Cubs

Where are the best basketball venues?

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Where are the best basketball venues?

The holiday basketball tournament season is a recent memory, a time when some hoop-happy fans travel throughout the state during a one-week period to see as many games at as many events as they can squeeze into their schedule...from Collinsville to Carbondale to Centralia to Bloomington to Pontiac to Kankakee to Rich South to Lincoln-Way to Proviso West to York to Lemont to East Aurora to Wheeling to Elgin to De Kalb.

Heath and Jaryt Hunziker have been there and done that. But they have gone a step farther. Their mission has been to visit the cathedrals of high school basketball in Illinois, the arenas or fieldhouses or gymnasiums that are filled with tradition, the high school versions of Madison Square Garden and Allen Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena and Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Dome and Pauley Pavilion.

"Each year, my brother and I coordinate a basketball trip to a state with rich basketball tradition to accomplish three things: motivate and prepare us for the upcoming high school season, play games in the state's storied high school gyms and learn the histories of the great programs,"
Heath Hunziker said.

"Two years ago, we had a humbling opportunity to travel through Indiana and tour and play a few games on such historic high school, college and professional gyms as Assembly Hall at Indiana, Chrysler Fieldhouse in New Castle, Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Conseco Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, the Wigwam in Anderson, Everett Case Arena in Frankfort and Memory Hall in Lebanon. It is an experience that we still talk about."

In Illinois, the Hunzikers have visited old Trout Gym in Centralia, Duster Thomas Gym in Pinckneyville, Max Morris Gym in Frankfort, Stan Changnon Gym in Mount Vernon, Wharton Field House in Moline, gyms at Teutopolis, Peoria Manual, Benet and Hebron, Sunset Woods Park in Highland and Loyola University's old Alumni Gym.

They also attended the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Milan, Indiana, team that the popular motion picture Hoosiers was based on, the 50th anniversary of Collinsville's 1961 state championship team and the inaugural induction ceremony for the Pinckneyville-based Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum. And they plan to attend the 60th anniversary of the 1952 Hebron state championship team.

"What I enjoy about high school basketball is that it is pure, similar to the college game," Heath Hunziker said. "Coaching makes a big difference in a team being good or great. Most kids play because it is fun and they love it, except for the money or fame. Ad I think one last reason is the tradition and history of the teams that you are watching. Most of the programs have been around since the early 1900s."

Heath Hunziker, 33, currently lives in Bloomington, Illinois. But his family is from Kahoka, Missouri, a rural community in the northeast corner of the state, 40 miles from Quincy, Illinois. Heath and his twin brother Jaryt were hooked on basketball from the time their father introduced them to the game when they were in elementary school. They played on their father's traveling team that competed in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois.

"It was during our school years that we watched all of the Illinois state tournament games on the Quincy television station," Heath said. "We learned about Illinois' rich basketball history and its most successful programs from those broadcasts. In addition, we would read about Illinois high school basketball while perusing the newspaper for scores and articles because the Quincy media covered northeast Missouri sports as well."

For years, Heath and Jaryt discussed traveling to Indiana to play two-on-two games at some of the historic gyms in Indianapolis and throughout the state. Finally, in 2008, they realized their dream. At the time, Indiana boasted 15 of the 16 largest high school gyms in the nation so they scheduled visits to several of them. Afterward, they planned a similar trip to Illinois in 2010.

"I am a fan of old gyms that hold tradition and coaches using that tradition and success to build their programs," Heath said. "There is nothing better than playing in a gym where some of the state's greatest players, coaches and teams have played."

During their Indiana trip, the Hunzikers had an opportunity to talk to Hoosier legend Rick Mount in his hometown of Lebanon. They were equally excited to talk with Phil Judson about the 1952 Hebron team.

They said they were "amazed" to see old Trout Gym in Centralia. Former mayor John Stuehmeier met them at the old school and gave them a tour. They also talked to Centralia old-timers Butch Border and Bill "Pops" Taylor.
Built in 1943, Trout and the old school have been replaced by a new building and gym that retains much of the tradition that former coach Arthur Trout and legendary stars Dike Eddleman and Bobby Joe Mason established.

"There are a lot of elements of the old gym that are astounding, including the stain glass window that Arthur Trout had installed with some of his values such as "of sound body, of sound mind" inscribed in Latin,"
Heath said. "The staircase behind the basket, the Radio WRXX box and the balcony all are parts of the gym's historic environment."

