Blackhawks

Jones defines the student-athlete term

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Jones defines the student-athlete term

John Chico, who lives on the East Side, and Deandre Taylor, who comes from the Englewood community, enrolled at Jones College Prep because they felt they could obtain a better education than at their neighborhood schools. As a bonus, they could also play basketball.

Chico's older brother and Taylor's sister were Jones graduates. They recommended the school, which ranks No. 9 academically among all public schools in the state. It features a selective enrollment for its 820 students. The average ACT score is 25.5.

"It's hard to get into this school," said basketball coach and athletic director Frank Griseto. "We take them as freshmen and teach them that the commitment level has to be there for athletics like it is in academics. They don't go to college to play basketball. They are students first. But that doesn't lessen their commitment to be competitive. They are driven and focused. They want to be successful."

Like every student at Jones, Chico and Taylor balance sports and books. Chico, who also is an outstanding baseball player, wants to be a sports trainer or sports psychologist. Taylor wants to major in mechanical engineering in college.

They have collaborated on a basketball team that is 18-3 going into the Public League playoff. Not bad for some kids who played on a sophomore team that won only three games. In its last two outings, the newly crowned CPS Blue Central champion edged Tilden 70-66 as Taylor had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Dyett 55-53 as Chico scored 15 points.

"This is the best team I've had," said Griseto, comparing it to his 23-5 team in 2005 that lost to eventual state champion Hales Franciscan in the regional. "They are relentless on defense. They really are a team in every essence. They hang out together and socialize. They pride themselves as being as competitive as possible, academically and in sports."

In his 11th season as head coach, Griseto knows what it takes to build a winning program. A St. Rita graduate of 1970, he couldn't play basketball in high school because his father died when he was a sophomore and he had to go to work. He got bit by the coaching bug while playing basketball on the Union League boys club traveling team.

He coached baseball at Westinghouse, then basketball at Notre Dame, then basketball and baseball at St. Ignatius, then returned to Westinghouse to coach basketball and baseball from 1986 to 1998. His 1996 team went 29-5 and finished third in the Class AA tournament.

After assisting old friend and former Westinghouse coach Roy Condotti for one year at Homewood-Flossmoor, he landed at Jones. It has been quite a change from the time he had five Division I players at Westinghouse, played in the Red-West and contended for a state championship. But he is enjoying the challenge and the experience.

"The opportunity to come into a brand new school that was focusing on academics, to start something from scratch, was a challenge that I was anxious to accept," Griseto said. "They hadn't had teams before when it was Jones Commercial. I also helped to build baseball and cross-country programs. We want to be as competitive as we can."

Jones, located at 606 S. State Street, plays its home games in basketball, soccer and baseball at old Near North High School near Clybourn and Larrabee. Last fall, the boys cross-country team finished seventh in the state meet. And the baseball team has qualified for the Elite Eight in Class 3A in three of the last four years.

Griseto thinks his basketball team has what it takes to be more than competitive in the Class 3A sectional at St. Ignatius, which also includes the highly rated host school.

"I thought we could be pretty good this season," Griseto said. "They want to win and go out as seniors playing the best they can play. This is their chance to make a name for themselves."

He knows it isn't easy for a Blue Division team to compete against Red Division or Catholic League or suburban schools. He has been there. The difference is mostly about depth and athleticism, not calculus and physics.

"Two years ago, we played Marshall in the first game of the city playoff and got pounded. They went on to win state. Last year, we beat Kenwood in the first game, then lost to Harper," Griseto said. "But those teams weren't as good as this team. I tell them they have to get better with every game--and they have. We have made a lot of strides."

Griseto describes Chico and Taylor as his two mainstays. Chico, a 5-foot-10 senior point guard and a three-year starter, averages 16 points and eight assists per game. He is the team leader and a defensive catalyst.

Taylor, a 6-foot-2 senior, also is a three-year starter. He averages 17.5 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game. "He is our rock on defense," the coach said.

Other starters are 6-foot senior Jauquis Frazier-Buckman (7 ppg), 6-foot-4 senior Max Puidak (6 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-foot-10 senior Courtney Copeland (16 ppg). Puidak is in his first year of basketball after being recruited off the baseball team by Griseto. Another baseball player, 5-foot-11 junior Vincent Lindsey, is the first player off the bench.

