White Sox

Will Jahlil Okafor be a pied piper?

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Will Jahlil Okafor be a pied piper?

Elite basketball players like to play with elite basketball players.
They choose to play together on AAU teams in the summer. They transfer from one high school to another to be teammates. And, in some cases, they agree to go to the same college.
Call them pied pipers.
They are recruiting magnets, the kind of skilled or charismatic players who attract other blue chip players. The Wonder Five did it at Kentucky, Wilt Chamberlain at Kansas, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton at UCLA, Cazzie Russell at Michigan and Quinn Buckner at Indiana.
Jahlil Okafor could be another. Whitney Young's 6-foot-11 junior is rated as the No. 1 player in the class of 2014 nationally by Rivals.com, a drop step ahead of 6-foot-4 guard Emmanuel Mudlay of Dallas, Texas, guard Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Minnesota, and his close friend, 6-foot-9 Cliff Alexander of Curie.
Okafor has talked to Jones and Alexander about going to college together. They are being recruited by many of the same schools, including Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Ohio State.
"We talk about how much fun it would be and how great it would be to go to school together. We're like brothers. We're in the same national spotlight. We go to some of the same camps and that brings us closer together," Okafor said.
"But I'm not worried about making a commitment now. All of us are focusing on this season. For me, it's all about this season. My goal is to try to help my team win the state championship. I'm very hungry for it, eager to achieve it. Then everything will fall into place for me."
How good is Okafor?
"Okafor needs to be an even greater defensive presence if Whitney Young is to win a state title," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye. "We think that he will be and that he is more than up to the task.
"At the same time, Okafor still needs to receive even more touches offensively. In the past, there have been too many instances in which Whitney Young has run its offense away from him. We don't see that happening this season."
The Schmidt brothers claim Okafor is more polished than former Mr. Basketball stars Rashard Griffith of King and Eddy Curry of Thornwood at the same stage of their careers. However, as of now, they agree that he isn't a better defender than Prospectives' Anthony Davis, who led Kentucky to the NCAA championship as a freshman and was the NBA's first draft choice last season.
"Davis is the most skilled big man that we have seen come out of Chicago in recent memory, maybe ever," Roy Schmidt said. "That is in no way a knock on Okafor. It is simply something additional for him to strive for."
Okafor was disappointed with last season's 17-10 finish. Anything less than a state title was a disappointment. But he thinks it will be motivation for this year's team, which returns three starters and two promising transfers who figure to make an immediate impact.
"Youth affected us last year. We started three sophomores. Lack of experience was a factor," Okafor said. "Being there once and knowing what it takes to get to the state title game will help us to win this year. Following the coach, trusting the direction he leads us and staying together as a team will give us an edge."
Okafor, a distant cousin of NBA star Emeka Okafor of the Washington Wizards, has been in the spotlight since seventh grade when he was recruited and offered by DePaul in violation of NCAA rules. Last summer, he was tournament MVP for the gold-medal winning USA team in the FIBA Under-17 World Championship.
But can he generate a team chemistry with White, Peak, Reynolds, Madison and Toye in Whitney Young's bid to spoil Simeon's bid for a fourth Class 4A championship in a row?
"We have a lot of great players," Okafor said. "I look forward to playing with Peak and Madison. I am expecting a breakout season from White. And I am expecting a breakout season from Reynolds, too, because he has more experience."
Okafor embraces the new roles that Slaughter has outlined for him--dominant defensive player and team leader.
"With this team, my points won't go up. That's OK as long as we're winning," he said. "I want to increase my rebounds to 15 or more per game and be more of a defensive presence under the boards. I want to be able to defend and help my teammates out by being more vocal and more of a shot-blocker.
"It's a new role for me, being the team leader. It won't be hard to adjust to being more vocal. It's easy to lead when everybody trusts each other. My approach? You have to be different to each player. Depending on the situation, sometimes you have to yell or pull them aside. The role is new for me but I'm learning as I go. I usually lead by example."
And nobody does it better.

