Blackhawks

Mustangs hope to prove coach wrong; again

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Mustangs hope to prove coach wrong; again

Downers Grove South coach Jay Baum doesn't believe his current team, despite the presence of two Division I recruits, is as good as last year's 25-4 sectional qualifier. Only three players have varsity experience. The Mustangs lack a dominating big man. There are a lot of question marks.

"I hope they will prove me wrong," Baum said. "If we are going to win, we need balanced scoring and defense. We have learned that when we take bad shots, it allows the other team to run down the floor and we can't set up our defense. When we set up our defense, we are an outstanding defensive team."

Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison, those two Division I recruits, said they are determined to prove their coach wrong. Wilbut, a 6-foot-3 senior, is averaging 15 points per game. Millison, a 6-foot-2 senior, is averaging 12. They led Downers Grove South (8-1) to a smashing 59-26 victory over Palatine in the opening round of the York Holiday Tournament on Tuesday in Elmhurst.

Against Palatine, Wilbut scored 21 points and Millison had 12 points and three assists as the Mustangs demonstrated the kind of energy and defensive handiwork that their coach believes could lead to a trip to the Final Four in March.

"The coach feels we don't get the ball inside enough, as much as he'd like us to," Wilbut said. "Not having a dominating player inside like we have had in the last two years means that we are relying on guards to score more. I feel I need to score more. I feel I have to pick it up to help my team because of our weaknesses."

Wilbut, whom Baum said could score 30-40 points per game "if we allowed him to do it," thinks he should score 25 per game. "I'm a scorer but I know I have to facilitate and get my teammates involved. I try not to do too much because we are a team. The coaches emphasize the word t-e-a-m."

Millison also predicts that the 2011-12 Mustangs will prove the coach wrong "because we prove him wrong every year. He didn't think we would be as good as we were last year. This year, we're faster than we ever have been in my four years. We can pick up where we left off last year and make a run at state," he said.

"We have no big man (like last year's star, 6-foot-8 Ziggy Riauka, now at Wisconsin-Parkside). But we get up and down faster. We spread the court more because we have a lot of people who can handle the ball. Speed will be the difference. The problem will be when we don't make jump shots. But we can get to the basket and the free throw line."

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye agree with their summation. "When everyone considers the fact that high school basketball continues to become more of a game for guards, Downers Grove South has an opportunity to go a long way in the state tournament because they have possibly the best backcourt duo in the state in Jerron Wilbut and Jamall Millison," Roy Schmidt said.

The Schmidt brothers describe Wilbut, whose recruiting is on hold because he is a borderline academic qualifier, as "the one unsigned prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois who we have no doubt could play for a high major program right now. He can play either guard spot, can score and distribute, has a great feel for the game and the ability to make all of his teammates better. Come spring, there is no question that he will be one of the most heavily sought recruits."

As good as they are, however, Wilbut and Millison need a supporting cast if the Mustangs are to qualify for the Final Four since former coach Paul Runyon's 30-4 team finished third in 2005.

The other starters are 6-foot-5 senior Kevin Honn (10 points per game), 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard Danny Spinnuza and 6-foot-6 senior Greg Garro. In a recent game against Willowbrook, Spinnuza had eight points, eight assists and four steals. He reminds Baum of former Downers Grove South star Bryan Mullins.

The bench includes 6-foot-2 junior guard Jordan Cannon, 6-6 juniors Robert Mara and Kevin Hall, 5-9 junior point guard Tray Simmons, 6-1 senior guard Kevon James and 6-5 junior Scott McNellis. James scored 15 points in the second half against Willowbrook.

"I'd be thrilled to death to get Downstate," Baum said. "I like the fact that although we are talented, the kids recognize the need to work hard in practice and games. It stems from defense. They know what it means to work hard on defense. But what does it mean to work hard on offense? Not settling for jump shots, making the extra pass, moving without the ball. They have accepted the challenge to work hard in everything they do. Win or lose, we are putting out our best effort."

Baum, 54, is in his third year as Downers Grove South's head coach, following three successful coaches in Bill Pelekoudas, Dick Flaiz and Paul Runyon who gave the program a lot of respectability and stability. Baum isn't a newcomer. He has been at the school for 27 years, serving as freshman coach for 12 years, then as sophomore coach for 11 years before moving up. He also coached football for 16 years.

"I waited my time to be head coach," Baum said. "I followed two guys (Flaiz, Runyon) who are in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame."

Baum mixes old-school with a flair for modern-day communication. He still shows up for games in suit and tie. He puts statistics in a computer and pins articles and other motivational material on a bulletin board. High school basketball isn't the only game in town anymore so Baum believes he has to sell it every chance he gets.

"People have no idea what we do as coaches, if it is just 3-to-6 in the gym for practice and showing up for games on Friday and Saturday," he said.

"But coaching in the gym is only 60 percent of the job. The other 40 percent is scheduling, scouting, arranging for buses, dealing with the athletic director, talking to teachers and reporters, dealing with behavioral issues, college recruiting, fund-raising, summer camps, booster meetings, dealing with parents, talking to elementary schools. It's like running a small business."

Baum still recalls his first game as an underclass coach at Schaumburg. He showed up in a sport coach and tie for a Saturday morning freshman game.
"Coaching was a great thrill," he said.

"When the game was over, I took a deep breath and felt like I had just played. The score was 49-21. We won by 28 points and I was a nervous wreck. From then on, it has been a rush. I feel most at home when I'm in the gym."

So do Wilbut and Millison. Wilbut has been playing basketball since he was 7 years old. He often steps on the court early in the morning and doesn't leave until late at night. At the Downers Grove YMCA, five minutes from his house, he began working out at 8 in the morning and didn't leave until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. In the summer, he would take 200 jump shots, run a couple of miles, lift weights and play 5-on-5 games with friends and teammates--all in one day.

"Last season, all of us were disappointed when we lost to Glenbard East in the sectional," Wilbut said. "We felt we didn't give it all we had. We felt we were good enough to get to Peoria.

"But this team, talent-wise, is still there. We are a very young team, only three seniors, and have to learn our roles. But we are crafty. We'll surprise you at times. Everyone has something they do well that will surprise you in the game. You don't know what to expect."

Millison was a soccer player until eighth grade. In fact, he admits he was better in soccer than basketball at the time. But he began to concentrate on basketball and his skills began to develop rapidly.

"All of a sudden, I was getting more attention for basketball," he said.
"I get more excitement out of basketball. There are more exciting plays. You can't be flashy in soccer and I like to be flashy. You can't make oohs and aahs in soccer and get the crowd involved."

But Millison knows this might be his last chance to stir up the crowd. One of his goals is to go Downstate and, as a senior, this is his last chance.

"I thought we would go last year," he said. "I still have a chip on my shoulder from last year. It was so disappointing. We were so close but we came up short. We didn't play as a team like we normally would. We started to play team ball at the end but it was too late.

"We learned a lesson--to always trust in your teammates and play hard from the start with a lot of energy. I see that this year."

Patrick Sharp hitting his stride in Year 2 as broadcaster

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NBC Sports Chicago

Patrick Sharp hitting his stride in Year 2 as broadcaster

The NHL’s best players competing against each other will be a familiar sight for Patrick Sharp, who will work his first All-Star Game as a broadcaster this weekend in St. Louis. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ with the Blackhawks was the MVP of 2011’s All-Star contest with a goal and two assists. 

Less than two years after hanging up his skates, Sharp's transition from player to television analyst has been as seamless as everyone expected. In addition to the look and the experience, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist has been a student of his new game behind the scenes.

"I feel a little more settled," said Sharp, who can be seen Friday and Saturday on NBC Sports and NBC covering the NHL All-Star festivities. "Just trying to improve and get better at the job. It's just like playing in the NHL, the first year you ask a lot of questions and you learn as much as you can from the people that have done it before you and that are really good at it. Going into Year 2, nothing really changes; you just want to continue to get better. 

"I love following hockey and watching games; it makes the job a little bit easier. I don't think I'll ever get fully comfortable on television, but it's been fun and a good transition for me from playing the game." 

The 38-year-old’s bountiful in-depth insight during game broadcasts has come as no surprise to those who know him.

"Sharpie looks like he's really found a career," said Patrick Kane, who often shoots his former teammate a text after catching him on TV. "He does a really good job and he's easy to listen to. He knows who he's talking about, he has really good information. 

"It almost to me sounds like you're just talking to him, like me just having a conversation with him about hockey. He does a really good job of explaining the information and I think he's done pretty well at it."

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews regularly watches his former alternate captain’s commentary as well.

"I think the way he studied the game, the way he understood the game, he obviously has a lot of passion for it," Toews said of Sharp as a player. "I think it's great that our sport has someone like him with his talent level and his career so soon after his playing days to go out there and talk about it and relate some things to the fans that a lot of people, even myself, wouldn't even recognize.

"He does a great job. I think he's more than poised up there too.”

The fact that the former Hawks forward looks like he’d have no trouble skating in today’s NHL adds to his on-air presentation.

