White Sox

Remember the great players that didn't make it?

600388.png

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.

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest White Sox news and analysis.

The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


SUBSCRIBE TO THE WHITE SOX TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.

In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders. 

But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.

"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.

To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.

It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.

"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."

Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.

"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."