They also were impressed with Wharton Fieldhouse in Moline, Stan Changnon Gym in Mount Vernon and Duster Thomas Gym in Pinckneyville. Built in 1927, the 6,500-seat Wharton Fieldhouse is barn-like structure that is Moline's home court and home to the MolineRock Island series that is the oldest rivalry in the state.

"I thought Duster Thomas Gym in Pinckneyville was an interesting gym as well," Heath said. "It is strange when you walk towards the entrance from the parking lot and you open the doors to a very unique gym, a gym built under ground level.

"The school colors, the photos of the championship teams in the corners of the gym and the bleachers wrapping around the court make it unique. I remember one of the coaches telling me that when the community voted to build the gym, one of the conditions was that the doors would be open for anyone to come in and play ball."

The Hunzikers said they still have a lot of "hidden gems" to explore throughout Illinois. For example, they would like to visit Cobden and Tamms and relive the magic of Cobden's 1964 team that lost to Pekin in the state final and Tamms' Chico Vaughn, the state's all-time leading scorer.

The Chicago area is another destination. While the history of basketball in the city and suburbs dates mostly to the 1950s and 1960s, falling short of the traditions established in the 1940s by Centralia, Mount Vernon, Paris, Champaign, Decatur, Taylorville and Pinckneyville, there are many sites that the Hunzikers plan to add to their travel itinerary.

The gym where Lou Boudreau and Thornton's Flying Clouds played in 1933,
1934 and 1935 is long gone. But the current facility in Harvey, built in the 1950s, has been home to some of the great teams and players in state history.

Proviso East in Maywood has produced four state championship teams since 1969. Marshall's small gym dates to George Wilson and the Commandos' unbeaten 1958 powerhouse, the first all-black team to win a state championship. Du Sable dates to 1954 and the fabled Sweet Charlie BrownPaxton LumpkinShellie McMillon team that finished lost to Mount Vernon in one of the most controversial state finals.

The gyms at Carver, Crane, Farragut, Englewood, Cooley, Cregier and old Westinghouse are gone. Whitney Young and Simeon are cathedrals compared to Phillips, Hirsch, Tilden, Manley, Vocational, Roosevelt and Von Steuben.

But the great teams and players who played there...Pete Cunningham, Cazzie Russell, Eugene Ford, James Jackson, Mark Aguirre, Eddie Johnson, Hersey Hawkins, Rickey Green, Johnny Kerr, Russell Cross, Lou Landt, Juwan Howard, Larry Williams...will never be forgotten.

The Hunzikers don't want to forget, either.

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Tim Anderson helped off field with ankle sprain, will be reevaluated Wednesday

Tim Anderson helped off field with ankle sprain, will be reevaluated Wednesday

White Sox fans saw a sight they hoped they'd never see Tuesday night.

Tim Anderson was helped off the field with an ankle injury in the fifth inning of Tuesday night's game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, hurt while making a play on a ground ball on a wet night in Massachusetts.

The White Sox announced later in the evening that Anderson has a sprained ankle and that X-rays were negative. The team added that Anderson will be reevaluated Wednesday.

Anderson made an on-the-run throw to nab J.D. Martinez at first base, but a play that Anderson has made look fairly routine over the past couple seasons this time included a slip on the rain-soaked infield. The White Sox star shortstop fell to the ground in pain immediately. After having his ankle briefly checked by the trainer, Anderson was helped off the field, into the dugout and into the clubhouse.

The rain poured down on Fenway Park on Tuesday night. The start of the game was delayed a half hour, but the teams played through steady rains throughout, worsening playing conditions, something the White Sox and every team across baseball have had to deal with quite often this season.

The degree of Anderson's ankle sprain is unknown, but the sight of him coming off the field was a nightmarish one for the White Sox and their fans. A sigh of relief came with the team's update, which did not include the words "Achilles" or "tear."

Anderson has emerged as one of the faces of the franchise this season, earning AL Player of the Month honors after a sensational April and earning national attention for flipping his bat after home runs and his mission to make what he calls a "boring" game more fun. He's got a .317/.342/.491 slash line on the season.

Anderson is undoubtedly a core piece for the rebuilding White Sox, who can pen him in as their shortstop of the future as well as the present.

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