Another winner in the Lenti family

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Another winner in the Lenti family

Gena Lenti considers herself to be a perfectionist. Nothing less than an A-plus is acceptable, whether the subject is AP biology or pre-calculus or Spanish or basketball or softball. Her worst grade in four years of high school? An A-minus in choir as a freshman.

"I am a perfectionist. I always have been more competitive with myself than others," said Lenti, a senior at St. Ignatius College Prep. "I strive for A-plus, not just A on a test. If you look at my grades, you might consider me a nerd. But I can't let myself slack off. I tried this year but I can't do it. I just think of what I can do to make myself better."

She comes from a very competitive family. Her father Eugene coaches a nationally ranked softball team at DePaul. Her mother Candace played on a state championship basketball team at York and played softball at DePaul.

Aunt Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto is athletic director at DePaul. Uncle Frank, the head football coach at Mount Carmel, has won more games and state championships than any coach in state history. Uncle David is Frank's longtime defensive coordinator.

When the big Italian family gathers on Thanksgiving Day at the Ponsetto house near the DePaul campus, there are 27 in all...at least two turkeys, casseroles, stuffing, appetizers, desserts. Before sitting down to dinner, however, they adjourn for a family basketball game. To Gena's regret, the table conversation isn't reserved for sports only.

"The big question after 'How is the season going?' is 'How are the boyfriends going these days?' I try to avoid the question at all costs. I try to keep my family out of my social business as much as possible," she said.

But Gena, who has committed to play softball for her father at DePaul, has added another paragraph to her impressive resume that surely will be a topic of discussion at the next family gathering.

The 17-year-old senior has been named to the Illinois High School Association's 2011-12 All-State Academic Team. She is one of 26 student-athletes selected from among 450 nominees who will be honored at the annual banquet in Bloomington on April 16.

She carries a 4.32 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and scored 30 on her ACT. She was the leading scorer on her basketball team this season and plays shortstop on the softball team. She hopes to improve on last year's .450 batting average, then will take her skills to DePaul.

"She always had a competitive nature in anything she did, sports or academics," her father recalled. "When she was 4 or 5, we'd play any game and I'd have to find a way to cheat so we could go to bed. She wanted to play until she won. I knew when she was 12 or 13 that she had the skill and drive to be successful in college."

When she was 10, her father converted her from a right-handed to a left-handed hitter to use her speed as a slapper, an Ichiro Suzuki-type hitter. She would show up at her father's games to take extra swings. Always fearless, she once broke an arm when diving for a ball in the outfield.

"I never thought I wouldn't play sports in college," she said. "I love basketball. If you gave me a choice, I would play basketball in college. But I'm better at softball.

"Softball can become boring at times. There is a lot of standing. Basketball is full of action. I can see where my work pays off more in basketball. Softball isn't as fast-paced, not as much action. I put more heart into basketball. It's a longer season and there is more time to bond with my team."

But her mother and two sisters played softball. And her father has coached the game for 32 years. She knew she wasn't tall enough to play basketball--and probably wouldn't get any taller. Her father is 5-foot-8 and her mother is 5-foot-5.

"There were times when I was young that I said I would go to DePaul to play softball for my dad. I thought it was guaranteed when I was younger but I knew it wasn't guaranteed," Gena said.

She recalls the day when her father asked her: "Would you want to play for me? We're starting to recruit your class." They were driving home after a game in a travel league tournament and Gena was mad at herself. She had played badly, struck out a few times and couldn't even put the ball in play with runners on base.

"I went off to the car and sat alone. On the way home, it was quiet. I didn't want to talk. My dad brought it up," she said. "After that game, I didn't think he'd be thinking of me. For sure, I'd be interested in going to DePaul. But I didn't think I was good enough.

"I saw there were other girls in my class who were very good, other kids my age, kids who only played softball while I was playing two sports, girls who were faster and stronger and had better arms.

"But my dad treated me like other recruits. I got letters in the mail signed 'Coach Lenti.' I was invited to visit the campus. I made unofficial and official visits. I toured the campus, saw the dorms for the first time, the science building, the quadrangle.

"He knew I was coming. I wasn't thinking of anywhere else. I chose DePaul because it is the best softball school I could go to. I didn't seek out anyone else. I looked at myself and felt I was going to the best school I could go to. And I wanted to stay close to my family."

Gena loves Chicago, especially the Downtown area. She rides her bicycle to North Avenue beach two or three times a week during the summer. She also prefers the Flat Top Grill at Southport and Belmont.

"I am the kind of person who doesn't like free time," she said. "I don't want a lot of TV and I don't go to movies. I have to balance school and sports and my social life."

Gena's day begins at 6 a.m. on school days. Breakfast is eggs or cereal. She car pools with two friends and arrives at St. Ignatius at 7:30a.m. Classes begin at 8 a.m. AP Biology, her favorite. Dance, pre-calculus, film, journalism, religion, Spanish. Then basketball or softball practice for two hours after school. Afterward, during the basketball season, she went to DePaul for a shootaround. During the softball season, she takes extra swings at a homemade hitting station in her basement. Then homework for at least two hours.

"I push myself too hard in sports and academics," she said. "Going into my senior year, knowing I was going to DePaul, my parents suggested that I should ease off. They gave me permission not to take a lot of AP classes, to enjoy myself more. But I am a perfectionist. I can't let myself slack off. I tried but I can't do it."

But she concedes that it is more difficult to be a perfectionist in softball. Her father reminds her that hitting is a losing battle, that you're always below .500, that the majority of the time you won't hit the ball safety, that major league baseball players with .300 batting averages are in the Hall of Fame.

