Bears

Los Angeles stars dominate All-Star starting lineups

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Los Angeles stars dominate All-Star starting lineups

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- From Kobe Bryant to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin to Andrew Bynum, the NBA All-Star game is shaping up as an L.A. story. Two Lakers and two Clippers were voted as starters Thursday for the game, the first time in 15 years that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference. "It's pretty cool," Griffin said. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant prevented a clean Los Angeles sweep of the Western Conference starting lineup by earning a forward spot for the Feb. 26 game in Orlando. Dwight Howard of the host Magic -- unless he's traded first -- was the overall leading vote-getter with 1.6 million. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going together again from Miami, while MVP Derrick Rose of Chicago and New York's Carmelo Anthony round out the East starters. The Clippers and Lakers are developing a spirited rivalry this season, but they'll have to get along for a night to give the West a second straight win in the NBA's midseason event. Bryant and Paul will be in the same backcourt two months after the NBA, as owners of the Hornets, killed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Lakers. Instead, he was dealt shortly after to the Clippers, and he has teamed with Griffin to make them one of the league's most exciting and improved teams, leading the Pacific Division over their Staples Center co-tenants. "It's an honor and a privilege to be voted as an All-Star starter," Paul said. "I want to thank the fans for their support. It's even more special to be starting with one of my teammates." Griffin and Bynum are first-time starters, while Bryant earned his record-tying 14th consecutive nod. Griffin said he's not planning on defending his title in the dunk contest, which he won by dunking over a car last year in Los Angeles. "It's not really my thing. I said that last year," he said. Griffin was a reserve selection last year, when he also played in the rookie game. "Last year it was hectic," he said. "I'll try to tone it down and try to get a break." It's the first time since 1997, when Houston had Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, and Seattle sent Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, that two pairs of teammates have been voted to start for one conference. Bryant joins Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West and Karl Malone -- all one-time Lakers -- with his 14th straight starting nod. He earned his fourth All-Star MVP award last year, equaling Bob Pettit's NBA record. Bynum grabbed the starting center spot that for years went to Yao Ming, who retired last summer. Griffin was chosen as a reserve forward last year, when he became the first rookie All-Star since Yao in 2003. Starters were chosen by fan balloting, and none of the races was close. The reserves will be chosen by voting of the head coaches from each conference and will be announced next Thursday. Bryant led all West players with nearly 1.6 million votes. Rose collected 1.5 million to finish third among all players, a year after becoming Chicago's first starter since Michael Jordan. "I remember not being in the All-Star game, just wanting to be in the game. It's something you should take to heart, that I take to heart," Rose said before the Bulls' game against the Knicks. "Just want to accomplish something special while I'm in the league, and one of the accomplishments is being on the All-Star team." Howard will make his fifth consecutive start, and his status will provide much of the intrigue surrounding the event. He has told the Magic he wants to be traded and they have given his agent permission to talk to select teams, putting the franchise in a difficult position of deciding whether it should deal its superstar before hosting the weekend.

John Franklin III may be a longshot to make the Bears, but the former ‘Last Chance U’ star isn’t giving up on his dream

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USA Today Sports Images

John Franklin III may be a longshot to make the Bears, but the former ‘Last Chance U’ star isn’t giving up on his dream

Down in Bourbonnais, one of the handful of players who stuck around the longest to sign autographs for fans after training camp practices was the starting quarterback and hopeful savior of a franchise that’s been mired at the bottom of its division for years. 

Another was a fourth-string cornerback who had never played that position before May and has an extremely difficult path to make it in the NFL. 

“Most of the time I’m out here with Mitch (Trubisky), like the last person,” John Franklin III said. “I’d rather have people know me than people not know me. So that’s a good thing.”

You might know Franklin as the super-talented Florida State quarterback transfer in Season One of “Last Chance U” on Netflix. A low point of Franklin’s life played out in living rooms across the world as he played sporadically behind Wyatt Roberts at East Mississippi Community College, but the south Florida native turned that strife into a lesson in persistence. 

From East Mississippi Community College, Franklin transferred to Auburn, where he stayed as a quarterback but didn’t see the field much. He graduated from Auburn and transferred to play his final year of college ball at Florida Atlantic, where Lane Kiffin gave him a shot at playing wide receiver. He didn’t put up the kind of production as either a quarterback or a receiver to get drafted, but his excellent speed is a trait that got him into rookie minicamp. 

After failing to secure a gig with the Seattle Seahawks at their rookie minicamp, the Bears brought Franklin to Halas Hall as a defensive back for a tryout a week later. He signed shortly after, and here he is, trying to figure out how to make it in the NFL at a position he’s never played on a side of the ball he was completely unfamiliar with until May. 

