238 Illinois prodcuts in the NBA, and counting

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238 Illinois prodcuts in the NBA, and counting

From Mark Aguirre to Julian Wright, at last count, a total of 238 Illinois products have competed in professional basketball in this country.Have you ever heard of Jack Dwan, Gene Dyker, Dan Godfread, Leary Lentz, Gene Stump or Giff Roux?Maybe not. But you've heard of Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Cazzie Russell, Kevin Garnett, Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette and Juwan Howard.According to a survey by Basketball-Reference.com, there are 23 Illinois products currently playing in the NBA -- Tony Allen (Crane), Shannon Brown (Proviso East), Will Bynum (Crane), Brian Cardinal (Tolono Unity), Brian Cook (Lincoln), Eddy Curry (Thornwood), Melvin Ely (Thornton), Kevin Garnett (Farragut), Juwan Howard (Vocational), Andre Iguodala (Springfield Lanphier), Othyus Jeffers (Hubbard), Shaun Livingston (Peoria Central), Corey Maggette (Fenwick), JaVale McGee (Hales Franciscan), Nazr Mohammed (Kenwood), Jannero Pargo (Robeson), Anthony Parker (Naperville Central), Quentin Richardson (Whitney Young), Derrick Rose (Simeon), Iman Shumpert (Oak Park), Bobby Simmons (Simeon), Dwyane Wade (Richards) and Julian Wright (Homewood-Flossmoor).But Illinois products helped to build the foundation of the NBA in the 1940s and 1950s. Remember George Mikan, Sweetwater Clifton, Joe Graboski, Harry Gallatin, Dike Eddleman, Andy Phillip, Wally Osterkorn and Irv Bemoras?How about an All-Star team from the 1940s and 1950s? Sweetwater Clifton (Du Sable), George Mikan (Quigley), Andy Phillip (Granite City), Harry Gallatin (Roxana), Johnny Kerr (Tilden).How about the 1960s? Cazzie Russell (Carver), George Wilson (Marshall), Tom Hawkins (Parker), Jerry Sloan (McLeansboro), Don Nelson (Rock Island).Or Don Ohl (Edwardsville), Dave Robisch (Springfield), Donnie Freeman (Madison), Flynn Robinson (Elgin) and Jim Brewer (Proviso East)?How about the 1970s? Quinn Buckner (Thornridge), Maurice Cheeks (Du Sable), Doug Collins (Benton), Jack Sikma (St. Anne) andRickey Green (Hirsch). Or Sonny Parker (Farragut), Dan Issel (Batavia), Steve Kuberski (Moline), Kevin Porter (Du Sable) and Corky Calhoun (Waukegan).The 1980s? Mark Aguirre (Westinghouse), Terry Cummings (Carver), Hersey Hawkins (Westinghouse), Isiah Thomas (St. Joseph) andGlenn "Doc" Rivers (Proviso East).Or Eddie Johnson (Westinghouse), Rod Higgins (Thornton), Craig Hodges (Rich East), Ken Norman (Crane) and Kevin Gamble (Springfield Lanphier).The 1990s? Nick Anderson (Simeon), Juwan Howard (Vocational), Kevin Garnett (Farragut), Tim Hardaway (Carver) and Antoine Walker (Mount Carmel).Or LaPhonso Ellis (East St. Louis Lincoln), Michael Finley (Proviso East), Kendall Gill (Rich Central), Anthony Parker (Naperville Central) and Troy Hudson (Carbondale).The past decade? Derrick Rose (Simeon), Shannon Brown (Proviso East), Dwyane Wade (Richards), Andre Iguodala (Springfield Lanphier) andCorey Maggette (Fenwick).Or Quentin Richardson (Whitney Young), Bobby Simmons (Simeon), Brian Cook (Lincoln), Brian Cardinal (Tolono Unity) and Will Bynum (Crane).Who will be the next Illinois products to play in the NBA? Likely Kentucky's Anthony Davis (Perspectives), Ohio's D.J. Cooper (Seton), Illinois' Meyers Leonard (Robinson) and Simeon's Jabari Parker.Of course, this survey doesn't take into account the dozens of former Illinois high school basketball stars who didn't earn steady employment in the NBA and opted to play overseas -- in Europe, Israel, South America, Japan and Australia. Many of them, including Lloyd Batts (Thornton, Cincinnati), James Jackson (Crane, Minnesota), Audie Matthews (Bloom, Illinois), Melvin McCants (Mount Carmel, Purdue), Deon Thomas (Simeon, Illinois), Rashard Griffith (King, Wisconsin), Tom Kleinschmidt (Gordon Tech, DePaul), Kiwane Garris (Westinghouse, Illinois), Mark Miller (Westinghouse, Illinois-Chicago) and Cedrick Banks (Westinghouse, Illinois-Chicago), have enjoyed successful and profitable careers.You could make an outstanding all-star team out of that group, couldn't you?

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

Notre Dame players react to the firing of Brian VanGorder

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — James Onwualu and Brian VanGorder came to the Irish defense at the same time back in 2014, when Onwualu was moved from wide receiver to (briefly) safety right around when the now-former defensive coordinator was hired. 

Under VanGorder’s watch, Onwualu developed into a reliable outside linebacker and ultimately a senior captain. So when Notre Dame fired VanGorder on Sunday — a day after the school’s student section chanted “Fire Van-Gord-Er” during that brutal loss to Duke — it wasn’t necessarily an easy piece of news to digest for Onwualu and some of his teammates. 

“Obviously everybody was talking about it, even our student section seemed to have a strong stance on that,” Onwualu said. “It was shocking to me. Obviously this is the only defensive experience I've ever had. He's really all I knew defensively. So it's difficult for some older guys, you know, and me included to put that aside and just take the next step into something new.”

But that’s what Notre Dame has to do with VanGorder’s rocky tenure in the rearview mirror and Greg Hudson taking over as defensive coordinator, with coach Brian Kelly taking an increased role in his team’s leaky defense. 

Players understood why the move — which came in the wake of Kelly’s postgame comments saying everyone’s job wasn’t safe — was made, turning to the “it’s a business” line more frequently seen in a level of the sport in which the players are paid (which isn’t to say they’re wrong for viewing college football that way). 

“It was a bit surprising,” junior linebacker Nyles Morgan said. “I knew him personally obviously playing defense, but it’s a business. And so we’ve really bought into what coach (Greg) Hudson’s been saying, and we have to move forward. We can’t linger in the past.”

It’s not like Notre Dame players were blind to the problem, though. The team’s first sack of the season came when Morgan dropped Duke quarterback Daniel Jones on Saturday, and the defense allowed 50, 36 and 38 points in Notre Dame’s three losses. 

“The whole defense knows that we need to play better ball, and obviously if we were playing better ball, that maybe not would have happened,” Onwualu said. 

Safety Drue Tranquill said he felt some guilt about the firing of VanGorder and had sympathy for his now-former coach. 

“It wasn’t just coach VanGorder’s fault, the entire defense was struggling as a whole,” Tranquill said. “And he happens to be the leader of that. This is a really cutthroat business and I personally feel a sort of responsibility on my end. I can’t just watch the leader of the defense walk out and lose his job. It’s a really hard situation and it’s just real life. 

“It’s just this industry and it’s really cutthroat. So part of me really felt for him. But a part of me realized he probably wants me to rally around the guys in the locker room and he probably wants me out there giving it my all each and every day and not worrying about him, because it’s about Notre Dame. It’s about Notre Dame winning football games, so we just have to come in, positive mentality, and move forward.” 

On the offensive side of the ball, both quarterback DeShone Kizer and left tackle Mike McGlinchey said they fully trust Kelly to do what’s right for the team. And in this case, that meant making a change at defensive coordinator. 

