Preps Talk

Williams seeks to restore Bloom's glory

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Williams seeks to restore Bloom's glory

Bloom isn't used to losing in basketball. In fact, the Trojans were 13-16 two years ago, the first losing season in 15 years. Since the 1950s, coaches Bert Moore, Phil Hey, Wes Mason, Frank Nardi and Gary Meyer produced one winning team after another at the Chicago Heights school. Now it is Jasper Williams' turn.

Williams, a Parker (now Robeson) graduate of 1972, was teaching at Brooks junior high school in Harvey when then Thornridge coach Bob Sullivan hired him as an assistant in 1982. He worked for Mike Flaherty, was head coach for one year, then moved to Bloom in 2002. When Meyer retired, he became head coach of one of the state's most storied programs.

And jumped into a pressure-cooker.

"Bloom was in the SICA East (with Thornridge and Thornton) so I knew a lot about Bloom's history," Williams said. "I learned how tough it was to coach there, the high expectations, that the team was expected to win 20 games nearly every year. I knew what I was getting into, a lot of history and tradition and expectations."

Mason produced state runners up in 1974 and 1975. Nardi took teams to the Elite Eight in 1989 and 1990, Meyer in 2000. The long and distinguished list of All-State players includes Jerry Colangelo, Homer Thurman, Walt Tiberi, Bob Heuts, Gary Clark, Larry McCoy, Mark Barwig, Audie Matthews, Kelvin Small, Larry Lowe, Raymond McCoy and Brandon Cole.

"People expect Bloom to win 20 games every year," Williams said. "But we're not getting great athletes anymore. Now we get one every two or three years. In the old days, we sometimes had two All-Staters on the same team.

"The talent pool has dried up but I think we're on the rebound. We have a good sophomore team and a good freshman team. The feeder schools are producing more kids. We are putting more emphasis on basketball now."

It shows. Bloom is 6-0 going into Friday night's game with Rich Central. Next week, the Trojans meet Rich East on Tuesday and Leo on Dec. 17 before making their annual trip to the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament at Rich South.

"Last year, we lost to Hillcrest and Homewood-Flossmoor in our Thanksgiving tournament. But we beat both of them this year," Williams said. "Beating them told me that we can play with anyone in the state.'

He is counting on 6-foot senior guard L.J. Johnson (12 PPG), 6-0foot senior guard Donald Moore (14 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior center Johnny Griffin (10 PPG), 6-foot-5 junior Jataryan DeJareaux and 6-foot-2 senior Henry Hicks (7 PPG). JeJahown Freeman, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, is the first player off the bench.

"As long as we stay focused and the kids listen to the coach, we have the potential to go a long way," Williams said. "But we have to develop some inside kids. Once we do, we'll be hard to beat. We need to develop Griffin and DeJareaux so we have more balance and get more scoring from inside. This is their first year on the varsity. They have to get used to contact and be more physical."

Also, Williams is anxious to see if his team can compete against the highly rated teams at the Big Dipper -- Evanston, Seton and Crete-Monee. "We know they will pressure our guards. They will have to step up and our inside people will have to step up for us to do well," Williams said.

Johnson is looking forward to the challenge. Last year's team rebounded with a 17-12 record but it could have been even better. It lost to Crete-Monee three times, including a three-pointer in the regional final. Italso lost one-pointers to Hillcrest and Thornwood.

"I look back and see we could have been much better. We came into most games not mentally ready," Johnson said. "This year we have more guys who work harder than last year. We came into this season a lot more focused, mentally ready. Last year, our heads got big in the beginning.

"We started to get ready for this season last April, after last season ended. We decided we wouldn't lose games this year like we did last year. We come to practice and work hard every day. We give 100 percent. We come mentally prepared every time we play, no matter who we are playing."

If that means getting into a teammate's face, so be it. It is all part of the game plan for 2011-12. "Sometimes we have to get in each other's face to let them know it is game time. I like how we have come together. We like to be around each other," Johnson said.

Born in Chicago, Johnson moved to Lansing and attended Thornton Fractional South for a year, then transferred to Bloom.

"Before I came to Bloom, I didn't know anything about the school," he said. "As a sophomore, the coaches preached how big Bloom was, that they were trying to get back to where they were."

It didn't take Johnson very long to know that Bloom has a rich history in basketball, football, baseball, wrestling, cross-country and track and field. The Hall of Fame outside the gym is filed with Sweet Sixteen banners, All-State banners and two state runnersup trophies in basketball and 11 state championship trophies -- six in track and field, three in cross-country and two in wrestling.

"I'm impressed by how many All-State basketball players there were, 16 of them, but none since Aaron Nelson 2008," Johnson said. "There were so many in the 1970s. I hope I will get there. But you have to put in work to do it. Leadership is important, how far I can take my teammates, pass the ball to the open man and make a shot when my number is called."

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

43 Days to Kickoff: Shepard

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Shepard

Head coach: John Rone

Assistant coaches: Vincent Holmes, Andy Schindel, Chris Lewis, Justin Harris and Mark Thomas

How they fared in 2018: 8-3 (5-1 South Suburban Red Conference). Shepard made the Class 6A IHSA state football playoff field, defeated Springfield and then lost to Normal West in second round action.

2019 regular season schedule:

Aug. 30 vs Leyden
Sept. 6 vs St Francis
Sept. 13 @ Reavis
Sept. 20 @ Evergreen Park
Sept. 27 @ Eisenhower
Oct. 4 vs Oak Lawn
Oct. 11 @ Lemont
Oct. 18 vs Richards
Oct. 25 vs Argo

Biggest storyline: Coach Rone’s first season was a success. Can the Astros make another state playoff run in 2019?

Names to watch this season: LB Matthew Hightower (Sr.), WR/DB Jalen Smith (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Astros welcome back six returning starters back on defense, but they will feature nearly an entire starting offense with very limited experience.

EDGY's Early Take: Head coach John Rone was able to get the Astros into the  playoffs in his first season in charge of the Shepard program. It was also the fourth straight playoff appearance for the school. The Astros always have plenty on hand in the skills department. But the defense may need to carry a talented —but younger— offense. If the pieces can gel, they can challenge for another IHSA state playoff appearance.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.