Cubs

Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

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Is Jordan Ash the next Isiah Thomas?

Gene Pingatore has been coaching basketball at St. Joseph High School in Westchester since before the Internet, ESPN, blogging, the 3-point line, club teams and summer leagues. He thought he had seen it all, but he hadn't seen anything like Jordan Ash.

Ash, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard, is being touted as one of the leading prospects in the class of 2015. Pingatore is constantly being asked how good he is, if he'll start on the varsity team as a sophomore, and if he projects Ash to be one of the best players that he's produced. Another Isiah Thomas?

"I don't understand the whole thing. He hasn't played one minute for me," Pingatore said. "People are offering scholarships. He was offered by DePaul in the summer before he enrolled. But he hasn't played a minute on the varsity.

"Not too many kids came in here with the reputation that he has. He is going to be one of the best players to come out of here if everything goes the way it has gone for him. If he continues to grow and develop, he has all the physical attributes to make him one of the top players in the state.

"But what is hard for me to evaluate are his intangibles. You have to know a kid. Does he have mental toughness? Personally, I hate all this early publicity. It puts more pressure on a kid to excel rather than work hard to get to that position. And if he doesn't start for me, then I'm a jerk."

Even before Ash plays his first varsity game at St. Joseph, the press clippings precede him. "Ash clearly is among the top two or three prospects in Illinois in the class of 2015. It is downright scary to think how much better he will continue to get," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"However, when one considers the rich tradition at St. Joseph and all of the outstanding college products that have come through there, we are going to reserve judgment before we call him the next great player to come out of that school."

Remember Isiah Thomas, Ken Williams, Tony Reeder, Daryl Thomas, Tony Freeman, Deryl Cunningham, Sterling Mahan, Brian Molis, Cliff Scales, Carl Hayes, Brandon Watkins, Amal McCaskill, Demetri McCamey and Evan Turner?

"Ash is a stellar athlete with tremendous quickness. He is creative with the ball and has a first step that can leave defenders in their tracks. In addition, he plays with tremendous poise and confidence," Roy Schmidt said.

"As good as he is, there are still some areas of Ash's game that need continued improvement and refinement, namely the consistency of his perimeter shooting and learning to play more under control. But make no mistake about it, Ash is an elite-level talent which is why high major Division I programs are already in hot pursuit."

It's too early to proclaim that the class of 2015 is blessed with the caliber of talent of the classes of 2013 and 2014. But Ash is at the top of the list with guards Prentiss Nixon of Bolingbrook, Jalen Brunson of Stevenson, Martez Cameron of De La Salle, Glynn Watson and Joffrey Brown of St. Joseph and Luwane Pipkins of Bogan, 6-foot-6 D.J. Williams and 6-foot-4 Brandon Hutton of Simeon, 6-foot-3 Roosevelt Smart of Palatine, 7-foot Tyler
Jackson of Nazareth, 6-foot-7 Evan Boudreaux of Lake Forest and 6-foot-3 Charles Matthews of St. Rita.

Ash, 15, lives in Bolingbrook. His father Jimmy, a Westinghouse graduate of 1981, played with Mark Aguirre in the late 1970s. He chose St. Joseph over Bolingbrook, Nazareth and Benet.

"My father told me: 'Go where you can see yourself going everyday, somewhere you can succeed in the classroom and on the court, where you can progress.' You can always count on getting a good education at St. Joseph," Ash said.

"But there are other things...the tradition, coach Ping, all the better players who came out of there who worked hard and went on to be successful, with hard work and coach Ping's teachings, I can be one of those players.

"I watch Hoop Dreams (the award-winning documentary) all the time. That's how I learned about St. Joseph. Everybody knows about Isiah Thomas and Evan Turner. People go through there and go on to be great and they come back to coach and help kids in their journey and that says a lot about the program. Obviously, something was done right."

Ash started playing basketball at age 3. He played football, too, but basketball became his passion. He played the game year-round. It became part of his life. In sixth grade, at Humphrey Middle School in Bolingbrook, he realized for the first time that he had a special talent for the game.

"It was the first time a lot of kids began to tell me how good I was," Ash said. "Close friends and family said it but people around town were finding out who Jordan Ash was. It motivated me to keep working hard and getting better."

He has offers from DePaul and Purdue and interest from Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan and Xavier. He carries a 3.5 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and has a terrific support group that keeps him humble, grounded and level-headed. His mother always checks his grades. Receiving a "C" in Spanish wasn't good enough.

"I haven't done anything major yet so I have to keep working hard and progressing in class, too," he said. "My dad always stressed to be a student first, athlete second. He taught me that many players who are talented but didn't get in the classroom ended up wasting their talent and chance to go to college."

To prepare for his first varsity season--and to pass Pingatore's muster and always skeptical eye--Ash is working to improve all of his skills so he can become an better all-around player. As a point guard, he must be trusted to handle the ball and make the right decisions.

He wears No. 23. His AAU coach, Mike Mullins of the Wolves, issued him the number, mainly because it was Michael Jordan's number. A special number for a potentially special player, Mullins said. And Ash hopes to make it very special before he graduates from St. Joseph.

"No. 11 is hanging in the rafters at St. Joseph. That's Isiah's number," Ash said. "Daryl Thomas' No. 24 is retired, too. My goal is to retire No. 23. In fact, I want to win the state title and see the whole team in the rafters.

"I just see that I am blessed. I'm glad I'm in the position I'm in. I'm motivated to keep working hard and progressing. I'm glad that coach Ping is starting to have trust in me. I want to prove to him that I can play."

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

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The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Andrew Shaw issued a statement on Instagram late Monday night, announcing he will not join the Blackhawks for the 2019-20 restart as he continues to work his way back from a concussion.

But the 28-year-old winger also revealed he plans on returning for the 2020-21 season and looks forward to coming back "better and stronger than ever!" 

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Here's the full statement, which has been lightly edited for clarity:

I just wanted to let all Blackhawks fans and hockey fans know that I am doing well and getting better every day! I feel healthy and am close to fully being healed from not just my last concussion but from others I have had over the years.

I've learned a lot about concussions and head injuries over the past few years thanks to the Blackhawks medical staff of Dr. Mike Terry, Mike Gapski, Jeff Thomas and Patrick Becker. They have helped me in more ways than I can thank them. I love them dearly for doing so because I am the type of person who would play through anything for my teammates.

With all that being said, along with my family who has shown me so much support, we have come to the difficult decision that these extra five months until next season would be great for my health and recovery. I look forward to being back next season, better and stronger than ever! There's nothing I would love more than to be back out on the ice with the boys battling for Lord Stanley.

I'll be cheering my teammates on and supporting the Blackhawks through this run! Love you boys and miss you like crazy!

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Go Blackhawks Go! Hey fans!

A post shared by Andrew Shaw (@shawz65) on

Shaw, who has two years left on his contract after this season, has a history of head injuries and last appeared in a game on Nov. 30. The NHL's tentative plan is to start next season on Dec. 1.