“He's still pretty jacked, I'm assuming,” Alex DeBrincat said. “He hasn't gained any weight. You'd assume after your career you'd let go a little bit, but doesn't look like he has.”

“The thing about Sharpie was he was always one of the top-five guys in fitness testing, he was always in great shape,” Kane said. “He was strong, a powerful skater, had a good shot, was able to shoot it pretty good.

"It felt like he could still play. It was just kind of like the opportunity and if he wanted to travel, move his family; so, I wouldn't have been surprised if he kept playing and was successful too.” 

Some of Sharp’s former teammates knew the transition was inevitable.

“Guys that wanted to chirp and make fun of him said he couldn't get there soon enough, he loves the camera,” Toews said with a chuckle. 

Others saw a different path for No. 10. 

“I don't know if we really expected him to do that to be honest with you,” Kane said. “I thought maybe he'd be trying to get in with the team somewhere whether it was scouting or trying to get into the front office. I could see him doing that even to this day. 

“Maybe that's a stepping stone for him maybe in the future. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the front office at some point because I think he's pretty good at scouting players and knowing a lot about the league too.” 

For Sharp, nothing can compare to the rush of playing in front of a sold-out United Center crowd, but the feeling right before going live on the air comes close. 

“I love it,” the Winnipeg native said. “It's very similar [to playing]. I love having the earpiece in and hearing our producer tell us that we're on in '10 ... 9 ... 8 . . .' Hearing the countdown kind of gives you that adrenaline feeling, the butterflies that you used to get as a player right before the first shift of a game. 

“I kind of miss that stress and anxiety of being a player and putting pressure on myself. I can't really think of too many other things in the game that bring that to us, so this is maybe a close second.”

Despite another career in the game, the four-time 30-plus goal-scorer with the Hawks still goes through what a lot of players do after they exit the ice. 

“The struggles of hanging up the skates and then trying to figure out what's next, I kind of went through that myself, still going through it,” Sharp said. “I miss the game every day. 

“I love being a part of NBC, but there's nothing that's going to replace being a professional hockey player and that's something that I did my entire adult life. I'm thankful that I've got an opportunity to continue working and be in the game, but at the same time I've had struggles just like every other former player. I want to keep my mind occupied and try to fill that void of playing hockey as best I can.”

Sharp joins NBC Sports’ national broadcast team every other week for a Tuesday or Wednesday game during the regular season. He’s frequently an analyst for Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago and come the postseason he’ll be on the national broadcasts full-time.

Whether he’s on TV in Chicago or nationally, Sharp prepares the same way.

“I think when I do more prep, that's when I struggle on the air,” he said. “I feel like I do enough prep just by being the same hockey guy that I've been my entire life. I watch the games, I stay involved, I talk to some players that are still playing that are friends of mine. 

“I don't look at it as doing research and preparation; I just love the game and love being around it and watching different players and teams play. I feel like when I fill my head with stats and things that I want to say on the air, it never comes out quite the way I want it to. So my approach now is just stay on top of the league as best I can and let's go out there on TV and just have a conversation and talk some hockey.”

Patrick had plenty of opportunities to talk hockey and get in front of the camera while with the Blackhawks, which made the transition that much easier.

“I think playing for the Blackhawks all those years we had so many opportunities to do different things with the media. Whether it was those Winter Classic games, we had the cameras following us around every year it seemed for a month of the season; training camp was always answering questions and making up videos,” Sharp said.

“The preparation that I got with the Blackhawks, being a Blackhawk player, it prepared me for life in the media post-hockey. My last game was on a Saturday and I took the week and I had an opportunity to come in and talk with NBC on the following Monday and I did it and I'm glad I did because it's been a fun experience and I like working with that team at NBC.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing 2020 White Sox expectations

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Discussing 2020 White Sox expectations

SportsTalk Live is on location at McCormick Place to preview SoxFest 2020. Chuck Garfien and David Haugh join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00 - White Sox manager Rick Renteria joins the guys to talk about the team's big offseason and the expectations for the 2020 season. He also talks about how the team with handle Michael Kopech (4:00) and what Dallas Keuchel brings to the rotation. (6:00) Plus, he explains how guys who turned the corner in 2019 like Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada can stay hot in 2020. (15:00)

17:00 - Steve Stone joins the guys to explain how the White Sox rebuild is going according to plan despite not landing one of the top free agents this winter. Plus, he updates his Twitter follower battle with Jason Benetti (23:00) and talks about how he would handle Michael Kopech's return. (25:30)

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: