Bulls

Who is the real Aaron Simpson?

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Who is the real Aaron Simpson?

North Chicago's Aaron Simpson is a contradiction in sneakers. The 5-foot-11 senior guard averages nearly 30 points per game but insists he doesn't want to be the star of his team. He is described as a quiet and humble kid who declined to be team captain because he is "too nice a guy" and doesn't like to yell at other players.

But when the lights go on and the gym is filled with people, Simpson performs like Frank Sinatra at Carnegie Hall. It's Showtime. Coach Gerald Coleman insists he could average 40 points per game if he didn't try to turn every drive to the hoop into a Michael Jordan poster, if he didn't judge some shots by degree of difficulty.

"The coach is right," Simpson said. "I try to make the game harder than it is. I love to put on a show in front of a big crowd. It makes me play better. I go to the basket and do an up-and-under with my left hand and sometimes it won't go in. I could average 40 points per game. But I'm having a good time this year.

"It isn't all about winning games as long as we win in March. I'm having fun right now. In March, we'll get serious. This team has more offense and is more focused that last year's team (that finished fourth in Class 3A despite a 13-16 record). We think we're good enough to win the state championship this year."

How good is Simpson? Is he only a scorer, a one-dimensional player? Will he be a good fit at his chosen school, Illinois State? Or is he capable of playing at a higher level? How much better can he be? Can he accomplish his goal of being Mr. Basketball in Illinois in 2012? Is he in a class with Simeon's Jabari Parker?

"As an offensive player, on a scale of 1 to 10, he is probably a 9," said North Chicago coach Coleman. "He must get stronger on defense. He needs more body strength and needs to hit the weight room. But his offense will take care of itself at the next level.

"What people don't know about him is he would prefer to have 30 assists and 10 points per game. He is a better passer than a scorer but nobody knows it in high school. The real Simpson is seen in AAU competition...the total game, better defensive player, better assist player. But you see his offensive side in high school because he has to score for us to win."

Simpson credits former Chicago Bulls player Dickey Simpkins of the Next Level Performance training company in Lincolnshire for his development. He has been working with Simpkins since seventh grade and playing with and competing against some of the best high school players in the country on the AAU circuit.

"I went to (NLP) to learn more about the game," Simpson said. "When I went there, I only knew how to score. I didn't know anything about defense. I wanted to learn how to dribble, how to be a better person, to be a man instead of just a basketball player.

"It has been a great experience, like family forever. I have improved on my attitude with referees. I've gotten better with my decision-making on and off the court and I've become a better player on defense.

"If I could be a person that isn't on everyone's scouting report, I'd like to be a role player. I don't want to be the star of the team. I prefer to be an assist man. I like to see my teammates score. It shows it isn't all about me.

"Sure, they are recruiting me as a scorer in college. But I want to be an all-around player. I don't like to be labeled as a scorer. People think that is all I can do. I want people to say that I'm an all-around player."

Simpkins has helped to train and develop Simpson into an all-around player. He believes he could play at a higher level but insists Illinois State is a good fit and provides an excellent opportunity for Simpson "to make a name for himself in the Missouri Valley." He also believes Simpson and Jabari Parker are the two leading candidates for the Mr. Basketball prize and Simpson "is putting in a good campaign for it."

"He is definitely a high-major player," Simpkins said. "He is a scorer who can put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. He has to score in high school. But he can do everything. He has a good feel for the game. He has a high basketball IQ. He was doing things in seventh and eighth grade that most juniors and seniors in high school couldn't do at the time.

"He has an Allen Iverson-type body structure and that type of game. He has grown into his athleticism. He can score and pass and defend. He can play point guard or shooting guard. He can play in the NCAA for any school. But ISU is a good fit for him across the board."

Recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye also have been impressed with Simpson and also believe he made the right college choice.

"Simpson is a scorer first and foremost and there is no question that he can put points on the board in a hurry," they said. "He is capable of scoring in a variety of ways, whether driving to the basket, getting out on the break or shooting from behind the three-point line. He also has great speed from baseline to baseline and we like the fact that he is a tough and competitive and has a winning edge.

"If Simpson had the playmaking skills to match his scoring ability, he would be a high major player. Nevertheless, he is perfectly suited for the Missouri Valley and has the potential to provide Illinois State with the same offensive punch that (former Phillips star) Osiris Eldridge did."

Simpkins and Coleman advised Simpson not to get caught up in big-name college programs or high-profile coaches or Dick Vitale-type hype, to pick a school where he can make a name for himself and achieve his dreams. When Simpson chose ISU, everyone felt he had made the right decision.

"Kids understand that if you are good enough, it doesn't matter where you play, mid-major or major or NAIA, you will be seen wherever you play if you have the ability to play," Simpkins said.

"When he came to us in seventh grade, everybody connected with AAU wanted him to play for them. But he understood and bought into what we taught him and he benefited from our mentoring and believed we had his best interest in mind. He was loyal to our program all the time."

Simpson is loyal to Coleman and the North Chicago program, too. As a sophomore he wore No. 23, Michael Jordan's number. But he broke a finger and was devastated when he couldn't help his brother Michael and his team qualify for the state finals. His brother wore No. 1. Now Aaron does.

"This is all for Michael," Aaron said. "Everything I do is for him."

North Chicago is 6-1 going into its game against Culver (Ind.) Military Academy in the opening round of the State Farm Classic in Bloomington on Dec. 27. The Warhawks, whose only loss was to highly rated Warren on a last-second shot, are the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Along the way, he could surpass Josh Allen as North Chicago's all-time leading scorer.

Even though he is averaging nearly 30 points per game, Simpson knows he can't win a state title all by himself. This year, he has plenty of help.
Eight other players returned from last year's Final Four squad. According to Coleman, they are quicker and closer and more athletic than a year ago.

Other major contributors are 6-foot-2 senior Marszhon Bryant (13 ppg, 10 rpg), an outstanding rebounder and defender who had 20 points and 16 rebounds against Lakes in a recent game; 6-foot-4 sophomore Amos Mays (15 ppg), a transfer from Zion-Benton; and 6-foot-5 sophomore Kurt Hall (6 ppg, 7 rpg).

"We were 0-5 at this time last year; now we're 6-1," Coleman said. "We are very talented. We think we can win Class 3A this year. But we need Simpson to be our leader. This team will go as far as he plays. He has to take every game as though he is going to the next level.

"He is too nice a guy. He doesn't like to be in the limelight but he wants to put on a show. He is the only player I have had in six years that I allow to have fun on the floor. He gets away with things this year that I normally wouldn't let him get away with. But my job is to prepare him mentally to handle coaches at the Division I level and we've done that."

"I want to put up a performance for fans and win a game," Simpson summed up. "We want to go Downstate again this year. But we don't want to go for a vacation, which is what people thought we did last year when we lost, that we didn't go to take care of business. This year, we'll be all business."

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one--again.

Bulls' interest in Michael Porter Jr. promises to make draft night an eventful one--again.

Draft night has been accompanied by much speculation with the Bulls the last two seasons and Thursday is shaping up to fall right in line with recent history, as many believe the franchise has its eyes set on Missouri swingman Michael Porter, Jr.

According to several league sources the Bulls have inquired about moving up from the seventh spot in the draft to either the third or fourth spot, positions currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.

Team sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com there’s no truth to the speculation, nor would they entertain the notion of such efforts geared toward selecting Porter Jr., who only played three games this past season at Missouri, sandwiched between back surgery in mid-November.

Things haven’t quite settled with the teams above the Bulls, as most teams have been engaged in some form of trade talk as the draft is a little over 48 hours away. The Bulls were firmly engaged with teams the last two seasons as teams were interested in Jimmy Butler. The Bulls held back on trading him in 2016 before kickstarting their rebuild last June, sending him to Minnesota. 

Depending on who you believe, the Bulls are either engaging in similar conversation to move up for Porter--they were told weeks ago Porter wouldn't last to the seventh spot. But there appears to be a scenario where Porter Jr. could fall to them--a risky but not impossible proposition if Porter Jr. is truly their man. 

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton appears to be a lock for the Phoenix Suns with the first pick, and Duke big man Marvin Bagley III looks headed for Sacramento, although Bagley isn’t a shoo-in. There’s a segment of the Sacramento front office that’s enamored with Porter Jr, sources tell NBCSportsChicago.com, and things could get tricky over the next couple days.

