White Sox

What if nobody made a commitment?

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What if nobody made a commitment?

What would happen if not a single high school athlete, football or basketball, chose to make an oral commitment until after the school year?

That's right, seven months after the NCAA's early signing date in November and two months after the April signing date for basketball and four months after the February signing date for football.

No oral commitments from sophomores or juniors. No commitments from athletes during the summer prior to their senior years. Sorry, coach, I won't be announcing my decision until after I graduate in June.

So what would happen?

"Nothing," said longtime Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "That's what they used to do prior to the early 1990s when Penn State started to offer players after their junior year because coach Joe Paterno had lost so many prospects. Now most football recruits are committed before their senior year."

Lemming said college coaches might like the no-early-commitment proposal because they wouldn't have to worry about recruiting and could concentrate on their own season.

"Now recruiting is a year-round process. It never ends," Lemming said. "College coaches didn't have to put as much emphasis on it in the 1970s and 1980s. Now kids are more into the publicity. They take campus visits in the spring and summer, commit earlier, then switch to another school."

Glenbard West defensive lineman Tommy Schutt was all set to commit to Notre Dame before the Irish pulled his scholarship offer and gave it to another defensive lineman from Indianapolis. So he called Michigan, which wasn't even on his list of five finalists. But they had filled their quota.

So he called Penn State, which accepted him with open arms. He said it was the school he always wanted to attend. Then the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and Schutt changed his mind. To his good fortune, he got a call from Ohio State's newly hired coach Urban Meyer. After visiting the campus, he committed as fast he could say "I'm a Buckeye."

Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, whose stock soared like Google after his record pass-catching performance in his team's 70-45 victory over Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A championship game, also had second thoughts about his college destination.

Westerkamp committed to Nebraska in May. At one time, he insisted he would never change his mind, that Nebraska was the place he was destined to attend, that he loved everything about the program. That was before Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called. Before you could say "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame," Westerkamp was on his way for a campus visit, claiming he was doing it as a favor to his mother, a long-suffering Irish fan.

"When I went up there (to Nebraska) for the spring game, I said to myself: 'This is where I want to spend the next four years," Westerkamp said.

Later, he said he had no intention of taking any other visits other than his trips to Lincoln in the summer and fall. "My recruiting process is over. I get mail from a couple of schools but that's about it. I don't receive any more calls or anything. I don't plan on going to any other schools for any other reason," Westerkamp said.

After visiting the Notre Dame campus and receiving an offer from Kelly in December, even the most loyal Nebraska fan was conceding that Westerkamp probably was going to change his mind and opt for Notre Dame. Imagine their reaction last Monday when he announced he was honoring his pledge to Nebraska.

"I had to go out and take that visit (to Notre Dame)," Westerkamp said. "I had to see if I felt the same way about Notre Dame as I did Nebraska. I didn't get that feeling about Notre Dame. I went with my heart."

Shouldn't there be an NCAA rule hast prohibits schools from offering scholarships to athletes who already are committed to other schools? There ought to be. Such a rule could restore a degree of credibility and respectability to an organization and a process that desperately needs both.

Remember Quinn Buckner? The Thornridge footballbasketball star was one of the most widely sought athletes of the early 1970s. John Wooden dispatched one of his assistants to personally evaluate him, a rarity for Wooden, who recruited most of his players this side of Lew Alcindor from southern California.

Buckner waited and waited until his father lost his patience and, in early July, ordered his son to make a decision. Finally, Quinn chose Indiana over UCLA. One reason was because Indiana allowed him to play football as a freshman. As a sophomore, he dropped the sport to concentrate on basketball.

Could Buckner wait until July to make a decision today? Could anyone? It isn't likely. It hasn't happened. But what if it did? What if the best basketball player in the country couldn't decide between Duke or North Carolina or Kansas or Kentucky?

"The current rules still allow a player to sign a grant-in-aid letter that isn't binding to either party until the player enrolls," said longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com. "The player would have to make up the missed summer hours that most players take in June and July to get a jump on the required hours toward graduation.

"No doubt it would be a major story nationally because of the potential to affect the preseason magazines and projections as it was with Buckner. It is manageable from a schoolplayer perspective but it would drive the Internet media absolutely bonkers as they tried to be the one in the know on what that player was going to do.

"The player would be able to play in the summer because he could head to prep school if he couldn't make his decision. So he could play right up to August when he would have to make a decision and enroll either in a post-graduate prep school or a four-year college. So he would have cameras following his every move. It looks like a reality show in the making. Maybe he could date a Kardashian."

How would the college coaches adjust to such a scenario? After all, they are used to persuading most prospects into making early commitments on their own time schedule. Kids are often pressured into committing early, worried that they might be passed over for another player, that there won't be a scholarship left for them, that they won't go to the school of their choice.

"When you are dealing with the top prospect in the class, coaches like Kentucky's John Calipari are going to find a scholarship to keep in their back pocket. They will hold one or create one. Remember, a fifth-year senior pays his own say," Coleman said.

"Most schools would hold a scholarship for a player who can make that kind of impact on a program, especially is you believe you are in the hunt for a national championship. Sure, the risk is great. But the reward of landing that kind of talent outweighs it.

"After all, in basketball, one player (like Derrick Rose or John Wall or Kyrie Irving) has proven he can change a program's fortunes in the first year. So an Alcindor level talent is a no-brainer for a coach with one spot to fill to make a run at a national title or a coach who is looking to change his program's fortunes."

Coleman said the bigger question is: What does it take or what would a coach do to land a Rose or Wall or Irving? "That would be the greater scenario that has the most meat and would be where the bigger story could lie," he said.

So what would a coach do? How far would he go? What would it take to land a player who will take your program to the promised land?

