Bulls

Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

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Looking ahead to prep football in 2012

Which teams are the best bets to win Illinois high school football championships in 2012?

Can Bolingrook repeat as the Class 8A champion and the No. 1 team in Illinois?

Can Montini become the fourth school in state history to win a fourth state title in a row, matching the achievements of Joliet Catholic (1975-78), Mount Carmel (1988-91) and Providence (1994-97)?

Will Maine South bounce back after having its bid for a fourth consecutive state championship spoiled by Stevenson in last year's state quarterfinals?

Which team will be the biggest surprise of all?

Who are the leading candidates for Player of the Year recognition? Will Joliet Catholic running back Ty Isaac, last year's recipient, retain the award? Or will Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey claim the prize?

Which coaches will have the biggest impact?

Preseason practice begins Wednesday. The season kicks off on Friday, Aug. 24, with Providence of New Lenox hosting Joliet Catholic in a nationally televised attraction on ESPNU.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Soldier Field will host three games -- Mount Carmel vs. St. Patrick, Marist vs. St. Rita and St. Ignatius vs. Whitney Young.

Two other highly entertaining opening-game matchups on Saturday, Aug. 25, are Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard West and Simeon at Loyola. The following week, Loyola will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to play Dallas Jesuit in a prelude to the NavyNotre Dame game.

So what else is new?

Unlike most seasons, there is little drama left in recruiting. All of the leading prospects in the Chicago area have made oral commitments except wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. He is said to be leaning to Michigan but also is considering Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Oregon.

Isaac chose USC. Bailey picked Illinois. Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic of Lemont committed to LSU. Quarterback Matt Alviti of Maine South pledged to Northwestern. Offensive tackle Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis committed to Michigan. Offensive tackle Kyle McGovern of Lincoln-Way West will attend Notre Dame.

In all, nearly 30 seniors from the city and suburbs have committed to Division I schools. They and other members of the class of 2013 have until national signing day in February before making up their minds. Meanwhile, college coaches are concentrating on the talent-laden classes of 2014 and 2015.

"It figures to be a very good year for Illinois in 2012," said longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "There is outstanding depth, several national recruits, talent at every position. Peoria has three potential All-Americans. Illinois ranks among the top seven or eight states in the nation for talent."

The class of 2014 shapes up as one of the best in recent memory. It is headed by tight end Nic Weishar of Marist, cornerback Parrker Westphal of Bolingbrook, offensive tackles Shane Evans of Prairie Ridge and Jamarco Jones of De La Salle, linebackers Clifton Garrett of Plainfield South and Nyles Morgan of Crete-Monee, defensive tackle Enoch Smith of Mount Carmel and quarterbackathlete Tommy Mister of Richards.

There are some rules changes that need to be observed as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), in the wake of recent issues that stirred up a firestorm of protest, seeks to create a safe and respectful environment.

In an effort to provide information on hazing, bullying and inappropriate relationships to more high school coaches, school administrators and the general public, the NFHS is offering an online course called "Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment" for free on the NFHS Coach Education website.

The course provides education for coaches on the critically-important topics of inappropriate relationships, hazing, bullying and cyber-bullying and the appropriate use of technology when interacting with players and the public. It also provides examples of court cases involving these issues and suggests appropriate actions that coaches should take when these types of issues arise.

"This course is about getting the coach's attention and saying "You will be held responsible for inappropriate actions and for not taking appropriate steps when these situations occur," said Tim Flannery, NFHS director of coach education.

Flannery said recent revelations at Penn State and Florida A&M make it imperative that more coaches and school administrators become educated on these important topics that negatively affect young people.

"Many individuals who accept a coaching job are ignorant of the laws and policies by which they are required to abide," Flannery said. "This course will assist athletic programs by providing standardized training for coaches, which will result in a permanent record that can be assessed and verified by the school."

In addition, the NFHS and the Illinois High School Association, ever more aware of the controversy over concussions, has ruled that any high school football player must sit out one play if their helmet comes off while the ball is in play.

"The football rules committee made this rules change after reviewing data from multiple states regarding the frequency of helmets coming off during live-ball play," said Julian Tackett, chairman of the football rules committee and commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

"It is the committee's hope that this serves notice for schools to properly fit players with helmets to reduce the incidence of these situations and remind the players not to take steps that alter the fit."

The NFHS is re-emphasizing the importance of risk minimization, specifically through two of its free online courses: "Concussion in Sports -- What You Need to Know" and "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illinois Prevention."

"Concussion in Sports" provides a brief overview of how a person can recognize the signs and symptoms of a concussion. "A Guide to Heat Acclimatization and Heat Illness Prevention" provides critical information designed to minimize the risk of activity-related heat illness and heat stroke among high school athletes.

Another significant change will be a new interpretation of a legal catch. Beginning this season, a receiver will be required to establish possession of the ball and contact the ground inbounds while maintaining possession -- regardless of the opponent's action.

Zach LaVine's and Lauri Markkanen's best combined games last season

Zach LaVine's and Lauri Markkanen's best combined games last season

Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen only played 1,100 minutes together over 41 games last season, but they made them count. Here are their five most impressive games as a duo.

5. Jan. 4, 2019: Pacers 119, Bulls 116 (OT)

LaVine: 31 points (12-21 FG, 5-9 3FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 35 minutes
Markkanen: 27 points (11-20 FG, 4-9 3FG), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 42 minutes

Combined: 58 points (23-41 FG, 9-18 3FG), 14 rebounds, 5 assists

We begin with the only loss on this list. LaVine and Markkanen scored 18 of the Bulls' first 20 points and the former finished with 17 in the opening period. LaVine went scoreless on 0 of 3 shooting in the second and third quarters but turned it back on in the fourth, scoring eight points in the final minute, including a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.

Markkanen scored 14 of his points in those second and third quarters to keep the Bulls close, but he really turned it on in overtime. Markkanen scored back-to-back buckets on assists from Kris Dunn (who had 17 of them in the game) to give the Bulls a 109-107 lead in the extra period. Markkanen then hit a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to tie the game at 116-116. Victor Oladipo's 3-pointer off the glass with 0.3 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner, but only after officials overturned LaVine's 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer that would have sent it to overtime.

4. Dec. 7, 2018: Bulls 114, Thunder 112

LaVine: 25 points (10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG), 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 36 minutes
Markkanen: 24 points (8-12 FG, 4-8 3FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 28 minutes

Combined: 49 points, (18-30 FG, 6-13 3FG), 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 5 steals

Lauri Markkanen had looked disappointing in his first two games back from injury to begin the year. He had made just 12 of 38 shots (31.6%) and a date against the league’s top-ranked defense suggested it wouldn’t get better.

Instead, Markkanen put together what wound up being his most efficient game of the season. He shot 8 of 12 (his best field goal percentage of the year) and was a perfect 4 of 4 in the paint. Two of those paint shots were an impressive drive past Paul George for a thunderous dunk, and the other was a spinning drive-and-layup over George and Steven Adams with 8 seconds left to give the Bulls a two-point lead.

LaVine wasn’t bad, either. He was George’s assignment much of the evening but managed to put together a solid line that included nine critical fourth-quarter points to erase a seven-point deficit.

It was the Bulls’ most impressive victory to date and marked the first time both players had topped 24 points in a game. Call this one the first sign of something special brewing between these two young guns.

3. Feb. 8, 2019: Bulls 125, Nets 106

LaVine: 26 points (10-17 FG), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 37 minutes
Markkanen: 31 points (11-18 FG, 3-7 3FG), 18 rebounds, 2 blocks, 38 minutes

Combined: 57 points (21-35 FG, 5-9 3FG), 21 rebounds, 5 assists

LaVine’s numbers don’t jump off the page, and this was during Markkanen’s best stretch of the season, but this one was memorable because of how seamless the duo worked with Otto Porter in his Bulls debut. Porter had been acquired two days earlier, and there were tempered expectations about how quickly he would acclimate to a 12-42 team.

Well, Porter wound up opening plenty for the Bulls offense. The Bulls scored 125 points on 62.4% effective shooting and had an offensive rating of 121.9. LaVine and Markkanen both lived inside, with 14 of their 21 combined field goals coming in the paint.

LaVine had 17 in the first half and Markkanen took over after halftime, scoring 21 of his 31 as the Bulls coasted to their second largest victory of the year. Markkanen also pulled down 18 rebounds, making him one of nine players this past season to log a 30-18 game.

2. Mar. 1, 2019: Bulls 168, Hawks 161 (4OT)

LaVine: 47 points (17-35 FG, 6-14 3FG), 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 56 minutes
Markkanen: 31 points (9-18 FG, 3-6 3FG, 10-12 FT), 17 rebounds, 54 minutes

Combined: 78 points (26-53 FG, 9-20 3FG, 17-23 FT), 26 rebounds, 11 assists

The raw numbers are certainly magnified because the two combined for 110 minutes. But looking past that inflation, LaVine and Markkanen both had monster nights in the most entertaining victory of the year.

Just watch the highlights. It was that freaking good.

1. Feb. 23, 2019: Bulls 126, Celtics 116

LaVine: 42 points (17-29 FG, 5-11 3FG), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 39 minutes
Markkanen: 35 points (12-20 FG, 3-7 3FG, 8-9 FT), 15 rebounds, 37 minutes

Combined: 77 points (29-49 FG, 8-18 3FG, 11-12 FT), 21 rebounds, 6 assists

This one was easy. All LaVine and Markkanen did in the second game out of the All-Star break was each set career-highs in points, obliterate the No. 4 defense in the NBA that had just limited the Bucks to 98 points, and do so on the second half of a road-home back-to-back (they played in Orlando the previous night).

And the fact that it exacted some demons from 77 days earlier, when the Celtics handed the Bulls their worst home loss in franchise history, made it even more special. It prompted Jim Boylen to say after the game that “maybe it’s starting to sink in” for the young group.

There were two sequences that really stuck out from this memorable night. After the second unit had extended the Bulls’ lead to eight in the second quarter, LaVine and Markkanen went on a run, scoring 34 of the Bulls’ next 41 points spanning into the third quarter. They went 13 of 17 from the field and pushed the lead to 87-62.

After the Celtics cut the lead down to 94-86 early in the fourth quarter, the duo was back at it. They scored 15 straight points for the Bulls and wound up scoring 22 of 24 points that pushed the lead back out to 12 with 2 minutes remaining. LaVine capped off his night with two free throws in garbage time to give him his 41st and 42nd point to set a career-high.

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The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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