Bears

Who was the best of the holidays?

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Who was the best of the holidays?

Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye are two of the leading recruiting analysts in the nation. For 26 years, they have provided an insightful and comprehensive evaluation of the best high school basketball players in Illinois. During the recent Christmas holidays, they attended seven tournaments from Pontiac to Wheeling. Here is what they saw and how
they saw it:Best team: Simeon. Coach Robert Smith's defense is more effective than his offense. Remember, defense wins championships. But Proviso East has closed the gap. The Pirates have almost as much depth. But do they have a clear-cut difference-maker? Will Keith Carter continue to provide the consistent spark that he did at Proviso West?Best player: Jabari Parker. Even though he didn't dominate every game at Pontiac, he stepped up when his team needed it the most. Steve Taylor was more consistent but Parker stepped up when it mattered the most in the 48-47 semifinal victory over Peoria Manual.All-Holiday Tournament Team: Jabari Parker, Steve Taylor, Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East; Donald Moore, Bloom.Best shooters: Mike Fleming, Stevenson; Mike LaTulip, Prospect. Fleming made significant strides with his game. He was MVP at Wheeling. When they went head-to-head at Wheeling, Fleming scored 28, LaTulip 18.Best rebounder: Steve Taylor, Simeon. As usual, he went to war in every game at Pontiac. He is an ideal 34 forward for Marquette's program.Best shot blocker: Cliff Alexander, Curie. More than anyone else, the 6-foot-9 sophomore has the best natural ability to block shots.Best playmaker: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. He is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker as any point guard in the class of 2014.Best defenders: Kendrick Nunn, Simeon; Keith Carter, Proviso East. Carter did an outstanding job against Rockford Auburn's Fred Van Vleet, limiting the Wichita State recruit to 10 points.Best free throw shooter: Mike LaTulip, Prospect. He converts 90 percent of his free throws.Most intimidating player: Jahlil Okafor, Whitney Young. There isn't a more unstoppable post player at the high school level than the 6-foot-10 sophomore.Best passer: Jalen James, Hope Academy. The Illinois recruit does a tremendous job of pushing the ball up the floor.Best ball-handler: Tyler Ulis, Marian Catholic. Not only does he have great ball-handling ability but has the uncanny knack for lulling defenders to sleep while exploding to the basket.Best coach: Rick Kehoe, St. Ignatius. He did an outstanding job in guiding his team to the championship at the Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York. He always has his teams prepared and ready to play and wins despite not always having the best talent.Best player you've never heard of: Ore Arogundade, St. Viator. The 6-foot-3 sophomore guard has the potential to be a high-major college player. He was all-tournament at Wheeling. He scored 18 against Naperville Central, 25 against Prospect.Players whose stock sky-rocketed: Sean O'Mara, Benet; Juwan Starks, West Aurora. O'Mara, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, has clearly shown that he is behind only Jahlil Okafor of Whitney Young and Cliff Alexander of Curie as one of the premier post players in the class of 2014. Starks, a 6-foot-4 senior, has firmly established himself as a Division I recruit for the spring signing period.Best game: Simeon 48, Peoria Manual 47, Pontiac semifinal. "The third quarter was possibly the best quarter of basketball action I've seen at Pontiac in 26 years," Roy Schmidt said. "Just non-stop action and intensity."Teams to watch in the New Year: Naperville Central, St. Ignatius, Metea Valley, Plainfield East. Naperville Central beat St. Viator, Libertyville and Stevenson to win at Wheeling. St. Ignatius upset Downers Grove South and De La Salle to win at York. Both proved they can compete against top-level competition but will continue to be tested in their respective conferences.Biggest disappointments: Cliff Alexander, Curie; Homewood-Flossmoor. Alexander wasn't a focal point on offense in any game at Pontiac and relies too much on his athletic ability instead of being a dominant presence. Time is running out on H-F to prove its worth. They have been highly touted for three years and still have trouble getting over the hump in big games.Best playincident I'm glad I saw: At the risk of being redundant, the entire third quarter of the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.Best playincident I wish I had seen: Overall good free throw shooting. Do teams even practice free throw shooting anymore? It cost several teams opportunities to win games.Best story: Marshall finished third in the Normandy tournament in St. Louis without its best player, 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle, who was forced to stay home with the flu. Corbin McClain, Derrick Miles and Citron Miller stepped up big for coach Henry Cotton's Commandoes, who are 11-2.Best conference: Public League's Red-West. As in the old days, every game in the section will be a war. Orr, North Lawndale, Collins, Crane, Marshall, Farragut and Whitney Young are dominant.Best act of sportsmanship: The Simeon team shaking hands with former Peoria Manual star Howard Nathan, who was sitting in a wheelchair at courtside prior to the SimeonPeoria Manual semifinal at Pontiac.

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos

Bears to hold joint training camp practices with Broncos

The Chicago Bears will reunite with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver this summer, as word broke Monday that the Broncos will host the Bears for joint training camp practices in advance of their preseason game in August.

The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs confirmed the news on Twitter.

This is the second time Denver will welcome the Bears for training camp sessions. The two teams held joint practices back in 2018.

Training camp won't be the first time the Bears will see Fangio since his departure last offseason. Chicago pulled off a last-second victory over the Broncos in Week 2 of the 2019 season when kicker Eddy Pineiro booted a 53-yard game-winner with time expiring in the fourth quarter. His kick was set up by the clutch version of Mitch Trubisky, who connected on a 25-yard pass to Allen Robinson on the play before Pineiro's conversion.

Fangio left a lasting impact during his time as the Bears defensive coordinator that reached its peak in 2018 when Chicago was widely regarded as the most ferocious defense in the league. The Bears finished third in yards allowed per game and ended the season with the top run defense. Their 27 interceptions were tops in the NFL, too.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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