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Pierzynski rips Manny Machado

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: A.J. Pierzynski rips Manny Machado

Former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski comes on the podcast and tells Chuck Garfien why he’d sign Nolan Arenado over Manny Machado (6:15).

Pierzynski criticizes Machado for saying that he doesn’t play hard everyday (7:08). Would he make Machado the face of the White Sox franchise? (12:30)

He also talks about how bullpenning cost the Milwaukee Brewers a spot in the World Series (14:45).

He reveals the former White Sox player who had a gift for recognizing players who tipped their pitches (21:00).  Pierzynski tells behind the scenes stories about former teammates Nick Swisher, Bartolo Colon, Gavin Floyd and more (28:00).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

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USA TODAY

It's time for the Bulls to spin the point guard roulette wheel

Over the last couple seasons we've had some fun on our Bulls Pregame Live shows with the ever-changing cast of characters at the point guard position. We even brought the point guard roulette wheel to the show a couple years ago when Rajon Rondo, Isaiah Canaan, Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne all saw significant time at the position.

Grant began last season as the starter, followed by Kris Dunn and Payne with a little Ryan Arcidiacono mixed in.

But this season was supposed to be different. Dunn showed enough in his 52 game stint (13.4 points, 6 assists per game) in 2017-18 that he entered training camp as the unquestioned starter, with Payne and Arcidiacono as backups. The front office and coaching staff expected the 3rd year guard out of Providence to establish himself as a quality starter with elite skills at the defensive end.

Now, after playing just one regular season game, Dunn has been sidelined again, this time with a sprained left MCL suffered in his debut at Dallas Monday night. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action, which should get him back on the court sometime in early December, right about the same time Lauri Markkanen is expected to return from his elbow injury.

So, what does Fred Hoiberg do now? Initially, you can expect Payne to replace Dunn in the starting lineup, with newly signed Shaq Harrison getting a look in the backup role. In case you don't know much about Harrison, he's an undrafted four-year player out of Tulsa, who spent most of the last two seasons in the NBA G-League. Like Dunn, Harrison is a physical 6'4" defense-first player who should be able to pressure some of the elite point guards the Bulls will face in the coming weeks. The front office showed their level of interest in Harrison's potential by signing him to a two-year NBA contract which includes a guaranteed salary for this season.

The Bulls also signed former Marian Catholic H.S. star Tyler Ulis to a two-way contract after he was released by Golden State in the final cutdown. Ulis started 58 games for Phoenix over the last two seasons, and is lightning quick in the open court. Problem is, he's generously listed at 5'10" which could create some serious issues at the defensive end.

And then there's always Arcidiacono, a Hoiberg favorite who's fundamentally sound, a solid defender and a decent outside shooter. Arcidiacono didn't play in Dallas Monday with Dunn back as the starter and it will be interesting to see how he's used with the coaching staff searching for answers at the position.

From my perspective, the Bulls' best option might be not going with a point guard at all in the starting lineup. Zach LaVine is on the hottest offensive streak of his young career, and he's most effective with the ball in his hands. LaVine played a lot of point guard during his rookie season in Minnesota, and he's more than capable of pushing the ball in transition.

Yes, I know having LaVine defend some of the high-scoring point guards around the league is not an ideal formula for success. The Bulls could move Justin Holiday to the shooting guard position, and see if he can match up defensively against opposing point guards. Again, not ideal.

The Bulls will be facing the likes of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Steph Curry and Chris Paul over the next week and a half, and going without a true point guard might create defensive issues that are impossible to overcome. That's why you should expect to see Harrison take on a significant role in the upcoming games, since he's the only point guard currently available on the roster that has the physical skills to replicate in some fashion what Dunn brings on the defensive end.

Any way you look at it, the Bulls will be in survival mode over the next six weeks, trying to scratch out as many wins as they can until Markkanen and Dunn are healthy enough to get back on the court.