At 5-foot-6, Niles North's Nix thinks big

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At 5-foot-6, Niles North's Nix thinks big

Malachi Nix is only 5-foot-6 but he thinks big. Niles North's junior point guard wants to play college basketball and his dream schools are Kentucky, Kansas and Baylor. He is anxiously waiting for his first telephone call from a major Division I coach.

"As a freshman and sophomore, I used to wish I could grow to 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4," Nix said. "As a sophomore, I was 5-foot-6. I think I'm taller now. My mother thinks I will grow. I wear size 12 shoes.

"What would I tell college coaches who think I'm too small? I say I have great leadership qualities, I can score, I can distribute the ball and I try to emphasize intangibles. I work harder every day to get better and I help my teammates to get better."

Nix is averaging 18.5 points and 2.3 assists for an 18-7 team that started 3-4 but has won 15 of its last 18 and its last 11 in a row in the wake of last Friday's 55-51 victory over Deerfield.

The Vikings, who are seeded No. 7 in the Glenbrook South sectional, will meet top-seeded New Trier on Tuesday night in their regular season finale. Last year, they were 24-7 and lost to Warren 56-50 in the supersectional.

Niles North coach Glenn Olson doesn't think Nix is day-dreaming. "He will be a scholarship basketball player. And there is a great possibility it will be at the Division I level. He has great skills. He can break down defenders and distribute the ball," Olson said.

"His height is a hindrance in coaches' minds. But if they watch him over an extended period of time, they will see his positives more than make up for his lack of size. He is a tough kid. His competitive edge separates him from others."

How tough is Nix? In elementary school, he played football, basketball and baseball. At Niles North, he was a 5-foot-4, 110-pound running back on the freshman football team. He was pretty good, too, running for 15 touchdowns to tie the freshman record.

"I loved football but I lost my passion for it," Nix said. "I love basketball and what coach Olson is doing with the program. Last year, I averaged 10 points per game. My role was to score when I could but mostly distribute the ball and get it to Abdel Nader (who averaged 25 points per game last season and currently is a freshman at Northern Illinois).

"But this is my team. At the beginning of the season, the coach told me it is my team. He said I have to be a better leader, more vocal. I've been in the system for three years. I have to show others what they should be doing. I let them know I have been there, I've been to the supersectional, I've done what we want to do as a team. They sit and listen to me."

In his third year as head coach, Olson has put together a solid program at the Skokie school, which had won only one other regional in its nearly 50-year history prior to last year. A 1994 graduate of Rolling Meadows, Olson, 35, grew up as the son of a coach and later coached baseball at Maine South. In fact, his father is now his assistant.

"I fell in love with the game of basketball as a kid. I grew up in the great age of ESPN and I read about Indiana high school basketball," said Olson, who was a freshman B basketball coach at Maine East in 2000, then the head coach in 2007-09 before moving to Niles North.

"I was impressed with what was going on athletically at Niles North, the emphasis on strength and conditioning," he said. "These kids play hard. They are undersized and inexperienced. Only two of them saw the floor last year. But they have accepted their roles. And we have skilled guards who can make plays."

Nix and 6-foot-1 senior Michael Henley (12.3 ppg), who missed the first seven games with a broken hand, and 5-foot-9 senior Jaylen White operate in the backcourt. Up front are 6-foot-4 junior Billy Voitik (5.9 ppg) and 6-foot-1 junior B.J. Beckford (10 ppg).

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-10 senior Eron Washington, who is the backup center, and 6-foot-1 junior guard Lorenzo Dillard, a transfer from Evanston who only recently became eligible.

"If we are going to go deep into the playoff," Olson said, "we must play with great energy and share the ball, which is our strength. We must recognize what a good and a great shot is and play at our pace regardless of the defense. We like to get up and down the floor."

Meanwhile, Nix has learned to deal with his limitations.

"The 5-foot-6 thing is in their (college coaches) minds. It doesn't bother me. I have learned to deal with it," he said. "The most difficult thing on the court is when I get to the lane, I have to be crafty to score against 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-5 opponents. I have to work on floaters and pull-up jump shots, different ways to get the ball to the basket."

Nix watches 5-foot-9 Pierre Jackson of Baylor and 5-foot-11 Ryan Boatright of Connecticut on TV and admires what they do and how they do it. He takes careful notes in his mind. He hopes to be as successful as they have been--and hopes to play at their level.

"They are vocal on the court and get their teammates in good positions to score and be successful," Nix said. "They also are versatile. They can score and pass and are great defenders. They are very coachable, too. I like locking a kid up on defense and I get my adrenaline up when I get a steal and make a basket."

He already has attracted the attention of some colleges. He will attend Cal Poly's elite camp in August. Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wayne State, and Western Illinois also have been recruiting him.

But he wouldn't mind getting a call from John Calipari or Bill Self.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead