our best player, a late bloomer, a special kid, a hard worker." If he weighed more than 155 pounds, more colleges would be interested, Pete Mroz said.

Mazurczak describes himself as a pass-first player who likes to get his teammates involved in the game. He is a natural point guard who has moved to the shooting guard position this season to add more scoring punch to the offense. He likes to get to the basket and the foul line. Most of all, he likes to win. He doesn't keep track of his statistics. He wasn't aware that he is averaging 24 points per game.

Modesty and humility aside, he wants to play basketball in college. He doesn't think he is a major Division I player because he lacks size and strength. But he knows he has played against other highly rated players with Division I credentials and he has held his own. So he hopes college coaches will reassess his skills. Meanwhile, he is more focused on his team and the remainder of the season.

"Our big goal is to get past the sectional," Mazurczak said. "We are a small team but we like to get the ball up and down. We are a bunch of shooters. We like to spread the floor and create plays. We started playing this style last year. We try to get fast break lay-ups and open shots. We know we can't hold the ball or our opponents will catch up to us.

"All summer long, we played against top teams to prepare for March. We played in the Riverside-Brookfield Shootout, the Oak Park league and the Glenbard west tournament. We played Bogan, Morton, St. Patrick, Notre Dame, Oak Park, Proviso East, Fenwick, Proviso West and Lyons. We don't see those kind of teams in our conference, athletic and fast and strong. If we can play with them, we can play with anyone."

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

burton-1014.jpg
USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

wendell.png
AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.