Cubs

Robertson stuns class of 2014

600388.png

Robertson stuns class of 2014

Curie's Cliff Alexander, Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor and Paul White, Normal University's Kelta Bates-Diop, Springfield Lanphier's Larry Austin, Orr's Tyquone Greer and Chatham Glenwood's Peyton Allen are the current headliners in the talented class of 2014 in Illinois.

Add Neuqua Valley's Elijah Robertson to the elite list. College coaches and recruiting analysts who attended the recent Best Buy Classic in Minneapolis were impressed by the 6-foot-5 sophomore's athleticism. Robertson, who will be 16 on May 27, has emerged as a major Division I prospect.

He saw little playing time at Neuqua Valley last season and wasn't showcased last summer while playing for Ferrari behind Okafor and White. But he joined Illinois Basketball Academy this year and, in the walk of his breakout performance in Minneapolis, is just beginning to realize how good he can be.

"I knew little about the (Best Buy) tournament. I thought it was just another tournament to showcase my talent. But it was completely different from what I expected," he said. "I didn't expect too many Division I coaches watching. I realized it was a big-time event. If I wanted to make my impact on the AAU circuit, it would be an excellent place to start.

"My motivation was how much I could run up and down the court, hustle and make plays and give up on plays. When it was over, I felt I could have done more. I have a lot to improve on. But I didn't expect it to come out like it did. So many people were impressed with what I did. Now my motivation is to keep getting better."

Robertson's eye-opening performance earned an invitation to Michigan's summer camp. He admits that Michigan, Georgetown and Tennessee are his "dream schools." He claims to be a "lifelong Michigan fan, especially of their football program." He is fascinated by Georgetown's tradition and describes former Tennessee star Wayne Chism as his favorite college player.

"Chism reminds me of me, tall and athletic," Robertson said. "He wasn't known that much, either, like me. He played under the radar.

"If I develop my skills more, improve my ball-handling, get more consistent with my jump shot, I would like to end up at one of those three schools."

Dedrick Shannon, in his first full year as coach at Naperville-based Illinois Basketball Academy, is building a solid program with Robertson, O'Mara, Czarnowski, West Aurora's Johntrell Walker, Waubonsie Valley's Jack Cordes, St. Francis de Sales' Terrell Parham and Naperville Central's Ryan Antony, son of Shannon's assistant coach Greg Antony. Last year, they won the Fab 48 championship for 15-and-under in Las Vegas.

"Robertson brings something different to our team that allows him to stand out--athleticism," Shannon said. "He was one of the best players at the Best Buy Classic. He opened eyes. He averaged nine rebounds per game. He showed his athleticism. He is great in the open floor. He is a high major Division I athlete right now."

The son of Poliss Robertson, a Detroit native who played at Wisconsin in the late 1980s, Elijah has a wingspan of a 6-foot-8 player and a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.

"He is a lunch pail and hard hat type of guy in a day when that style is going out the window. He is very coachable and very competitive. He refuses to lose. He won't back down. And he's a happy kid, always smiling. He always is excited to be around the game of basketball," Shannon said.

Robertson played football from fourth to sixth grade. He played defensive tackle and wide receiver on the Naperville Patriots' team that won a national championship in the American Youth Football League. Then he stopped playing football.

"I wanted to focus on basketball. I liked basketball a lot more. I just tried out for football to see if I'd like it," he said. "But I've played basketball since I was 5 years old. I like the atmosphere of college basketball. My father was a big influence. It was my decision to stick with basketball. But he stuck by me."

Robertson and his 6-foot-6 father play a lot of one-on-one. "I just started to be able to beat him. He's getting older and I'm beating him with my quickness. The first time I beat him, I probably was 12 or 13. He was too big for me. He'd post me up all the time," Elijah said.

In the future, he projects himself as a two-guard or a wing forward. But he admits he has a lot of improving to do. On a scale of 1 to 10, he rates himself as a five or six in terms of his development.

"I'm putting in more work into doing what I have to do for college," he said. "I still have to work on my ball-handling and my jump shot. I realize I have more athleticism than many of my opponents. I'm quicker than guys who try to defend me. I beat guys up and down the court.

"If I have a more consistent jump shot, I'd be a bigger offensive threat from three-point range. The college coaches (at the Best Buy event) would have been even more impressed if I did that. My dad gave me good advice. 'Don't give up. Always work hard and you'll achieve your dreams,' he told me. My dream is getting to college."

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy: 'Scary part' of COVID-19 is how fast deadly virus spreads

Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is home in Kansas City for a couple rare days during the baseball season. His mom wants to meet him for lunch, and his sister, a grade-school teacher in town, just had a baby that he hasn’t had a chance to see yet.

“How much would I love to go get to see her and my new nephew?” Hottovy said. “Can’t do it. Just can’t.”

Not this time. Not with what’s at stake. Not when possible threats to health and professional purpose lurk in every unfamiliar hallway, byway and unmasked face while the Cubs navigate their first multi-city road trip of the season.

Don’t believe the risk of spread and large-scale COVID-19 team outbreaks are that sensitive, extreme and potentially swift? Just ask the Marlins and Cardinals, whose outbreaks in the first week of play put their seasons on hold and threatened the status of the league’s season.

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

“I’m not leaving the hotel. I told my family and friends and everybody [in Kansas City],” Hottovy said. “We all signed up for this, to make sure that for this to work we all have to make those kinds of sacrifices. I love my family to death and would love to get to see them, but right now this is our home.”

The Cubs second trip, which started with a 6-1 victory Wednesday in Kansas City and continues to St. Louis before finishing in Cleveland next week, coincides with stepped-up COVID-19 protocols from Major League Baseball following the Marlins and Cardinals outbreaks.

The Cubs already had protocols in place that exceeded MLB’s original mandates and that are in compliance with the new mandates. And a month into the league’s restart they remained the only team without a player having tested positive for the virus.

RELATED: Cubs better prepared than MLB to finish COVID-19 season — which is the problem

In fact, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant decided on his own to start wearing a protective mask on the bases when the Cubs played last week in Cincinnati, where three Reds players were sidelined either by positive tests or self-reported symptoms as that series opened. And first baseman Anthony Rizzo told ESPN 1000 on Tuesday that he plans to keep a mask in his pocket while in the field in St. Louis and will consider wearing it when somebody reaches base.

“No matter what measures you put in place, when you’re trying to pull off a season that requires travel in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately does come down to personal responsibility,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “And everyone is at the mercy of the least responsible person because of the nature of the spread of this disease.”

Nobody knows that more than Hottovy and many of the Cubs who watched their pitching coach deteriorate in real time during daily Zoom sessions in May and June until the worst symptoms of his frightening monthlong bout with the virus forced him to hand off his job duties.

Whether Hottovy’s experience led directly to the Cubs’ more extreme safety policies or the individual players’ apparent hyper diligence, MLB’s recent coronavirus outbreaks and other cases at least raise questions about whether some teams and players — or even the league — respect the potential severity of a virus that has killed more than 158,000 Americans in five months.

“I don’t think people underestimate that aspect of it; I think they underestimated how easy it was to spread,” Hottovy said of the outbreaks — including a Cardinals outbreak that reportedly was traced to one asymptomatic, outside individual familiar with the team.

Hottovy called the highly contagious nature of the virus “the scary part of this,” both in terms of the potential to quickly render an organization unable to field a team as well as the subsequent, inherent risk that poses to family members and others who might, in turn, be among those who then become severely impacted by the virus.

And the hardest part, he said, is not letting down your guard within the team bubble when it’s easy to trust that when it’s only teammates in the room that it’s OK to disregard masks, distancing and other safety measures.

“That’s when it gets dangerous,” said Hottovy, whose team talks often about assuming everyone — including each other — has the virus.

So just like in Cincinnati, neither he nor anyone else in the Cubs’ traveling party plans to go anywhere but to and from hotels and ballparks during their trip.

“Listen, you don’t have to search too far for a reason to take it serious,” Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis said.

“I have three of my close friends who got it, that are over it. But the symptoms are as real as it gets from the sounds of it. And I think you have guys who are risking stuff coming and playing this season, whether it’s Craig [Kimbrel] and his daughter [heart condition] or Anthony [Rizzo] and Jon [Lester] with their [cancer] history.

“You’re paying respect to them and doing your teammate justice by not being the one to kind of go out,” Kipnis added. “It’s one of those years where, hey, you’ve got to buckle down and stay the course. I think everybody’s going through it, so you don’t want to be the one that kind of screws this one up.

The Cubs’ 10-2 start to a 60-game season seems to further incentivize that discipline — some players in recent days even suggesting the discipline in following the protocols has carried into the professionalism on the field.

It’s impossible to know if any of it will be enough for the Cubs to keep their moving bubble secure, much less whether the two outbreaks that MLB seems to have withstood will provide the significant enough wakeup call that MLB and team officials have suggested.

“The vast, vast majority of everyone involved in this enterprise, the players and staff, are doing a solid job so far in making a lot of sacrifices,” Epstein said. “And we just have to get everybody on board. And hopefully these two outbreaks are enough to get everyone to the point where we have essentially perfect execution going forward, because that’s largely what it will take.”

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

When the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups during the dynasty era, one of their best attributes was their ability to come through in clutch situations even when they weren’t at their best.

The Blackhawks desperately needed a moment like that in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers. And they delivered.

After trailing 3-2 going into the third period, the Blackhawks scored two goals in a span of 4:31 in the final six minutes of regulation thanks to a pair of redirections by Matthew Highmore and Jonathan Toews, who scored his second goal of the game and recorded his 11th game-winning postseason goal to tie Bobby Hull, Patrick Kane and Stan Mikita for most in franchise history.

It felt like old times again.

"We stuck with it," Toews said following a 4-3 win on Wednesday night. "It was a great team effort, some great contributions from all over our lineup."

As the “home” team in Game 3, the Blackhawks took over the Oilers’ dressing room and made themselves feel, well, at home. They hit the ice in their red sweaters, which was strange to see outside the United Center and brought back memories of the old days.

But nothing made the Blackhawks feel more at home than when a recorded rendition of the National Anthem and O Canada sung by Jim Cornelison blared over the speakers prior to puck drop. And while there were no fans in attendance to blow the roof off Rogers Place, the Blackhawks certainly felt comfort knowing a part of Chicago was with them in Edmonton.

"We noticed those little details," Toews said. 

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

There were lots of ups and downs in Game 3, and it would’ve been easy for the Blackhawks to let their frustrations get the best of them. 

They hit five posts. They went 1-for-6 on the power play, with their only goal coming during a 5-on-3 advantage. They gave up 10 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 through the first two periods and generated just one of their own. Leon Draisaitl (twice) and Connor McDavid made them pay three times, scoring their goals from an average distance of eight feet.

But the Blackhawks dug in, turned back the clock, channeled some late-game heroics against an Oilers team that lost just once in regulation (29-1-2) during the regular season when leading after two periods and have a chance to close out a postseason series on Friday for the first time since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

"Hard-fought game from us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We showed a lot of character to stick with it. We were pretty solid defensively, did a good job eliminating their transition, and we found a way to score some dirty goals. Proud of how the guys worked. We'll enjoy it for tonight, then on to the next one."