Bears

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."

Bears notes: Unlikely contributors Bilal Nichols, Sherrick McManis come through in the clutch

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USA Today Sports Images

Bears notes: Unlikely contributors Bilal Nichols, Sherrick McManis come through in the clutch

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Bears got massive contributions on defense from the guys you’d expect, like Khalil Mack (two sacks, one forced fumble), Akiem Hicks (one sack, one forced fumble) and Eddie Jackson (one interception). But the collective effort put forth by this defense was exceedingly apparent in the final two drives of Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Facing a third-and-two at their own 42-yard line just after the two-minute warning, rookie defensive lineman Bilal Nichols blew up a Chase Edmonds run for a loss of three. On the next play, Bryce Callahan — who’s had a fantastic start to 2018 — picked off Josh Rosen, making sure the Cardinals didn’t get into range for what could’ve been a game-winning field goal. 

“It was a great call by coach Vic (Fangio),” Nichols said. “My teammates did a real good job of executing everything and then I kind of relied on my training and just read my keys and tried to make a play. 

“… I knew it was third and one and I knew it probably was going to be a run play, so I just tried to be as disruptive as possible.”

The Cardinals got the ball back and got near midfield with five seconds left — in range, at least, for Rosen to fire a Hail Mary toward the end zone. But instead of dropping eight or nine into coverage, Fangio sent a blitz, and Sherrick McManis — the ace special teamer who also picked off his first pass in eight years on Sunday — hit home for a game-ending sack. 

“I love it,” McManis said. “It was a great call. Coaches did an awesome job putting us in the right places and we did a good job of executing.”

The Bears' defense isn't having the success it is just because of Mack, or some of the top-end players on it. The across-the-board contributions it's getting from every corner of the depth chart is key in that dominance, too. 

Quiet, Please

The Cardinals aren’t the first Phoenix-area sports team to feel like they don’t have much of a home field/court/rink advantage when a squad from Chicago comes to town, that’s for sure. But Bears fans travelled so well to Glendale on Sunday that the Cardinals almost had to do something that’s usually reserved for road games. 

“It’s tough. There were a few times that we thought we were going to have to go silent cadence but if you’re not winning, the fans aren’t going to come out,” Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. “If we go out and put a better product on the field, fans will come out and watch us and support us.”

No matter how expected it may be, it was still a striking sight to see Bears players — like Mack and Jackson — raise their arms in the air to encourage a crowd to make more noise at a road game. 

Mack Attack

Mack had an interesting description of his forced fumble, which came when Bradford tried to scramble into the Bears’ red zone early in the fourth quarter. It was a pivotal play in the game, and led to an offensive drive that ended with Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal. 

But in light of the NFL’s raging, self-inflicted controversy about its roughing the passer rule, how Mack explained making that play stands out.

“I knew he was going to have the ball in his right hand, got my head out of the way because that’s a big part of the rules nowadays, and tried to make a play,” Mack said. “It was what we worked on all week, punching the ball out. That’s what coaches were preaching all week.”

So on a Sunday on which Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews was again flagged for roughing the passer after landing on a quarterback, and in a climate where lowering the head constitutes a penalty, Mack pulled off a game-changing play without doing anything the NFL rulebook considers illegal. The Bears have not been flagged for roughing the passer this year, and instead have had multiple strip-sacks in each of their first three games. 

Under Center Podcast: Bears in first place after ugly win

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Bears in first place after ugly win

It wasn’t pretty, but the Bears are in 1st place in the NFC North after a 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Matt Forte, Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Laurence Holmes discuss the good side of things as Khalil Mack and the Bears defense get it done once again – and the bad, as Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears offense continue to sputter.

Plus, will the Bears see Famous Jameis or Fitz-Magic next week against the Buccaneers? Forte provides some inside info on his former teammate, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: