Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders


Semper Fi All-American Bowl for eight local gridders

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011
Posted: 12:08 p.m.
By Taylor Bell

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Eight Chicago area products have been chosen to participate in the first Semper Fidelis All-America Bowl, the U.S. Marine Corps' contribution to high school football entertainment and the latest All-Star event to showcase the leading prospects in the nation.

The inaugural game, co-sponsored by Junior Rank Sports, will be played on Jan. 3, 2012 at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona, home of major league baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. It will be telecast on CBS Sports Network.

The eight local representatives are offensive lineman Jordan Diamond of Simeon, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp of Montini, defensive end Faith Ekakitie of Lake Forest Academy, running backs Malin Jones of Joliet Catholic and Mike Panico of Carmel, linebacker Antonio Morrison of Bolingbrook and defensive backs Maurice Fleming of Curie and Anthony Standifer of Crete-Monee.

Westerkamp is committed to Nebraska, Jones to Northwestern, Morrison to Florida, Fleming to Iowa and Standifer to Michigan. Fleming likely won't be able to play, however. He is missing the entire 2011 season with an ACL injury.

According to nationally known recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who is chairman of the selection committee, Illinois-bound defensive lineman Vontrell Williams of Mount Carmel, Oklahoma State-bound quarterback Wes Lunt of Rochester and Iowa-bound defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson of Montini also are being considered.

Two of the state's leading prospects, Penn State-bound defensive tackle Tommy Schutt of Glenbard West and Iowa-bound offensive lineman Ryan Ward of Providence, previously accepted invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Tx.

Lemming had served as chairman of the selection committee for the U.S.
Army All-Star event for eight years but decided to join the Marines and his friend, Shoan Berry, founder of Junior Rank, when Rivals became a co-partner in the Army game.

"I'm more comfortable as chairman of the committee. Here, I'm my own boss," Lemming said. "We have to build this game from scratch. I like the fact that I can help build it from scratch, like the Army game. The Army game is on its own now and I'd like to do this one on my own."

Lemming began selecting players for the two 50-man rosters last April, four months after the other All-Star games (Army, Under Armour) had started. He has chosen 70 and will fill the other 30 spots after the 2011 season.

"I'll wait until November to see which seniors step up," Lemming said. "Some seniors take the year off if they have a lot of scholarship offers. I want to reward kids who have great senior years."

Lemming said he has extended an invitation to the nation's No. 1 player, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Mo. But he hasn't made a decision yet.

Other highly rated players who have committed to the Semper Fidelis game include five standouts from California--strong safety Shaq Thompson of Sacramento, running back Byron Marshall of San Jose, Notre Dame-bound wide receiver Deontay Greenberry of Fresno, Notre Dame-bound cornerback Tee Shepard of Fresno and 6-foot-8, 315-pound offensive tackle Freddie Tagaloa of Richmond.

Lemming rates Thompson as one of the two best players on the West Coast, Marshall as the top ball-carrier on the West Coast, Greenberry as the leading wide receiver on the West Coast, Shepard as the best cornerback on the West Coast and Tagaloa as one of the best offensive tackles in the nation.

Among others who have agreed to play in the game are Washington-bound quarterback Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island, Wash., Wisconsin-bound quarterback Bart Houston of San Ramone, Calif., running back Rushel Shell of Aliquippa, Pa., Miami-bound quarterback David Thompson of Palmetto Bay, Fla., Penn State-bound tight end Jesse James of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Notre Dame-bound defensive tackle Sheldon Day of Indianapolis, Ind.

Lindquist is the best quarterback in the Northwest, Shell is a top-15 prospect whom Lemming describes as one of the three best running backs in the nation, Day was tapped by Notre Dame ahead of Schutt and is rated the No. 2 player in Indiana while Thompson is the best high school baseball player in the nation and may be the next Joe Maurer in the June draft.

Lemming hopes to make the Semper Fidelis game more competitive than the others. He will conduct a draft in late November and choose teams according to talent rather than location. He reminds that the Army game hasn't been competitive since it began in 2002.

"We will be the No. 1 high school All-America game in the next two years," Berry predicted. "We didn't want to select kids because they were fast or tall but because they were good people and good students. We are looking for the best athletes who also are the best people. We don't think other All-Star games recognize character or academic performance or community involvement."

Junior Rank is a Chicago-based sports media company that conducts a number of footall combines for junior athletes (11-16) around the country. It is dedicated to evaluating, recognizing and rewarding great student athletes while giving parents the tools, resources and opportunities to help fulfill their children's dreams of playing college sports.

Berry's organization also sponsors a junior academic All-America game for seventh and eighth graders. And he plans to launch All-Star events in baseball, basketball, lacrosse, gymnastics and wrestling at some point.

"We want to highlight athletes for the right reasons in the right way,"
Berry said. "Our camps are about instruction and development and character-building."

He hopes Junior Rank will serve as a pipeline for future Semper Fidelis football games. For example, 13-year-old Erik Swenson of Naperville, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound left offensive tackle, is a straight-A student in eighth grade who already is catching the attention of Big 10 coaches.

Ty Isaac, Joliet Catholic's outstanding running back and one of the top-rated juniors in the state, is a product of the Junior Rank program.

