Blackhawks

Parker, Nunn lead Simeon past Whitney Young

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Parker, Nunn lead Simeon past Whitney Young

By Patrick Z. McGavinYourSeason.com
The Pavilion seemed closer to a rock show than a high school basketball game Thursday night for the clash between top-ranked Simeon and No. 25 Young.

On the floor and wearing a Simeon letterman jacket, Derrick Rose sat next to John Calipari, his former coach at Memphis. Caliparis top freshman recruit at Kentucky, former Perspectives-MSA star Anthony Davis, was among the estimated 6,000 fans in attendance.

The spotlight belonged squarely on the present. The two marquee players, Simeons Jabari Parker and Youngs Jahlil Okafor, did not disappoint.

Parker just had a bit more help.

The 6-8 junior scored 15 points and added nine rebounds, four blocks and two assists as the Wolverines broke open a one-point halftime lead with a third-quarter flourish that keyed a 62-55 victory.

Simeon sharpshooter Kendrick Nunn drilled three three-pointers in scoring a team-best 19 points for the Wolverines (8-0). Marquette-bound 6-8 center Steve Taylor scored 16 points and contributed five rebounds and five steals.

Parker registered two blocks and a steal and scored on a drive during a 12-6 Simeon run that pushed its lead to 38-31.

Our third quarters have been huge for us the whole year, Simeon coach Robert Smith said. We try to navigate that quarter to really take control.

Okafor, the 6-11 sophomore, scored a game-high 20 points and recorded nine rebounds and three blocked shots for the Dolphins (4-2).

Hes great, Smith said of Okafor. I dont believe theres another better player in the country in that class.

I have tremendous respect for his game.

Parker struggled with his shot, making only 3 of 10 shots in the first half. But he showcased a complete game that proved too much for the Dolphins to overcome.

Junior Jaylon Tate, a De La Salle transfer, opened the fourth quarter with a rare four-point play. Hes starting to understand our system and whats needed out there, Smith said.

Taylor scored on a crucial short jumper in the lane on a Tate assist with 1:03 remaining after Young used an 11-1 run to pull within 53-50 with 1:30 to play. Jelani Neely converted 4-of-4 free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.