5 Questions with...Shannon Ryan

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5 Questions with...Shannon Ryan

CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the best college sports reporters around who has had the interesting task of following the Fighting Illinis roller coaster football season this yearif shes not covering an event (which is ALWAYS by the way!), you can catch her running in marathons, working out and enjoying the sights of our fine cityoh, and you can also catch her on Comcast SportsNets Chicago Tribune Livewhat are we waiting for, its "5 Questions withSHANNON RYAN!

BIO: Shannon Ryan arrived at the Chicago Tribune in 2007, after working the previous seven years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Beginning in 2000 at The Inquirer, she covered preps before moving on to the Philadelphia Eagles, Villanova basketball, and enterprise and general assignment reporting in Philly. Her time with the Eagles included the Terrell Owens era (yes, during the situps-in-the-driveway saga) and their run to the Super Bowl. She also covered the start of Villanovas reemergence under coach Jay Wright, where his four-guard lineup advanced to the Elite Eight. Her first time writing about the Phillies filling in for the main beat reporter she covered a no-hitter. (She takes no credit for the feat. Just there and excited to write about the rare occurrence that some lifelong baseball beat reporters never witness.)

At the Tribune, she covered the local, Big Ten and national college basketball scenes, covering the NCAA tournament nearly every season. She also assisted in the Tribunes coverage of the NHL Finals when the Blackhawks won the Cup.

As an Ohio native, she grew up in BrownsCavsIndians territory, so she is amazed she still loves watching sports.

1) CSNChicago.com: Shannon, as the beat reporter for the Fighting Illini, youve been there for all the highs and lows this season. They started off so strong start at the beginning of the season (6-0 no less)to the point where now they might be looking for a new coach next year. In your opinion, what would you say was THE defining moment of their recent tailspin and what bowl game do you anticipate theyll be playing in this season?

Ryan: The complete turnaround has been astounding.

There was a glimpse of trouble when Illinois fell behind 10-0 early to Indiana before pulling away for a 41-20 victory, which made the Illini bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons. The lead to my game story the next day was the image of coach Ron Zook running off the field with six fingers thrust into the air to signify the 6-0 start.

But that hiccup early in the game carried over. Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State were all beatable teams. Some would argue Michigan was as well. But the Illinis once potent offense has lost its spark. Theyve failed to score in the first half in four out of their last five games (they did score 17 pts. in the second quarter in their last game vs. Wisconsin, but ultimately lost 28-17). While players say they dont have a here-we-go-again attitude, coaches have said they tense up early in games, which is a problematic reaction when teams fall behind. It disrupts the plan of getting their run game going, which has been a major struggle lately.

The bowl game, of course, may largely hinge on whether Illinois beats Minnesota and what other Big Ten teams do. The conference has eight bowl tie-ins but more than eight Big Ten teams may become eligible. Illinois has traveled well in the past, but if they enter the post-season trending downward and only have one sellout on record in Champaign that isnt too appealing to bowl representatives. The last three Big Ten bowls are the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, the TicketCity in Dallas and the Little Caesars in Detroit, so dont be surprised to see Illinois in one of those. Some experts have Illinois in New Orleans, playing Louisiana-Lafayette.

2) CSNChicago.com: Naturally, as a college sports journalist, youre fully aware of the horrific details about what went on at Penn State. Going forward, from a recruiting standpoint, how difficult will it be for this once dominant football institution to acquire the same high-level, athletic talent that would actually want to be associated with this now-marred program?

Ryan: I think it will be difficult for the university as a whole to move forward and it will be a serious undertaking to remove this stain permanently. Penn State was Joe Paterno and what people believed he stood for. That perception has changed for many.

With the NCAA and FBI now both investigating, this will scare away not only big-name coaches, but big-time recruits. Without a high profile coach, the recruits will look elsewhere, unsure how Penn State will be able to rebuild its image and its winning ways.

3) CSNChicago.com: Lets shift to some college hoops for this next one. From a Big Ten standpoint, Thad Matta has put together a pretty darn good Ohio State team this year led by super-sophomore forward Jared Sullinger. Does this team have ANY challengers in the Big Ten this season and, if so, who?

Ryan: Youre absolutely right that Ohio State is the class of the Big Ten and has a legitimate chance to be the best in the nation by March Madness. Sullinger surprised many people, except for coach Thad Matta, by making good on his promise and returning for a sophomore season. Along with Sullinger, sharp-shooter William Buford, skilled point guard Aaron Craft and big-bodied forward Deshaun Thomas, Matta brought in some promising freshmen who should contribute. If the Buckeyes have a weak point, its their depth. This team cant afford a serious injury or two.

But I would not count out Wisconsin. Jordan Taylor is probably one of the most overlooked guards in the country. He has a terrific assist-to-turnover ratio and is a savvy veteran. I saw him drop 27 points on Ohio State last season at a wild game in Madison. Somehow everyone always overlooks Bo Ryans teams but they still manage to usually surprise us.

Michigan State slumped last season but theres no denying Tom Izzo is an excellent coach with a proven track record. Despite their loss to North Carolina on the aircraft carrier, I wouldnt be surprised to see the Spartans improve as the season progresses.

4) CSNChicago.com: Name your Top 3 favorite sports-themed books (fiction or non-fiction) of all time.

Ryan:

1) Unforgivable Blackness. The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, By Geoffrey C. Ward.

Boxer Jack Johnson was far ahead of his time. In the early 20th century, he confronted harsh racism head on literally in the boxing ring and figuratively in the way he lived his life with no apologies. He knew he was so good that white fighters would eventually have to fight him if they wanted to claim they were the best (because obviously Johnson was the best and refused to stop challenging the best fighters regardless of race). He later won the heavyweight championship, but it is a shame that through much of his early career and some of his prime he was denied being named the champion or given the access to fight for the belt. I would love to see him receive a pardon for his unjust and racist conviction. He lived much of his life in Chicago and is actually buried in Graceland Cemetery under a very simple plot, which I visited after reading this biography.

2) To the Edge, by Kirk Johnson.

I read this non-fiction story about the 135-mile footrace from Death Valley to Mt. Whitney before I ran my first marathon in 2001. I just kept thinking to myself that 26.2 miles through Cleveland was nothing compared to what I read in this book. It was actually written by a New York Times reporter who was a neophyte at ultra-marathons. It would be great to try something like this and write about it, but Im afraid it would be a bit of an embarrassing tale given my slow marathon pace.

3) Friday Night Lights, A Town, A Team and A Dream, by H.G. Bissinger.

While most kids today know the title as a T.V. show, I urge anyone growing up in a high school football-crazed town or state like much of my native Ohio to read this. It seems clich now but this behind the scenes look at the season of a Texas high school team and its football-obsessed town sparked a genre of sports books. To me, this remains a classic.

5) CSNChicago.com: If you werent a sports writer, what alternate career path would you have loved to have been associated with?and how do you think you would have realistically fared in that role?

Ryan: Everything! The best part of being a journalist is meeting people of various backgrounds and with an array of skills and experiences. Usually, I think, Wow, I would have loved to have .. lived there or tried that or do whatever it is my interview subject is telling me about. But I absolutely love traveling and learning about new people and places. Im also very intrigues by various social justice issues. So I feel like in another life or maybe my future one I would be traveling and trying to help through some type of charitable organization. I have a bit of an adventurer spirit and have enjoyed volunteering so I think I would do well and enjoy it. But for now, sports writing is my gig. And I love it.

Ryan LINKS:

Chicago Tribune sports home page

Shannon Ryan on Facebook

Shannon Ryan on Twitter

Blackhawks sign goaltender Jeff Glass to two-year deal

Blackhawks sign goaltender Jeff Glass to two-year deal

The Blackhawks added organizational depth to their goaltending position by inking Jeff Glass to a two-year deal that runs through the 2017-18 season, the team announced Thursday. His deal carries a $612,500 cap hit, according to CapFriendly.com.

Glass, 31, signed a contract with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League in January, and played well enough to earn himself a deal at the professional level.

He owns a 5-4-1 record with a 2.38 goals against average, .917 save percentage and two shutouts in 10 games since joining the IceHogs, and has earned victories in four of his last five games.

A third round selection by Ottawa in 2004, Glass has yet to make his National Hockey League debut, but he's making strides in the right direction by jumping Mac Carruth on Rockford's depth chart and rotating with Lars Johansson.

The move provides insurance for a Blackhawks team that is relatively thin at the goaltending position outside of Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, the latter of whom will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. 

And given the uncertainty of Darling's status heading into the summer, Glass could compete for the backup job next year. He also fills the expansion draft requirements if Chicago chooses to go that direction, although it's unlikely he'll be claimed by Las Vegas.

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

Braves Way: How Cubs are still focused on next wave of young talent

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known someday as one of the greatest sports franchises in the world, right up there with global brands like the New England Patriots, Manchester United and Real Madrid.

But the most relevant blueprint for baseball operations right now might be the Atlanta Braves model that won 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005, an unbelievable run that still only resulted in one World Series title.

In a "Chicks Dig The Long Ball" era, the Braves had 60 percent of a Hall of Fame rotation (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) and a manager (Bobby Cox) who would get his own Cooperstown plaque.

The Braves Way still didn't only revolve around baseball immortals. The churn of young talent and under-the-radar contributors makes big-time prospects Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ — and somehow finding a next wave of pitching — so important to The Plan.

"The Braves did such a great job during their run of always breaking in a guy or two," general manager Jed Hoyer said this week. "There's a lot of benefits to always trying to break in a guy every year, trying to add new blood every single year. Young guys are great even for a veteran team, because they provide the spark. They provide new energy.

"I thought Willson (Contreras) was a big part of that last year. Coming up in the middle of the season, it was like a great spark for our guys. Maybe one of these guys can provide that spark."

During that 15-year window, the Braves had 14 different players show up in the National League Rookie of the Year voting:  

1991: Brian Hunter, Mike Stanton
1992: Mark Wohlers
1993: Greg McMichael 
1994: Ryan Klesko, Javy Lopez
1995: Chipper Jones
1996: Jermaine Dye 
1997: Andruw Jones 
1998: Kerry Ligtenberg 
1999: Kevin McGlinchy
2000: Rafael Furcal 
2001: –
2002: Damian Moss
2003: –
2004: –
2005: Jeff Francoeur

The Braves produced Rookie of the Year winners in 1990 (David Justice), 2000 (Furcal) and 2011 (Craig Kimbrel). That gap in the early 2000s foreshadowed a relative down cycle where the Braves averaged almost 82 losses losses between 2006 and 2009 and made zero playoff appearances.

Jason Heyward's big-league debut in 2010 coincided with a run of four straight seasons where the Braves averaged 90-plus wins and made the playoffs three times.

[MORE: Why Joe Maddon sees Kyle Schwarber as the leadoff guy in Cubs lineup]

Baseball America put Jimenez (No. 14) and Happ (No. 63) on its preseason top-100 list of prospects. Whether it's making an impression on Joe Maddon's coaching staff, being showcased for a future trade or getting more comfortable in the spotlight, Jimenez and Happ will be two players to watch when the Cubs begin their Cactus League schedule on Saturday.

"Everyone thinks our future is here," Hoyer said. "It's really important to never get caught in that. You always want to have guys in the minor leagues ready to come up. Having organizational depth is really important. Those guys are good players and they're going to help us at some point."

Jimenez is a dynamic 6-foot-4 corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic who figures to begin his age-20 season at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. Happ, a 2015 first-round pick, finished last season at Double-A Tennessee and can switch-hit and move between the infield and the outfield.

Contreras is trying to make the leap from energizer to everyday frontline catcher. Albert Almora Jr. — who also contributed to a championship team as a rookie — is trying to earn the center-field job. The Cubs already trusted Carl Edwards Jr. in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 and now hope he can keep evolving into an Andrew Miller-type reliever.

The Cubs need the assembly line that's rolled out Anthony Rizzo (June 2012), Kyle Hendricks (July 2014), Javier Baez (August 2014), Kris Bryant and Addison Russell (April 2015) and Kyle Schwarber (June 2015) to keep delivering talent.

"It's something that we have to be really mindful of," Hoyer said, "to make sure that we continue to put a lot of focus on player development, the same kind of focus that we put on it when we were rebuilding, because those guys are going to have a huge impact on us."