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Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

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Maxey recalls Smedley's winning shot

The last time we talked to Ken Maxey, the former Carver and Michigan basketball star was preparing to introduce another former Carver and Michigan star, Cazzie Russell, as one of the latest inductees into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame.

Maxey was a freshman when Russell was a senior at Carver in 1962, when he led coach Larry Hawkins' team to second place in the state tournament. And he was a freshman at Michigan when Cazzie was hailed as the Player of the Year in college basketball.

"I didn't play with Cazzie. We never played together in high school or college," Maxey said. "But we played on the playgrounds and with an elite CHS team that played all over the city. And we have the same roots. We're two kids from the (Altgeld) Gardens.

"The message is you can make it, no matter where you come from. It comes from building integrity and character when you are young, no matter whether you are black or white. Everyone knew Cazzie but there were players as good or better than Cazzie. He had an extremely good work either. That's what catapulted him above other players who had more talent. He carried Altgeld Gardens with him wherever he went."

Now it is Maxey's turn. Most kids in Altgeld Gardens and the Carver community don't know of the tradition that was established in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by Russell, Maxey, Pete Cunningham, Tommy Hawkins, Joe Allen, Tim Hardaway and Terry Cummings.

It is time they learned.

Maxey, one of the leaders of Carver's 1963 state championship team, will be inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame on May 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.

Among others to be inducted will be King's Efrem Winters and Laurent Crawford, Crane's James Jackson, South Shore's Bobby Joor, Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore and Hubbard's Reggie Rose.

Maxey grew up in Altgeld Gardens. He and other kids idolized Pete Cunningham, who had scored more points in high school than Cazzie Russell.
He played on a park district team with Anthony Smedley that won a city championship at age 11-12.

"It was ideal growing up in Altgeld Gardens," Maxey said. "It was a community effort. Everyone knew everybody. Very few had more than anyone else. It was common ground. Everyone was respectful. There was a lot of parental involvement."

As a senior, he averaged 31 points per game and was the leading scorer in the Public League. He chose Michigan because Cazzie had gone there. His other options were USC and Western Michigan. He passed on Illinois because Cunningham had flunked out after his first semester. "You couldn't trust them to help black athletes," Maxey said.

At Michigan, he majored in history and physical education. As a senior, he captained the basketball team and boycotted the administration building to force the university to hire more black coaches. As a result, Fred Snowden became the first black assistant coach in the Big 10.

After graduation, he received an offer to try out with the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA but had a knee operation and was drafted for Viet Nam. He taught in Detroit, obtained a masters degree in guidance and counseling at Michigan and got into coaching.

He was head coach at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan, assisted for four years at Arizona and three years at Stanford, then was head coach at Cal State-Los Angeles, becoming the first black coach at a four-year college in Los Angeles. Later, he was an assistant at USC and Los Angeles City College, then joined the teaching and administrative staff at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in 1991.

But Maxey will forever be remembered for one of the most memorable games and dramatic incidents in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament. Carver 53, Centralia 52. 1963 state championship. Anthony Smedley. If you were there, you'll never forget it.

It all began in 1962, when Cazzie Russell and Carver lost a heartbreaking 49-48 decision to Decatur in the state championship game. Bruce Raickett, whose errant pass was intercepted by Jim Hill to set up Ken Barnes' game-winning free throws, went into isolation for 20 years, a la Steve Bartman.

"Everyone recalled how close we got but yet so far," Maxey said. "The stigma was that we got there and blew it. It was devastating to the community. It raised everybody's expectations quite a bit for the following year."

Maxey, a sophomore, started at point guard. Joe Allen was the leader. Gerry Jones, who later played at Iowa, Curtis Kirk and Robert Cifax were standouts, too. "As long as I got the ball to our star players and they got their shots, it was OK. We had a speed game and a slowdown game. If we lost, it was because we didn't execute our strategy effectively."

Carver beat Harlan for the Public League championship, then ousted Waukegan in the supersectional, Geneva in the quarterfinals and Peoria Central by three points in overtime in the semifinals.

In the final against Centralia, Carver led by four at halftime but trailed by one with 14 seconds to play despite an 18-point, 17-rebound performance by Joe Allen and 18 points by Maxey.

Enter Anthony Smedley. He was on the frosh-soph team all year and had been promoted to the varsity for the postseason because of his quickness and shooting ability against a zone. Coach Larry Hawkins pulled Smedley off the bench.

"(Hawkins) wanted us to steal the ball and he put in Smedley for his quickness, not for his shooting," Maxey recalled. "If you look at the film, Joe Allen was free under the basket when he shot.

"But Smedley was a gunner, an automatic shooter. From the spot he shot on the baseline (after stealing the ball with seven seconds left), he shot that all the time in practice. It was his shot. He was deadly from that spot. He did it instinctively. He never thought about it. For him, it was a natural reaction to take that shot."

Interestingly, Carver didn't place a single player on the six-man all-tournament squad while Centralia had three. Allen, who later was an all-time great at Bradley, had 67 points and 40 rebounds in the final four games. Maxey scored 54 points.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Recent NFL retiree and social media enthusiast Kyle Long recently appeared on NFL Total Access and spoke about the Bears’ recent offensive struggles.

Long emphasizes the blame for the 2019 season shouldn’t entirely rest on Trubisky’s shoulders, but entire offensive line. Long’s not just trying to let Trubisky off the hook here, football is a team sport after all, and if you look at the Bears’ offensive report card for this past season, you’ll see that the problem is not just under center. Some of the weight of the lack of OL production falls on Long himself, who continued to be plagued by injuries before retirement and needing to be replaced by Rashad Coward. Long brings this up himself in the interview, stating “I hold myself responsible as somebody who wasn’t able to stay healthy.”

Besides Long, Bobby Massie earned the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of his career (63.2), while Charles Leno, Jr. earned his second-worst (58.6) at tackle.

So, while it’s easy to point fingers at Trubisky and make him a scapegoat, the reality of the situation is that the Bears’ 2019 offensive struggles weren’t born in a vacuum, and there is a lot of room for improvement before the 2020 season begins.

You can read Long’s full quote below:

If the Bears can’t run the ball, they’re not able to pass the ball, and that holds true for any team in the league. You take the pressure off the quarterback with the run game and you keep the opposing offenses off the field.

When Mitch was drafted, he came into a team with a power back that was an All-Pro and you had two pro bowl guards and you had a litany of people around him on the outside and the coaching staff that made his job relatively easy. Granted he was a young player, he had tremendous success, so the expectations were high. Coming into the 2nd year, there was a change in scheme, now you’re looking at a different offensive coordinator in his 2nd year as a starter. With (Mark) Helfrich and the run game and injuries up front, it made it really difficult for Mitch to be able to settle in and have that comfort level to be able to fire the ball where he wants to, when he wants to.

You can watch the whole interview here.  

 

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