Bulls

Northwestern's Mark named to All-American team

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Northwestern's Mark named to All-American team

Venric Mark is now among Northwestern football's all-time elite.

The speedy Wildcat junior was named an All-American punt returner by the Football Writers Association of America on Friday.

His name now joins 37 other Wildcat All-Americans lining the upper deck at Ryan Field.

"I was really stoked once I heard the news," said Mark following an indoor practice session as Northwestern continued preparation for the Jan. 1 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. "I kind of put my phone down, sat there for a little bit and called my mom and let her know. She was excited too."

Mark is the 39th all-time Northwestern's football All-American and first since offensive lineman Zach Strief in 2005. He's also the lone representative from the Big Ten on the FWAA's 69th annual team.

Then again, when it came to punt returns, there were none better around the nation this season.

Mark averaged 20.1 yards per return and ranked No. 1 in the nation, nearly four yards better than his closest competitor.

Mark was also the first Northwestern player since 1949 to collect two punt return touchdowns in a season. He had an 82-yard return against Syracuse and a 75-yard score at Penn State.

"I was really excited," he said. "It says a lot. I feel like I haven't got to this point by myself. I have to give a lot of praise to my teammates...(and) it'll be a pretty good legacy for my family to come up to the school and see my name on the field."

Just what makes Mark a great punt return specialist?

"I would say vision and trusting my teammates," he said. "It's (also) being very decisive. You ask anybody in the league or anybody in college who's an elite returner and they'll tell you the same thing."

Wildcat coach Pat Fitzgerald may be quick to dismiss the explosion of college football awards, but not this one.

"It's very deserving," said Fitzgerald, the school's only two-time All-American as a standout defensive player in the mid-1990s. "This one's credible, it's legit compared to some of the other All-American teams. This one counts."

Mark also earned second team all-Big Ten honors as a running back after he rushed for 1,310 yards and scored 12 touchdowns (11 rushing). Fitzgerald said he felt Mark was the league's best in the backfield and deserved better.

He averaged 171 all purpose yards per game, good for ninth in the country. Mark needs 148 yards to break Damien Anderson's all-time Northwestern record of 2,195 yards set in 2000.

Mark also landed first team punt return honors from The Sporting News and CBSSports.com.

"I'm really proud of what he's accomplished here in his three years," Fitzgerald added. "He's a true junior and -- as I said to the team -- on those long punt returns those 10 guys up front blocking for him did a terrific job.

"But he's the one that went out and made the play and it would be fun if he went out and played that way on the first, which he should."

The school said Mark suffered an "upper extremity" injury in November against Michigan, but time off since the Nov. 18 season finale with Illinois has helped him regain full health.

"Right now I feel really good," he said. "I almost feel 100 percent. The coaches do a great job, Coach Fitz does a great job of making sure we're healthy but making sure we're paying attention to detail and staying sharp but also taking care of our bodies."

Northwestern (9-3) meets Mississippi State (8-4) at 11 a.m. (Central) on Jan. 1 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., home of the NFL Jaguars.

Training for that game turned more serious on Saturday as Fitzgerald worked on the game plan against their Southeastern Conference foe.

"Today was really game plan day," he said. "We've put some things in the other practice when the varsity went at it. But today would be like Tuesday of game week-type practice ... We'll have everything in by the time the guys go home (for the holiday)."

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

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USA TODAY

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

It’s impossible to tell Dwyane Wade’s basketball story without including Chicago.

Though the 12-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion created a legacy in Miami, his hometown and the first organization he ever cheered for has been intertwined in that story from Day 1. From his early beginnings as child growing up in Chicago to Saturday’s farewell tour stopping at the United Center, Wade’s hometown has played an integral role in his journey from cheering on Michael Jordan to joining His Airness as one of the NBA’s all-time great shooting guards.

He's no longer Flash, the lightning quick, spry shooting guard with unmatched pound-for-pound strength. But the 37-year-old Wade saved some of his best for last in Saturday's win over the Bulls. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes. It felt like vintage Wade at times, as the Oak Lawn native scored on a few stepbacks, floaters and cuts to the basket similar to the ones that made him one of the game's best for more than a decade.

