White Sox

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.

What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

What White Sox fans wanted to know from Rick Hahn and Rick Renteria at SoxFest

SoxFest brings the opportunity for fans to question team brass. And sometimes things can get a bit fiery.

This year, however, it was more of a victory lap for Rick Hahn after he loaded up the roster with an incredible amount of offseason acquisitions. Rick Renteria, too, got plenty of adulation after he came out and said the White Sox have their sights on reaching the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

But there were still questions. Fans stepped up to the microphone and got some answers out of Hahn and Renteria during a pair of panels Friday and Saturday.

Here are some of the more interesting and pertinent questions and answers from the two sessions.

Extensions for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito?

The White Sox have made headlines in each of the last two offseasons by handing out big-money extensions to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert before they played a game in the major leagues. But Saturday brought a fan question about whether the team was planning more extensions, specifically ones for Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, two guys who broke out in a big way in 2019 and established themselves as the team's best all-around hitter and the ace of the starting staff, respectively.

These are not terribly pressing matters, obviously, as both guys are under team control for another four seasons. But the longer they go on their current deals and the longer they're allowed to keep improving, the more expensive they'll become to retain.

Hahn said that it's a White Sox priority to keep all of their talented young players together for as long as possible. He also mentioned that it has long been a part of the plan during the rebuilding process to be aggressive on extensions, as the team has shown with the deals for Jimenez and Robert. Players earn the right to reach free agency and explore the open market, but the White Sox do have a pretty good track record of retaining their own players, often on deals that have allowed them to keep some financial flexibility.

Tim Anderson in right field?

Whether it was a legitimate strategy proposal or a makeshift way to get Yolmer Sanchez back to the South Side, one fan suggested moving Tim Anderson to right field, pointing out Anderson's large number of errors at shortstop and that moving Anderson off the position would open room for Sanchez to work his defensive wonders on a daily basis.

Well, that suggestion didn't get much consideration from Renteria, who said rather definitively he will not be playing Anderson in right field.

The question might not have been the most realistic suggestion, but it allowed Renteria to express his belief in Anderson's defense. Though Anderson has made a ton of errors at shortstop — 88 of them in his four big league seasons — he continues to receive rave reviews from White Sox brass. Renteria said Saturday he believes Anderson will be "an elite shortstop in the big leagues," and Hahn said this weekend he believes Anderson will be a Gold Glove finalist one day.

As for Sanchez, he's still on the free-agent market despite winning a Gold Glove in 2019. And while the White Sox have shortstop spoken for with Anderson and second base spoken for with Nick Madrigal, eventually, Hahn was asked about the likelihood of a Sanchez return Friday night and basically reminded everyone to never say never.

More starting pitching?

Hahn said Thursday that while there likely won't be any more big-ticket additions, the White Sox busy winter might not be completely over just yet, with minor moves still being discussed by the front office. More starting pitching would seem to make plenty of sense considering there's not a ton of depth behind the five guys slated to make up the Opening Day rotation: Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gio Gonzalez. Considering the plan for Michael Kopech has yet to be finalized and Dylan Covey is no longer with the organization, some small additions like the Ervin Santana deal last spring would be logical.

One fan asked why not add a slightly bigger ticket item, specifically bringing up free-agent pitcher Taijuan Walker, to further bolster the starting staff. Hahn wouldn't close the door on adding more starting pitchers but pointed out that because of the depth the White Sox have on the way — with Kopech factoring into things somehow and Carlos Rodon, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert all working their way back from Tommy John surgery — the White Sox might not be the most attractive destination for a mid- or bottom-of-the-rotation pitcher, who could see his opportunity to pitch vanish once all those arms return to full strength.

A return for Dane Dunning?

Speaking of starting-pitching depth on the way, Hahn did offer up some sort of timeline for one of those guys, saying that Dunning could be pitching for a minor league affiliate come "June-ish." That's a made-up month on the same level as "Smarch," but it's also a good sign for the White Sox, who saw Dunning flying through the system before his injury.

Hahn said at last year's SoxFest that if not for the arm injury he suffered in 2018, Dunning could have factored into the Opening Day rotation for the 2019 season. Considering that level of potential readiness — a level most likely altered in some fashion by the surgery and long layoff — Dunning might be someone who could play a role in the 2020 season.

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4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

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MiLB

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

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