"The addition of Puidak has helped by giving us more size," Griseto said. "Lack of size has the potential to hurt us. We have to play defense and keep our opponents off the offensive boards. Our objective is to get a clean layup off the fast break."

It isn't a neighborhood team. The players come from the East Side, Englewood and Jefferson Park. But they hang out together between class periods or after school or they gather to eat wings at Harold's Chicken, a block from the school on Wabash Ave.

"We thought we'd be better than the past few years," Chico said. "We're a bunch of seniors who play hard, with passion and poise, work together and never quit. We're looking forward to playing against Red Division teams in the playoff. We're proud that we can be successful and let the underclassmen play in the Red next year. We've seen Simeon and Whitney Young. I wish we could play them to see where we stand."

So does Taylor, whose brother played at Bogan. He acknowledges that the addition of Puidak takes up space in the paint and relieves the pressure on him and his 32-inch vertical leap to get rebounds. And he agrees that the chemistry that his senior class has built up since their freshman year has been a key factor in their success.

"We've been together for four years. We don't have distractions from other classes," Taylor said. "And, yes, I recommend the wings at Harold's."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Patriots

1. Good games from Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Here’s a sampling of Pro Football Focus grades for primary middle/inside/will linebackers against New England this year: 

Reggie Ragland (KC): 60.1
Anthony Hitchens (KC): 30.2
Zaire Franklin (IND): 48.6
Najee Goode (IND): 47.1
Kiko Alonso (MIA): 63.9
Raekwon McMillan (MIA): 62.5
Christian Jones (DET): 59.7
Jarrad Davis (DET): 29.8
Telvin Smith Sr. (JAX): 64.1
Myles Jack (JAX): 61.0
Bernardrick McKinney (HOU): 68.7
Zach Cunningham (HOU): 43.2

Think what you will of Pro Football Focus’ grades, but the average here is 53.2. Interestingly, though, the average grade for these 12 players over the course of the 2018 season is 51.5. So maybe the issue is the Patriots have faced a bunch of mediocre-to-bad linebackers, allowing them to take advantage of those soft spots with Sony Michel running the ball and James White catching it. Smith’s PFF grade is 62.3; Trevathan’s is 64.3, so by this measure, they’re better than any of the interior linebackers the Patriots have faced but still are the weak spot in the Bears’ defense (only Jonathan Bullard has a lower PFF grade among players with 100 or more snaps). 

How Smith and Trevathan play will be key in determining how quickly Brady is able to get the ball out (with passes to White), and how many times they get into third-and-less-than-five situations (with Michel running it). Both those factors will be critical for the Bears’ pass rush, which brings us to our next point.

2. Pressure Tom Brady without blitzing. Brady is a master of beating blitzes, completing 23 of 21 passes for 314 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and only one sack when blitzed, per PFF (that’s good for a 138.4 passer rating). When he’s under pressure, though, he has his lowest passer rating — which is still 87.2 — but the point here is that the Bears can’t afford to have to send blitzes to try to get pressure on Brady. The Bears were one of the best teams in the league at pressuring opposing quarterbacks without blitzing before the trip to Miami, and how healthy Khalil Mack really is will be a critical determining factor in those efforts. But when the Bears do earn their pass-rushing opportunities, as Akiem Hicks put it, they need to at least affect Brady and not let him comfortably sit back to pick apart their defense. 

3. Convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns. This was a point Taylor Gabriel made this week about the state of the NFL in 2018: You can no longer afford to settle for three points or, worse, come away from a red zone possession with no points. Scoring is up league-wide, and the Patriots have scored 38, 38 and 43 points in their last three games. One of the biggest reasons the Bears lost that shootout in Miami was two turnovers from inside the five-yard line (Jordan Howard’s fumble, Mitch Trubisky’s interception). Stopping New England’s offense will be difficult, and the expectation should be for Sunday to be a high-scoring afternoon. If that’s the case, the Bears will have to get in the end zone every opportunity they get. The good news: New England’s defense is allowing a touchdown on 68 percent of their opponents’ possessions inside the red zone. 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Bears 27. The Bears’ defense sounded properly motivated after getting gouged by Brock Osweiler in Miami last weekend, but that only goes so far when one of the best quarterbacks of all time rolls into town. This winds up being a back-and-forth affair, but the guy with 54 game-winning drives in his regular season and playoff career makes it 55 late in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. A close loss to the Patriots wouldn’t dampen the positive vibes around the Bears, so long as they respond with wins against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills in the next two weeks.