Wade's final United Center memory comes 16 seasons after his first one. A 22-year-old Wade was nursing a right wrist and had planned to sit out his first visit to the United Center in December 2003.

That changed when he saw his childhood hero Michael Jordan the night before the game.

“(Jordan’s) like, ‘I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow.’ And I was like, ‘Welp, guess I’m playing,’” Wade said prior to Saturday's game. “And then I end up being in a cast for like two months after that.”

Wade scored just 10 points in 36 minutes that night, but playing was never in doubt. Wade grew up idolizing Jordan, one of the millions of kids who grew up in Chicago watching the 90s Bulls hang banner after banner. He joined fellow Chicagoans like Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, and a young Derrick Rose, as inner city kids who looked up to Jordan as inspiration to get out of the city and make something of themselves.

"Growing up in the inner city, to make it out to be a vision of hope for the next generation, we take a lot of pride in that," Wade said. "And to come back and give back and hopefully give others opportunity to be successful,l but also just for people in the city of Chicago to see that it can be done, you can get out. A lot of us had a ball and a dream and that ball has taken us so many places."

After a successful career at Richards High School and a three-year stint at Marquette that included a Final Four run, Chicago basketball took Wade to Miami. Beginning with that first game at the United Center in 2003, the hometown kid became a thorn in the Bulls' side for the next 13 seasons. He knocked the Bulls out of the postseason three different times, including twice on the way to championships in 2006 and 2013, and the famous Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.

That stretch also included Wade spurning the Bulls in the infamous summer of 2011 when it appeared he and close friend LeBron James were close to signing in Chicago. Instead Wade opted to remain in Miami and bring James and Chris Bosh with him. The consolation prize for the Bulls was $76 million Carlos Boozer and a front row seat to Miami's four-year reign in the Eastern Conference that included four Finals appearances and two championships.

Wade signed on the dotted line four years later, inking a two-year deal with the Bulls that was as much financially motivated as it was a chance to play for the hometown team. Wade's fit in Chicago was always an interesting one for both sides that never really worked, and it ultimately ended in his buyout in the months after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and entered a rebuild.

But Wade's impact on his hometown team was evident.

In the 70-second video tribute the Bulls ran for Wade during the first quarter of Saturday's game, there was as much footage of Wade doing work in the community with the Dwyane Wade Foundation and Spotlight On as there was highlights of his time on the floor. Though Wade couldn't help push the Bulls to greater heights in his lone year in Chicago, his 18.3 points at age 35 largely go overlooked because of the chaos that went on in the locker room that season.

Wade latched on with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout in 2017, and he returned to Chicago in unceremonious fashion, scoring 24 points in a December blowout victory.

That was nothing compared to what Wade experienced on Saturday, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,926 following the video tribute, and a chorus of cheers each time he entered the game. If not for cheering on a Chicago legend, the fans recognized one of the all-time greats that, for better and worse, has a chapter in the history of Chicago basketball.

Wade has made a dozen farewell tours this season, but none quite like what happened in his hometown. It was the fitting end to a career - a lifetime, really - that has featured numerous Chicago memories.

"I have more of a connection here than anywhere else," he said after the game. "It's my birth city. It's the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here."

Wade has become the Michael Jordan of Miami. No one will ever wear No. 3 in a Heat uniform again, Wade will have a statue somewhere outside American Airlines arena and he’ll join the all-time greats in Springfield, Mass., as a Hall of Famer in 2024.

He’s created a legacy in Miami, but for so many reasons Chicago will always be part of his basketball story.

“This city, this Chicago Bulls name, it means a lot to me," he said. "It will always mean a lot to me.”

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention

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@CUBS

Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo make surprise 'appearances' at Cubs Convention

Technology sure is neat.

Friday, Cubs All-Stars Jon Lester and Anthony Rizzo were noticably absent from the opening ceremonies of Cubs Convention. As two of the team's premier players, fans surely felt their absences at the annual event.

Thanks to the power of FaceTime, though, both Lester and Rizzo were able to "appear" at the convention on Saturday. Kris Bryant called Rizzo while on stage during a panel, while Lester appeared at a side station. Check it out:

Lester has been golfing in Florida this week (with good friend John Lackey, one might add). Rizzo recently got married, but it is unclear if his absence is honeymoon related or not.

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