"It depends on the coach," Coleman said. "Some would bend rules or stand in the gray area, like washing his car every day on the player's route to school or just happen to be eating at a local pizza parlor that the player is known to frequent.

"Some would just happen to show up at practice (in non-evaluation or contact periods) or waive any believe in other contact rules (phones). While others might do a variety of illegal things, like inviting a prospect to his house during a non-contact visit or providing girls on campus visits or making payments to AAU coaches or handlers or making payments to players or their families or hire family members or coaches. And the whole thing can escalate to offering cars, houses and lock boxes with money."

Coleman and Lemming, who have been observing and monitoring the recruiting process since the late 1970s, have been witness to the fact that all of these things -- and more -- have been done to get a great player. And they still are being done today. And no college is immune from the temptation.

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

A Jose Abreu awakening could make an already productive White Sox offense even more fearsome

Hitting has not been the biggest problem for the White Sox. But even after a win to kick off this week's series against the Baltimore Orioles, they're still under .500 and in fourth place in the aggressively weak AL Central.

There's a ton of baseball left, and their spot in the standings on April 22 indicates nothing about where they'll be at the end of September. But the issues that have cropped up in the early going — many of them having to do with what's gone on on the pitcher's mound — have signaled that another losing season in the thick of the ongoing rebuilding process wouldn't come as a great shock.

That point being established, there's still been more to smile about in the early going this season than there was perhaps in the entirety of the 2018 campaign, what Rick Hahn described from the beginning as "the toughest part of the rebuild." That turned out to be prescient, with the White Sox losing 100 games. This year, the early season emergence of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and, to a lesser extent, Eloy Jimenez have made it so there are exciting reasons to pay attention to what's going on on the South Side, all the while making for a lineup that can push across a good deal of runs.

Now imagine if Jose Abreu wasn't hitting below the Mendoza Line.

He's not anymore after a big night Monday, but the guy who's arguably still the team's best hitter when everything's right hasn't been right very often so far in 2019. That could be starting to change, though, and if it does, a lineup that's already a heck of a lot more threatening to opposing pitchers than it was at any point in 2018 could become even more fearsome, even more productive. And that leads to more wins, important not just for fans hoping for a surprise run at relevancy given the weak state of the division, but for a team building a lineup for the future that it hopes is scoring a whole bunch of runs in meaningful games in seasons to come.

Abreu went 3-for-5 in Monday night's 12-2 laugher in Baltimore, the White Sox bats looking even better with an opportunity to feast on Orioles pitching, which entered as the worst staff in the majors with a 6.21 ERA and owned a 6.37 ERA after Monday's blowout. But it's a three-game hitting streak for a guy whose average was down to .174 after Thursday's series-opener in Detroit. Since, he's 6-for-15 with a homer and seven RBIs.

Maybe it's just a nice three-game stretch, boosted by a chance to swing against the big leagues' worst pitching staff. But it allows the White Sox to dream about a lineup made ever more dangerous by the regular production of a two-time All Star and one of the AL's reigning Silver Sluggers.

Again, offense has not been the main reason the White Sox are still underwater, from a win-loss perspective, at this point. They aren't exactly blowing the doors off the league when it comes to their offensive prowess, middle of the pack in baseball with 106 runs scored this season. But they entered Monday's game with a 5.44 team ERA, one of the four worst marks in the bigs. The bullpen's ERAs are still on their way down after short outings from the starting staff in the season's first couple of weeks forced them into unenviable situations. One run allowed in Monday's bullpen day should help with that. The team ERA shot down to 5.27 after Monday's game, still not enough to vault them out of the bottom six teams in the league.

But reliable versions of Anderson (who's still hitting over .400), Moncada and Jimenez are pieces this lineup didn't have last year, and they've been three of the best parts of it so far in 2019. Leury Garcia has been quietly productive if not flashy while doing it. James McCann, who hit a three-run homer to start the scoring in Monday night's rout, has put up good numbers in limited time while splitting catching duties with Welington Castillo. Even Ryan Cordell, only the team's starting right fielder for a few days, has shown promise with a couple homers already. There have been holes, of course, chiefly Yolmer Sanchez — who was still hitting under .100 on April 13 but is now batting .231 after a three-hit night Monday — and the sent-down Daniel Palka. Abreu and Yonder Alonso, in the middle of the White Sox order, have been unproductive, as well, while the younger guys have flourished around them.

But an Abreu turnaround — or, really, an awakening, considering how early it still is — would boost the numbers and make the lineup capable of even more on a regular basis.

It could also be another factor in the ongoing conversation about a potential Abreu contract extension. While Hahn has suggested it's unlikely that such a deal would be struck during the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see it come before Abreu is set to hit free agency once the 2019-20 offseason begins. The White Sox are such big fans of what Abreu does in the clubhouse and as a mentor for younger players that production might not play as big a role as it normally would. But obviously the consistency of that production in Abreu's first five big league seasons certainly helps. To keep that production going with a late-April awakening would be all the more reason to keep Abreu around for the transition from rebuilding to contending.

The White Sox lineup has been promising to this point. It could become downright potent if Abreu starts knocking the ball around as we all know he can.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: The bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

Mark Schanowski, Mark Carman and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs take 2 out of 3 from the D'Backs thanks to a surprisingly solid start from Tyler Chatwood. Should the Cubs trust him more than they trust Yu Darvish? Meanwhile, the bullpen falters twice. Is it time to call Craig Kimbrel?

12:00- The guys preview the huge series against the Dodgers at Wrigley.

16:00- The White Sox lose 2 of 3 in Detroit but Kap is still excited about the future.

20:00- The NBA Eastern Conference playoffs are becoming a fight. So who will win the East? And can anybody even threaten the Warriors?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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