Dallas, selecting fifth, likes Porter Jr. as well but it seems unlikely it’ll pass on Real Madrid star Luka Doncic if he slips past Atlanta and Memphis. If that happens, there’s a path for the Bulls to stand pat and get a player with star potential without having to sacrifice an asset already on the roster or their second first-round pick, which they acquired in the Nikola Mirotic deal this past season.

Oklahoma point guard Trae Young has been in Chicago for a workout, along with the likes of big men Mohamed Bamba from Texas and Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr. Villanova’s Mikal Bridges also made a visit and each spoke to media following their workouts.

Porter Jr. has been in Chicago preparing for the draft for the last several weeks. His agent, Mark Bartlestein of Priority Sports, is based in Chicago and has a working relationship with the Bulls.

The Bulls medical staff was the lone NBA team to evaluate Porter Jr. before distributing the results to the other teams, ramping up speculation of a potential marriage between Porter Jr. and the Bulls.

Bulls executive-vice president John Paxson has said the team would look for the best player available as opposed to need, but Porter Jr.—if completely healthy—checks off multiple boxes for the franchise should the speculation have truth behind it.

The Bulls, with everything they obviously did with their lineups to finish the season to not-so-subtly position themselves to take a star, could be tempted to take Porter Jr. if he’s there, even with the question marks.

Before the college season began and his subsequent injury took him out of the conversation, Porter Jr. was mentioned as a top pick in a talent-laden draft. A swingman with a smooth stroke, it was believed he would dominate the college season before taking the next step.

The injury understandably splashed cold water on those prognostications and Porter Jr. has been careful in his rehab, even suffering a minor setback with hip spams right before a second “pro day” was to take place in Chicago last week.

“I saw him in the first workout,” a personnel man for a western conference team said. “He moved good but what he didn’t have was balance. He was dunking but didn’t explode off the floor. The second half, he shot the ball really well. Floaters, off the dribble, spot-ups, he was hitting everything. That’s when I saw what everybody was talking about. His athleticism has to come back and they say it will.”

The workout was important for Porter Jr. to establish fluidity of movement following his back injury as well as reminding those who had only seen him against prep competition or at the Adidas Nations showcase in Houston last August about his skill set.

“He’s a natural scorer,” a general manager in attendance for Porter Jr.’s showing in Houston and Chicago. “He’s not a super athlete, more long than anything. He knows how to score. He’s not KD (Kevin Durant), he’s more like (Boston Celtics forward) Jayson Tatum. Tatum got drafted into the right environment. It’s all about fit.”

Ideally, Porter Jr. could fit next to Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine as a primary scorer, giving the Bulls dynamic, versatile scorers at the toughest positions to gameplan for in the NBA.

Tatum was thrust into the spotlight for the Celtics due to Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on opening night, and had even more responsibility after Kyrie Irving’s late-season injury, performing admirably as the Celtics advanced to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Tatum is one of the finalists for the rookie of the year, which will be announced next Monday. Porter Jr. is three inches taller than Tatum, at 6-foot-11, but he’ll also have to adjust to the physicality of the league relative to his most recent consistent competition.

His back injury is still cause for pause for a few franchises, though, despite the clean bill of health.

“I don’t know if it would deter me from taking him but if anyone says it’s not a factor in your thinking is lying,” the general manager told NBCSportsChicago.com.

The personnel man agrees.

“It does (worry me), a bit,” he said. “But because he’s so big and so freaking talented, I’d consider taking him. If you can go in a situation where it isn’t career threatening, you gotta roll with him. You get a few months to get his strength back, you bring him along slowly to make sure everything’s in working order by the time the season starts.”

That’s a question the Bulls will have to answer if their affection for Porter Jr. is as real as it seems.

“At some point he becomes worth the risk, right? Chicago can’t pass him up, can they?”- the personnel man queried.

That’s the question Chicago has been trying to figure out for weeks now, and the answer will soon be revealed.