“We lost a great coach, but things needed to happen for us to move forward,” Kizer said. “Coach Kelly makes the decision. We trust in whatever he has to say, and moving forward we'll make the adjustments that need to be made on the offensive side of the ball to pick up our defense and to start playing games and getting W’s.”

“The reaction from us is that football is the way it is and coach Kelly felt that there needed to be a change, and so we made it,” McGlinchey added. “And obviously it's tough when it's a mid-season change and guys are connected to coach VanGorder, and have a guy on our team that is his son (reserve quarterback and holder Montgomery VanGorder). But at the same time everybody understands that changes needed to be made, and that's the decision that coach Kelly made. So we all are behind it.”

Notre Dame players talked quite a bit about how enjoyable practice was on Tuesday and Wednesday, which would seem to fly in the face of the team’s 1-3 record and uncertain chances of becoming bowl eligible this year. Kelly said he fired VanGorder as part of an effort to bring more passion and fun to a team in need of a spark, but knew the decision wouldn’t sit well with everyone on his team. 

Regardless of how the move was received, it’s the one that was made. And Notre Dame needs its defense to play better going forward, otherwise a season that’s teetering on the brink of disaster could go careening over the edge. 

“He was really the one that gave me the opportunity and spent the time and invested in me to be able to play defense and to be able to be where I'm at today,” Onwualu said in describing the conversation he had with VanGorder after his firing. “So just a quick thanks for the opportunity and the time that you spent with me. I don't think it's a huge good-bye. It's like anybody you work with, right? It's a business, you know. Stay in contact and I hope your next step is a good one.”

Theo Epstein keeps the band together with Cubs extending Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

Theo Epstein keeps the band together with Cubs extending Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

PITTSBURGH — Theo Epstein namedropped Eddie Vedder in the middle of last year’s champagne-soaked celebration at Wrigley Field, comparing a Cubs team that won 97 games and bounced the St. Louis Cardinals from the playoffs to a band that bursts onto the scene and blows up with an amazing first album. It would only get more complicated, with expectations changing and the Cubs now having to deal with success, the egos and the backlash.

Whatever happens in October — either the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908 or a massive disappointment — Epstein will get to keep the band together and have his friends around for future Pearl Jam concerts at Wrigley Field.

General manager Jed Hoyer will also get a five-year contract extension to match the timeline of the team president’s new deal, which chairman Tom Ricketts announced before Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development already under contract for two more years, will also be extended through the 2021 season.

“When you have great leadership at the top, it normally filters into the rest of the group,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Every successful organization has that. We have that.

“It doesn’t happen everywhere. It’s not like this everywhere, the way it’s been built, the attention to detail. It’s not just numbers. There’s a very human side to all this. It’s a great balance.”

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Management’s 2021 timeframe matches up with All-Star talents Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, who all remain under club control through that year, along with Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez, part of a 20-something cast that now also includes Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr.

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod had all won World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and saw how New England responded to the 2004 team that ended an 86-year drought. They decided to reunite in the fall of 2011, with Hoyer taking on some of Epstein’s out-front, day-to-day responsibilities and dealing with the executives and agents he knew better. McLeod — who recently interviewed for a top job with the Minnesota Twins that will reportedly go to Cleveland Indians executive Derek Falvey — should continue to be linked to just about every GM job that opens.

“I see this contract, this show of faith from the Ricketts (family) in me as a validation of everybody,” Epstein said. “The contract is really a product of all the hard work that literally hundreds of people have performed to make this a healthier and better baseball operation, from Jed and Jason and Randy (Bush) and Shiraz (Rehman) and Scott (Harris) to all the guys in scouting and player development and the R&D team, the guys behind the scenes.

“Of course, (it’s) Joe and his staff and the players doing a remarkable job on the field at the big-league level the last couple years. So this is a product of everybody’s hard work, and I accept it kind of on their behalf. The strength and stability that we have now is a reflection of what happens when there’s trust, teamwork, transparency from a lot of talented people working together, starting from the very top with the Ricketts family.”