Berry's 13-year-old son, Justin, a quarterback who lives in St. Charles and will attend Wheaton Academy, has attracted interest from Harvard and UCLA.

Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, a junior offensive tackle, is rated among the leading prospects in the class of 2013 in Illinois. Also Chad Beebe, a freshman wide receiver at Aurora Christian and son of Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe.

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

The first domino of this offseason’s third base market has fallen.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, free agent Anthony Rendon is set to sign a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Texas Rangers were also linked to Rendon in recent days, but they’ll now have to shift their focus elsewhere. Texas’ attention is now on the other superstar free agent third baseman — Josh Donaldson — as’s TR Sullivan reported. The same can be said about Rendon’s former team, the Washington Nationals.

This leads us to the Cubs and Kris Bryant. With Rendon off the board and Donaldson soon to follow, a potential trade market for the Cubs third baseman is growing clearer.

Only one of the Rangers and Nationals can sign Donaldson, not to mention his most recent team — the Atlanta Braves. When Donaldson’s domino falls, two of these teams will be left empty-handed in their pursuit of a third baseman.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also were linked to Rendon, though they don’t necessarily need a third baseman with Justin Turner manning the hot corner. Their pursuit of Rendon points to how they’re willing to shift Turner off third base, however. Add them to the list of teams seeking third base help.

Add that all up, and you have four teams in the market for Donaldson. The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to trade Bryant, but they’ll soon find themselves with some leverage. For the three teams that don’t land Donaldson, the most logical move will be to inquire with the Cubs about trading for Bryant. The Nationals have already inquired about Bryant, according to's Jon Morosi.

Bryant’s unresolved grievance case will be an issue in any potential negotiations. The difference between two years of control (if he loses) and one (if he wins) is big when it comes to his value. Even though they’ll have leverage over interested teams, the Cubs will yield stronger trade proposals for Bryant if he loses his case.

But, again, a trade is no certainty. What is certain is teams will be inquiring about Bryant in the not-so-distant future, once Donaldson chooses his free agent destination.

Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

The Bulls picked up a valuable get-right win in a 136-102 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks. Observations from a game the Bulls had to win, and did handily:

The bench provided a spark (again)

Bulls starters not named Zach LaVine got off to a sluggish start in this one. At the 3:14 mark of the first, the Hawks led 29-21 and were shooting a scalding 13-for-18 (72.2%) from the field (3-for-6 from 3-point range). LaVine had 12 of the Bulls’ 21 points.

The hosts ended the period ahead 37-33, buoyed by a 16-4 run by a bench unit of Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine, Thad Young, and Daniel Gafford. Valentine hit four floaters over that stretch, Gafford had a resounding block, White had a strong and-one take over Alex Len and Thad Young tallied five points, for good measure. 

Bench runs have become commonplace for this Bulls team, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak. This one carried over into the second quarter, which the Bulls won 29-19, holding Atlanta to 6-for-21 (28.6%) shooting, 2-for-10 (20%) from three. They didn't look back from there.

Young finished the first half with nine points, four rebounds, and two assists. White had a flashy night — tallying 19 points. Valentine and Gafford connected on a handful of alley-oops (which has quickly become a tradition).

Zach LaVine bounced back

LaVine — averaging 20 points on 33.3% shooting during the team’s three-game losing streak — was ripe for a breakout, and this Hawks team (29th in the NBA in defensive rating) presented an opportunity to bounce back. He took advantage.

As mentioned, LaVine carried the Bulls offense early: he had 18 first-half points on 7-for-9 shooting. Embedded in that line were a few highlight-reel dunks that awoke the United Center:

He tacked on a cool 17 (!) in the third quarter before coming out with the game out of reach for the Hawks. LaVine finished the night leading all scorers with 35 points and shot a staggering 7-for-7 from 3-point range. When he’s on, it’s too much fun, and he dazzled in this one. 

In a favorable matchup, the defense kept rolling

Coming into this game, we knew the Bulls defense, theoretically, matched up well with Atlanta’s offense plan of attack. For the most part, that bore out, in practice.

Kris Dunn was outstanding in containing Trae Young tonight, hounding him off of every screen (where he was usually aided by a hedge from the big in coverage) and staying attached even in instances when Young was able to penetrate.

Young didn’t score until the 11:07 mark in the second quarter and finished the night with 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-6 from three) and seven turnovers. This is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA we’re talking about here. He did rack up 13 assists (six in the first quarter) — and some were very, very pretty — but most of those came in transition. In the halfcourt, the Bulls’ set defense effectively bottled him up.

The Hawks, as a team, committed 23 turnovers on the night, which the Bulls were able to convert into 15 points. Atlanta is an inferior opponent, yes, but it was a strong showing, nonetheless.

Blowouts are fun

This one was a little too close for comfort early on but ended in a rout. The Bulls simply outclassed the Hawks, winning statistical categories this team has often been overmatched in, from rebounds (42-40) to points in the paint (78-42), to blocks (7-4), to the 3-point battle. Lauri Markkanen even utilized garbage time to turn a fine stat line into a good one: he had 10 points in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting. 

So, you know what? Rest your brain with some of the best clips of the night. You’ve earned it:





The Bulls can push questions about fourth-quarter stagnation, cold shooting streaks, and crowded rotations until this weekend. This was a solid overall performance.

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