NBC Sports Chicago to provide extensive, multi-platform coverage of 2018 NBA Draft

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NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to provide extensive, multi-platform coverage of 2018 NBA Draft

Chicago, IL (June 19, 2018) – With the Chicago Bulls holding TWO first round picks (#7 & #22 overall), NBC Sports Chicago is ready to deliver extensive multi-platform coverage of this Thursday night’s massively-anticipated 2018 NBA Draft highlighted by a special remote edition of “SportsTalk Live” from the Bulls/NBA Draft headquarters at Advocate Center, live draft pick reaction cut-ins during the network’s White Sox & Cubs telecasts, a post-draft recap edition of “In the Loop,” full-blown digital & social media coverage, and much more!  Please note NBC Sports Chicago’s multi-platform 2018 NBA Draft coverage details:

THURSDAY, JUNE 21

  • 5:30 PM -- Special NBA Draft preview edition of “SportsTalk Live presented by The Chevy Silverado” with host David Kaplan (@thekapman), and featuring NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls/NBA experts Mark Schanowski (@MarkSchanowski), Kendall Gill (@KendallG13), Will Perdue (@Will_Perdue32), and Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill), along with additional Bulls/NBA Draft experts LIVE from the Bulls/NBA Draft headquarters at the Advocate Center. (NOTE: Live stream available to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app) 
  • Between 7:15-8:00 PM (time approx.) -- Live #7 pick reaction cut-ins during NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs (airing on NBC Sports Chicago) & White Sox (airing on NBC Sports Chicago+) telecasts featuring draft pick reaction/commentary via Schanowski, Gill, Perdue, and Goodwill. (NOTE: Live stream available at NBCSportsChicago.com)
  • 10:30 PM (time approx.) -- “In the Loop presented by GMC” - Featuring Schanowski, Gill, Perdue, and Goodwill, In the Loop will dive into detailed discussion surrounding the Bulls two first round picks, along with showcasing podium moment highlights/interviews featuring the new Bulls rookies from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, an overview of every trade made throughout the evening, plus, post-draft press conference coverage featuring Bulls Executive VP/Basketball Operations John Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman. (NOTE: Live stream available to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers at NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app)
  • NBCSportsChicago.com – NBC Sports Chicago’s Bulls “Insider” Vincent Goodwill and digital reporter/producer Mark Strotman (@markstrot) will also provide fans with thorough digital coverage of the Draft from the Advocate Center on Thursday night, which will include a Draft Night overview from Goodwill, along with his write-ups on if the Bulls top pick represents the team’s patience or haste in regards to the rebuilding process, plus a preview piece on “boom or bust” candidates who will likely be available at the #7 slot.  Strotman will be delivering real-time coverage/commentary throughout the night via NBC Sports Chicago’s always-entertaining Bulls Twitter handle @NBCSBulls.  For full NBA Draft content and videos, fans are urged to visit the network’s dedicated Bulls section at NBCSportsChicago.com/Bulls.  

Additional coverage highlights leading up to and throughout Draft Night…

  • SOCIAL MEDIA:
  • Leading up to the Draft, NBC Sports Chicago has created an “On The Clock” feature on both NBCSportsChicago.com and @NBCSBulls on Twitter. “On The Clock” is a breakdown of all the top first-round prospects and features player profile analysis via Schanowski, Goodwill, and NBC Sports college basketball expert Rob Dauster
  • On Thursday night, fans are also urged to check out a special Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago) segment (starting the moment the 4th pick is on the clock) featuring reaction/commentary from Schanowski, Gill, and Perdue all the way through the Bulls #7 pick in the Draft (to also stream live on NBCSportsChicago.com)…which will be followed by a fan-interactive segment as the trio respond to fan quetions.  In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will carry a live Twitter (@NBCSChicago) Periscope look-in to the John Paxson press conference later in the evening.
  • NBA Draft/Advocate Center “Sights & Sounds” moments on Thursday night will be provided via Snapchat (‘NBCSChicago’), along with additional photos/quick video offerings from ‘NBCSChicago’ through Instagram and Instagram Stories
  • PODCASTS: Fans also can look forward to a pair of NBA Draft-specific editions of NBC Sports Chicago’s popular “BullsTalk PODCAST” this week featuring Schanowski, Gill, Strotman, and additional special guests. Fans can download all of NBC Sports Chicago’s podcasts at NBCSportsChicago.com/podcasts and simply subscribe to them via Apple Podcasts, Google Play or Stitcher.  The podcasts can be played on any mobile device, laptop, or desktop computer.
     

NOTE: NBC Sports Chicago will announce its multi-platform Chicago Blackhawks/NHL Draft coverage details tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, June 20).