Bulls

Sikma eyes NBA job, Hall of Fame

787190.png

Sikma eyes NBA job, Hall of Fame

When he was a skinny 6-foot-10 kid working on a family farm in St. Anne, long before anyone recognized his enormous potential as a basketball player, Jack Sikma was a dreamer. He isn't surprised at where he is or how he got there. He just took a path that few others had to trod.

Now, after starring in the NBA for 14 years and coaching in the league for 10 years, Sikma is ready and willing and, he believes, qualified to achieve two more milestones in his career -- to be a head coach and to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

His credentials? He was the No. 8 pick in the 1977 NBA draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. A seven-time All-Star, he scored over 1,700 points and grabbed over 10,000 rebounds. He was a key factor in Seattle's drive to the 1979 NBA championship. He is the only center to lead the league in free-throw shooting, converting 92.2 percent in 1987-88.

"I am happy for the number of people in my era who have been inducted in the last few years," Sikma said. "I hope the Hall of Fame finds me worthy at some point in time. Some people feel I should be there. I think I have the credentials."

At 56, Sikma feels he also is qualified to be a head coach in the NBA. He just completed his ninth year as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He once operated a school for "big men" and feels he has the knowledge and experience to be successful.

"Hopefully, I soon will get an opportunity to interview for a job," he said. "I want to be a head coach in the NBA. I have applied and expressed interest. I interviewed at Houston last year. I hope to be able to get another interview or two this year. There will be some jobs open. I feel I am very prepared to step forward and run a team. I would love to have a shot at it. I would love to prove through the interview process that I am ready to go."

Sikma has come a long way. In Seattle, he lives in Bill Gates' neighborhood. He played in an era where the big man dominated the game in the post, before the 3-point line was drawn. He still can't understand how Seattle, with a great fan base, lost a franchise with a great tradition.

But he succeeded without much fanfare, playing for a tiny school that nobody ever heard of, without a scholarship to a major Division I school. Virtually nobody knew who he was until he surfaced at the 1973 Class A tournament in Champaign, scoring 100 points and grabbing 73 rebounds in four games while leading St. Anne to fourth place.

He received national publicity when a fast-thinking photographer snapped his picture while being interviewed by a television announcer who was standing on a box.

"I was a dreamer," Sikma said. "I loved sports and competition. There is a history in Illinois with basketball and small towns. It was the event for the weekend for everyone. The gyms were full of neighbors, family and friends. It started there.

"I knew I had a chance to grow and it happened. It just fit together. It was the first example of a situation where I had to make a major decision as a late bloomer in high school. I got on the recruiting boards for Big Ten schools. But I decided to go to Illinois Wesleyan, a Division III school, where my sister had gone."

When Sikma got on the map, after the state tournament, Illinois coach Harv Schmidt, who had been a great high school player at nearby Kankakee, came to visit. Purdue coach Fred Schaus was in his living room. Northwestern coach Tex Winter called. DePaul assistant Joey Meyer recruited him. Indiana State and Kansas State visited, too.

"I grew up watching the Big Ten Game of the Week on television," he said. "Illinois was struggling. I wanted to go to Illinois in some sense. In the end, I went back and forth, then came to a decision over time and felt good about it. I never regretted it."

Sikma chose Illinois Wesleyan because coach Dennis Bridges had made a personal commitment to him. Bridges was the first college coach to seriously recruit him. From the outset, Bridges told Sikma that he would be the best player ever to play at Illinois Wesleyan. He scheduled Division I opponents to give Sikma more exposure.

"If I was good enough, the NBA would find me, even a 6-foot-10 skinny kid who loved to play basketball as a 17-year-old out of St. Anne," Sikma said. "The point is he had seen me play 10 times before the state tournament. He helped me to develop my inside game. We played man-to-man all the time. I got to the NBA and knew how to play defense."

Since Division III schools can't offer scholarships, Sikma had to uphold his end of the bargain. Because he was a good student, he qualified for an academic grant. He worked in the summer to pay his room and board.

As Bridges promised, the NBA scouts found Sikma even though he never appeared on national television. After his junior year, he was invited to the U.S. Olympic trials. As a senior, he was invited to participate in all-star games in Hawaii and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"The light bulb went on between my freshman and sophomore years at Illinois Wesleyan, which I developed my inside game. That's when I began to realize how good I was and how far I could go," he said. "At the Olympic trials, I missed making the team but I played against Tree Rollins and Mitch Kupchak and Tom LeGarde. I competed. I fit in. Some said I should have made the team. It put me on the map for everyone to see as a senior in college."

Sikma played in an era when the big man was dominant, when the game went through the post, through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Artis Gilmore, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, Robert Parish, Bob Lanier, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone. And Jack Sikma.

"Then the rules changed. Along game the 3-point line and the understanding that a mix of 3-pointers gave you some better efficiencies with offensive possessions," Sikma said. "Now the bigs, even if they are the strongest players on the floor, have to face up and be able to understand how to pass out of the post on double teams.

"Andrew Bynum is the most dominant big man today. He must understand the value of the 3-point shot. Tim Duncan is the best example. In playoff games, you have to have a good post player who can draw double teams. That's where it pays off. Successful playoff teams and NBA championship teams have a post player who is effective enough to draw a double team."

Sikma would rather be playing, of course, but he enjoys the one-on-one relationships with players and other coaches. He believes his background as a post player, where offenses were run through him and he passed outside for pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops and three-point shots, affords him a broad experience for the coaching profession.

"The pro game is so fast. Strategically, you can do so many things on the move. The more you're in it, as a coach, you realize all the ways you can impact a game," he said.

"Sure, it draws on your patience. The raw talent continues to improve. The preparation and fundamental work that needs to be done to develop a complete player isn't done as much at the pro level as in the past. You cannot replace an experienced player's impact on a team when he is doing it the right way. You have to have a mix or you don't have stability."

He only hopes he soon will have an opportunity to put all of his knowledge into practice -- as a head coach in the NBA.

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

He’s back.

Corey Crawford was officially activated from injured reserve on Thursday and will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes.

"It’s exciting," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."

The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.

For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.