“People are so quick to quit when it doesn’t work the first time,” Franklin said. “It’s like, if you really give up and it didn’t work, then you really didn’t want it. If you keep pushing, it’s going to happen. Life’s not going to be peaches and cream, but you get what you get.”

Defensive backs coach Ed Donatell couldn’t recall ever seeing a player make the switch from offense to cornerback without any prior defensive experience before, let alone for a rookie battling to make a roster. 

“It doesn’t come up that much and usually they have some kind of training in there,” Donatell said. “Nothing comes to mind. 

“But why not us? Why can’t we?”

This isn’t a story about a player who is likely to important to the Bears’ success in 2018, like Trubisky or Allen Robinson or Leonard Floyd or Kyle Fuller. The odds are massively stacked against Franklin, especially after he was picked on by Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate in last week’s preseason game (he did, too, have a nice break-up of a pass intended for Ka’Raun White). The stuff Franklin is learning right now are second nature to most NFL cornerbacks who’ve played the position — or at least, played on defense — their entire football lives. 

“I definitely feel like I was in good position most of the night, I just gotta — I know one thing I’m focusing on is getting my head around,” Franklin said. “That’s one thing that I still haven’t felt 100 percent comfortable with and that’s one of the things a lot of the vets are working with me on is to make sure I get my head around because most of the time I’m in a good position. Just finding the ball is still very new to me.” 

Training camp and preseason practices, then, present a difficult dichotomy for Franklin. On one hand, he knows he has to be patient as he learns an entirely new job that he likened to “trying to write with your non-dominant hand.” On the other hand, he has to show considerable progress to even be considered for a spot on a practice squad, let alone a 53-man roster. 

While Franklin has seen himself make significant progress on tape over the last few months and weeks, he knows he’s not where he needs to be or where he thinks he can be. It’s sort of a race against time for him, because rookies who don’t make a roster or practice squad usually don’t get a second chance in the league. 

“He’s such a willing soul,” Donatell said. “He came in here, he’s taking everything in, the veterans are helping him. But he has a skillset that you can see him doing things on the other side of the football that we want to translate to defense. … It’s a race for us right now and a race through this month, and he’s willing. We see progress every day. Time will tell how much.”

What Franklin puts on tape in these final three preseason games — Saturday against the Denver Broncos, Aug. 25 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Aug. 30 against the Buffalo Bills — will be critically important to his chances of sticking in some capacity in the NFL when the regular season starts.

Taking a step back, the task seems almost impossible. This is a guy who played quarterback his whole life, then moonlighted as a receiver for a year, and now is trying to make it in the NFL playing cornerback. It would be a remarkable feat if Franklin were to make a practice squad and allow himself more weeks and months to develop. 

But there’s no doubting Franklin’s desire to make it work. He wants to make it work to live out his dream of playing in the NFL, one he’s had since he was four. He wants to make it work to repay his parents for all they did for him. He wants to make it work to be an inspiration to others to never give up on their goals. 

Will it work? We’ll see. But it’s not in Franklin’s nature to give up, no matter how much of a longshot he may be. 

“I’m accepting the challenge,” Franklin said. “Doing something different at the highest level of football ain’t easy by any means.

“But it’s also doable and possible.”

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

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USA TODAY

Suspended catcher Welington Castillo working his way back to White Sox with minor league rehab stint

With about a week until the end of his 80-game suspension, Welington Castillo his making his way back to the White Sox.

The veteran catcher joined Triple-A Charlotte for a rehab assignment Friday, in the Knights' lineup for their afternoon game.

Castillo has been serving his suspension since May 24, when Major League Baseball handed down its punishment for his testing positive for a banned substance. He's eligible to return Aug. 23, just nine days before rosters expand.

The White Sox added Castillo over the offseason after he had career years offensively and defensively with the Baltimore Orioles during the 2017 season. The hope was he could provide a veteran presence and help out with the development of the team's young pitching staff — and of course that his bat could help bolster the team's everyday lineup. A two-year contract with an option for a third meant that if all went well, Castillo could be around for the start of the team's transition from rebuilding to contending, a sort of bridge to top catching prospect Zack Collins.

Things obviously did not work out as planned, and Castillo has missed months of time working with the pitchers while he's served his suspension.

Still, his return will perhaps be a welcome help to young pitchers still learning how to succeed against major league lineups, guys like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have had inconsistent first full campaigns in the big leagues — not to mention any young pitchers who might be called up from the minor leagues over the season's final month and a half.

As for the team's catching situation, Omar Narvaez has done very well at the plate since taking over as the starting catcher when Castillo was suspended. Since the beginning of June, Narvaez is slashing .356/.433/.559, and his season batting average of .282 is one of the highest on the team. Kevan Smith, the No. 2 catcher, is hitting .283 on the season. Castillo will return with a .267/.309/.466 slash line in 33 games he played in before being suspended.