Local college hoops 2016-17 preview: University of Illinois at Chicago


Local college hoops 2016-17 preview: University of Illinois at Chicago

2015-16 Results: In head coach Steve McClain's first season he had to start rebuilding the roster and found some positive pieces out of a 5-25 season. The Flames finished 3-15 in the Horizon League as freshman Dikembe Dixson became a breakout star.

Players to Watch: Dixson returns for his sophomore season after averaging 19.8 points per game. The guard will have to improve his shooting efficiency, but he's a proven scorer who can carry a team's offense. Junior center Tai Odiase, a former Homewood-Flossmoor product, is a rim protector for the Flames as he averaged 9.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game.

Key Storylines: The Flames are trying to build into a respectable program again and this season and they have some real expectations to get wins. Seeing how a young team responds to those expectations will be interesting, as well as the continued development of players like Dixson and Odiase.

Newcomers to Track: McClain was able to reel in some talented freshmen for this team including forward K.J. Santos and Canadian guard Marcus Ottey. The 6-foot-8 Santos started his high school career at Geneva before going to prep school out East. Ottey is a 6-foot-2 guard with a reputation for scoring.

Season Outlook: With some exciting young talent and only room to go up, the Flames have reason to be optimistic heading into the season. The Horizon League still features some talented programs like Valparaiso, Green Bay and Oakland but UIC could at least be in the right direction to be competing with those programs shortly.

Mark Dantonio retires from coaching Michigan State football


Mark Dantonio retires from coaching Michigan State football

Mark Dantonio led one of the best eras of Michigan State football, but announced his retirement from coaching on Tuesday.

The 63-year-old had been at the school since 2007. He led the Spartans to the College Football Playoff in 2015 and two Big Ten titles. He tweeted out a message announcing his retirement.

“After much reflection and discussion with my family, I feel that it is now time for change as we enter into a new decade of Michigan State Football,” Dantonio wrote.

The timing is unusual considering firing and hiring season in college football has long since passed. On top of that, the early signing period for recruits has already gone by. Whoever ends up being Dantonio’s replacement won’t have much time to prepare for spring practices.

Replacing Dantonio’s accomplishments at MSU won’t be easy either. Dantonio took over a program that managed one top 25 finish in its previous 16 years (and that includes a five-year Nick Saban tenure). He left having produced seven top 25 finishes and 12 bowl appearances in 13 seasons.

The Spartans made three Big Ten Championship Game appearances under Dantonio and won two of them, one of which propelled them to a national semifinal. However, the Spartans had gone 27-24 since making the playoff.

Maxwell 'Bunchie' Young from the NFL’s Super Bowl video already has a scholarship offer from Lovie Smith


Maxwell 'Bunchie' Young from the NFL’s Super Bowl video already has a scholarship offer from Lovie Smith

Remember the kid sporting the cool faux-hawk in the NFL’s star-studded Super Bowl video? There is a chance he could be coming to Urbana-Champaign in five years.

Back in 2017, University of Illinois head coach and former Bears coach Lovie Smith offered then 10-year-old Maxwell “Bunchie” Young a scholarship to play for the Fighting Illini. Bunchie, now 13, starred in the NFL’s “NEXT 100” video, in which he was seen navigating famous football faces and various locales around the US before charging the Super Bowl LIV stadium in Miami. Young had been previously profiled by ESPN and was named Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year in 2017.

The news of the scholarship offer from Illinois three years ago opened up a larger conversation around schools recruiting and offering kids at such a young age. In the case of Young, he won’t be eligible to play for the Illini until 2025. Smith’s current contract expires long before that so there's always a chance that the coaching staff that made the offer won't be in place when Young is eligible to play. According to NCAA rules, schools can't make written scholarship offers until August of the player’s senior season. Verbal offers, however, are a different story.

Young wasn’t the only Chicagoland connection in the NFL’s ode to the next 100 years of football. Bears owner Virginia McCaskey had a supporting role near the end of the video, sporting Bears gear and presenting Young with the ball before he ran into the Super Bowl stadium. McCaskey filmed her cameo at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, which led to another local highlight.

Libertyville High School’s football field made an appearance about a minute into the video, the location chosen due to its proximity to Halas Hall. About a minute in, Young is seen sprinting onto the Libertyville field to intercept a pass from Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman before holding the ball for a field-goal attempt by US women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd.