Bears

Remember the great players that didn't make it?

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Remember the great players that didn't make it?

The All-State rosters are riddled with football and basketball players who were projected for stardom in college and beyond but, for one reason or another, never fulfilled their potential or expectations.

In football, the list includes Fenwick's Jim DiLullo, Maine South's Tom Spotts, Evanston's Carlos Matthews, Lane Tech's Ken Ferguson, Tilden's Dempsey Norman, St. Rita's John Foley, Lane Tech's Alex Rodriguez, Naperville Central's Tim Lavery, New Trier's Mark Floersch, Proviso East's Philip Macklin, Naperville Central's Ryan Clifford, Maine South's Sean Price and Charlie Goro.

In basketball, remember Bloom's Raymond McCoy, Farragut's Ronnie Fields and LaKeith Henderson, King's Jamie Brandon, Imari Sawyer, Thomas Hamilton and Leon Smith, Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan, Collins' Antoine Davison, Westinghouse's DeAndre Thomas, Providence's Michael Thompson, Farragut's Curtis Ganes, Downers Grove South's Adam Schafer, Crystal Lake South's Bill Heppner, St. Martin de Porres' Tyrone Triplett, Crane's Lorenzo Thompson, Proviso West's Michael Ingram, Phillips' Bernard Jackson, East Leyden's Glen Grunwald? And how about Waukegan's Jereme Richmond?

Nearly all of them received Player of the Year recognition. Some were touted as the No. 1 player in the nation. All were accorded can't-miss accolades by college coaches, recruiting analysts and media observers.

But none of them made it.

Some, like Grunwald, DiLullo and Foley, were injured. Some, like Macklin, Nathan, Fields and Richmond, were strapped with personal or academic issues. Some, like McCoy, peaked in high school. Others weren't big enough or fast enough or simply not good enough to succeed at the next level.

But what they achieved in high school can never be taken away from them. They were dominant players, blue chippers, recruited by the nation's leading college programs, record-setters, leaders of state championship teams, first-round selections in the NBA draft.

Raymond McCoy was a two-time All-Stater at Bloom during a time when coach Wes Mason had built one of the most successful high school programs in Illinois. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 1978 and 1979 and esteemed Chicago sportswriter Bill Gleason said he was better than Isiah Thomas, then a standout at St. Joseph.

McCoy was a McDonald's All-American. Mason invited North Carolina coach Dean Smith to evaluate his star player. Smith wasn't impressed, saying that he could stay home in North Carolina and recruit players who were just as good or better.

To Mason, it was a crushing blow. In his view, McCoy was the best player he ever produced. Whether he ever told McCoy isn't certain. What is certain is McCoy went to San Francisco, transferred to DePaul after his freshman year and never was more than a role player for the Blue Demons. He averages two points per game in 1981-82.

Everybody makes mistakes. Farragut assistant coach Ron Eskridge, who also was involved in Fields' decline, insisted to one and all that Ganes was the No. 1 player in the state and one of the top 10 in the nation. Some people believed him.

Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports, generally recognized as the leading talent evaluator in the nation since the late 1970s, once rated Heppner as a top 30 player nationally and a McDonald's All-America candidate. At DePaul, he sat out his sophomore season with a knee injury, then was ordered to end his career as a junior when doctors discovered a congenital neck injury.

Schafer, a 6-foot-5 forward who was recruited by Wisconsin, was ranked No. 20 nationally as a freshman by longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman and Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop. Bob Gibbons jumped on board later. Chicago-based Roy and Harv Schmidt rated him in the top 10 as a sophomore. But Schafer never wanted to embrace the stardom.

"His parents pressured him beyond belief," the Schmidt brothers said. "The kid did not like the hoopla, all the attention. He did not want to make basketball his whole life. It got to him. He did not work hard and he didn't play hard."

Fields probably is the most unsettling and disappointing and tragic case of all. Arguably the most exciting and most athletic basketball player ever produced in Illinois, he was a teammate of Kevin Garnett in 1994-95 and Player of the Year in 1995-96. He was a three-time Parade All-America and a McDonald's All-America as a senior.

But he suffered a broken neck in a car accident on Feb. 26, 1996. He left high school as the third all-time leading scorer in Chicago Public League history with 2,619 points. He signed a letter-of-intent at DePaul but later was ruled academically ineligible. He declared for the 1998 NBA draft but wasn't chosen.

He played in the Philippines, Venezuela, Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. In 2008, he returned to the United States to play in the CBA for the Minot (North Dakota) SkyRockets. For the last four years, he played with the Rockford (Illinois) Lightning. He is the only player in the history of the CBA to lead the league in scoring and steals in two consecutive seasons.

Hardly the recognition that was projected for him in high school.

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: