Chicago Cubs

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

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

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AP

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

TAMPA, Fla. – Imagine Javier Baez wearing a New York Mets uniform or playing in an empty Tropicana Field and where the Cubs would be without their backup shortstop.

The trade speculation still lingered into this season, even after Baez blossomed into a National League Championship Series co-MVP and a World Series champion. Maybe it was just out of habit since Theo Epstein’s front office spent years collecting hitters and planning to deal for pitching, or a perception issue for a prospect who wasn’t drafted by this regime and has a “flashiness” to his game that recently got this unfair, narrow-minded label from a Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster: “A difficult player for me to root for.”

But the Cubs never traded Baez to the Tampa Bay Rays for one of those starters who usually seems to be on the rumor mill – Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore – and that decision continues to look better and better in hindsight.   

Baez again showed why he is essentially untouchable while Addison Russell slowly recovered from a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis, starting 41 of 42 games at shortstop between Aug. 3 and Sept. 16 and hitting .282 with eight homers and 27 RBI during that stretch.  

Deep down, Baez still views himself as a shortstop – “yeah, for sure, if I get the (chance)” – while deferring to Russell (who was activated over the weekend) and understanding that the Cubs can again have an elite defensive unit when he moves back to second base.

“When I play short every day, obviously, I’m going to be ready for it and making all the adjustments to be there,” Baez said. “I do my best to help the team. Addie’s a big part of the team.”

Remember how shaky the defense looked up the middle when Russell missed the 2015 NLCS with a hamstring injury and the Mets swept the Cubs out of the playoffs?  

The Cubs created enough depth – and room to grow – to stash an All-Star shortstop on the disabled list on Aug. 4 and go from being a 57-50 team with a 1.5-game lead in the division to running a season-high 17 games over .500 heading into Tuesday night at The Trop.  

Even though Joe Maddon lobbied for Baez to make the Opening Day roster during his first post-Rays spring training in 2015, the manager also made a point to say he didn’t run an entitlement program.

Maddon would not anoint Baez as an everyday player heading into this season, even after he started all 17 games at second base during last year’s playoffs and starred for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

“If you had done that with him two years ago, he would have buried himself,” Maddon said. “Absolutely. I don’t think he would have made the same adjustments at the plate. You would have seen a lot more mistakes on defense. You would have seen a lot more routine plays not handled routinely. You would not have seen the same base running. Even though he had it in his back pocket, I just think that he’s learned how to really pick his moments there, too. He wasn’t ready for all that.”

There is something to the idea of taking the good with the bad with Baez. Except there are no perfect players and so few have his mind-blowing combination of skills, love for the game and sixth sense for highlight-reel moments.    

“You don’t teach those things – that’s just God-given talent,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He’s been able to put it together. You see those plays. But the work that goes into it – as far as being in the right spot, having the right first step, anticipating the ball, things like that – all that kind of gets you the result.

“(It’s not only) making sure he’s making the routine plays, but he has the athleticism and the wherewithal to be able to make the spectacular plays as well.”

Instead of focusing on the tattoos or the hairstyles or a swing that can get out of control at times, remember that this is someone who already has 22 homers and 70 RBI in the middle of September – and a .791 OPS in his age-24 season that represents a 54-point jump from the year before – for an iconic team with World Series expectations.

“You could see there was a lot of stuff for Javy to iron out,” Maddon said. “He’s worked them out. It’s a lot of repetition. It’s a lot of good coaching. But it’s about the player himself, being able to make those adjustments. I honestly think his path has been a good one. And I think the way we did it last year was perfect.

“Everything’s happened as it should organically for him.

Doug Collins returns to Bulls as senior advisor

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USA TODAY

Doug Collins returns to Bulls as senior advisor

In a surprise announcement, the Chicago Bulls have brought former coach Doug Collins back into the fold, naming him a senior advisor to Executive Vice President John Paxson.

Collins was a coach with the Bulls and regarded as one of the best basketball minds through his various stops through the NBA as well as his commentary for Turner Sports and ESPN. Collins held front office authority in Detroit after the Pistons drafted Grant Hill, so he's familiar with the inner workings of the NBA.

More importantly, he coached Paxson during his three-year tenure as head coach, from 1986-1989, so one can presume Paxson will value Collins' expertise and opinions. The two sides have been discussing a role for quite some time, so although the announcement is a surprise, the marriage didn't come together hastily.

Collins is expected to be an extra voice in the room, doing a lot of observing and one can assume, bridging the gap many believe exists between the front office and coaching staff. Collins has residence in Chicago, with his son (Chris) coaching the Northwestern Wildcats so it's also a matter of convenience as well.

“We are pleased to have Doug return to the Bulls and have him join our front office. As our organization transitions into this next phase, we feel like Doug will bring valuable perspective with his vast knowledge of the NBA and the game of basketball,” said Paxson. “His enthusiasm and expertise make this a great fit for the Bulls. As an advisor, he will regularly contribute observations, insights and suggestions, and he will be part of conversations throughout this building. I know from talking to Doug he is excited to join us at this time, and we look forward to tapping into his experience to help improve this team.”

One can liken it to the Golden State Warriors bringing in Jerry West as a senior advisor several years ago, and West's influence was felt at the executive level as the Warriors continued their climb to the top of the NBA. West is perhaps the NBA's most decorated executive in the modern era, having shaped the Magic Johnson-led Lakers of the 1980's to five championships.

West has since moved into the same role with the Los Angeles Clippers, as he'll assist them in reshaping their franchise after the trade of Chris Paul.

Clearly the Bulls are not at the stage of development the Warriors were when West joined, starting what could be a long and arduous rebuild. Needing more knowledgeable and trusted voices in the room is what they were looking for, and presumably they feel Collins has been around today's NBA long enough to provide insight on a changing league.

“Doug will be great in this capacity for our organization. The position of ‘senior advisor’ has proven to work well around the NBA in recent years, and I am confident the same will hold true with the Bulls,” said Chicago Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in a statement. “The fact that our relationship goes back more than 30 years certainly helps, but he is especially qualified to assist our leadership in rebuilding the Bulls.”

The Bulls will introduce Collins in a press conference at 3 p.m., which will be live on CSN as well as streamed live on CSNChicago.com and NBC Sports App.