"It is a mental game," she said. "You have to come back the next game if you strike out five times in the past game. You have to be mentally tougher. My dad said I have to have a swagger. My goal this spring is to hit higher than .450 and focus on fewer errors and more stolen bases."

So she'll have something to talk about next Thanksgiving.

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Multiple reports indicated that former Bulls center Joakim Noah will join Derrick Rose and sign with the New York Knicks.

Both the Washington Post and ESPN report that Noah is very likely to sign in New York, his hometown. ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to say that other teams have already accepted that Noah is all but a done deal to sign with the Knicks.

And according to Tim Bontemps from the Washington Post, Noah's deal with the Knicks will have "a starting salary somewhere in the $18 million per year range," a large but not insane number considering the league's salary cap explosion this summer.

The Vertical's Shams Charania added that Noah will meet with Phil Jackson and the Knicks when free agency begins Friday night.

Noah would fill a void at center left by the Knicks' trade for Rose, which shipped center Robin Lopez back to Chicago. Noah averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games last season before season-ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls and was named Defensive Player of the Year just three short years ago.

But he fell out of grace with Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who opted to bring Noah off the bench for the first time in his career. It was largely assumed that both Noah and Pau Gasol would not return to a Bulls team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1, and can sign free agents beginning July 6.

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields received his first standing ovation of the season at U.S. Cellular Field as he headed to the dugout on Wednesday night.

The White Sox starter settled in after another shaky start and his offense kicked it into high gear in a 9-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 18,571. Shields limited the Twins to a leadoff solo homer in the first inning and pitched into the seventh to earn his first win for the White Sox.

Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Todd Frazier all homered for the White Sox, who had to pitch themselves out of trouble in a wild ninth to win for the sixth time in nine games. Nate Jones earned a one-out save after Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined to allow five runs. Purke was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. A corresponding move will be announced on Thursday morning.

“(Shields) got back into a rhythm,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think this is the best that he looked as far as just feeling comfortable. He was getting ahead. He started really using his fastball and he located it. I think after that, there was some offspeed stuff and he got guys swinging through it. This was a nice little thing to see. I'm sure it's a breath of fresh air for him.”

For a second it looked as if another stinker was in the cards.

Two pitches into the contest, Shields trailed by a run when Eduardo Nunez ripped an 0-1 changeup for a solo homer.

Shields, who had a 21.81 ERA in his first three starts with the White Sox, two of which resulted in him being booed off the mound at home, found even more trouble. He recorded a pair of outs, but walked Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe singled him to third. But similar to his last start in Boston, Shields took another big step forward and got out of trouble.

Two innings later, Shields made his biggest pitch of the night when he induced a double play off Joe Mauer’s bat after allowing consecutive singles to start the third. Dozier’s bunt attempt resulted in a comebacker and Shields escaped unharmed.

Adam Eaton assisted Shields in a big way in the fifth inning when he easily threw out Kurt Suzuki at home. Suzuki, who started the play on first, was forced home as Nunez nearly caught him speeding into third after hitting a liner off the right-field fence.

But Shields stranded Nunez in scoring position as well as another runner in the sixth. He recorded two more outs before giving way after a Byron Buxton double.

“We know what type of pitcher he is and he went out and did what he’s supposed to do,” Eaton said. “I think the proof is in the pudding. He goes out and throws well. We hit and we are going to be pretty good.”

As he exited, Shields was showered with applause from the appreciative crowd.

He allowed a run and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking one. Shields threw strikes on 61 of 93 pitches to earn his first victory since May 12th.

“It feels good,” Shields said. “It’s something to build off of.

“It was a tough stretch. It’s nice to get off the schneid there and get a win, but I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff. I’ve been around this game for a long time. My main focus is to win games for this team right now.”

One night after they couldn’t provide for Jose Quintana, the White Sox offense went overboard for Shields. Lawrie’s opposite-field solo homer with two outs in the second inning off Ricky Nolasco tied the game at 1. J.B. Shuck then singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Avisail Garcia.

The White Sox never looked back as Saladino’s solo shot in the fifth made it a 3-1 game.

Frazier started a five-run sixth inning with a solo homer -- the team’s 13th consecutive solo homer. Saladino singled in a run with two outs to chase Nolasco and make it 5-1. Tim Anderson’s two-run single made it a blowout and Eaton singled him in to make it 8-1. Shuck added a sac fly in the seventh for the White Sox, who went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“It was nice,” Frazier said. “It was a little different. (Shields) got out there not worrying about anything. Gave up the homer in the first batter. Nothing really fazed him after that. He has to understand, he’s going to give up runs here and there, and just relax from whatever happens from there. He pitched an exceptional game today.”

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

The Bulls are undergoing a "retooling" in their backcourt after dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks, drafting Denzel Valentine and attempting to re-sign E'Twaun Moore in free agency.

That, combined with Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jerian Grant and an already versatile frontcourt will give Fred Hoiberg plenty of options that Valentine believes will make the Bulls "dangerous" in 2016-17.

"I think that's going to make us so dangerous this year, is we are versatile with our guards," He said on Wednesday night's White Sox broadcast. "And in those three positions I feel like we're going to be able to guard and do a lot of things offensively and throw a lot at you when we're coming down on offense. And the defensive end, too.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year with all that we have, and I'm glad to be part of the building year, or whatever you want to call it."

On paper the Bulls will have more versatility than a year ago. Valentine is capable of playing either wing position and can handle the ball, though he doesn't project as a point guard. Butler can play and defend four positions, and Grant is capable of playing either guard spot. Bringing back E'Twaun Moore would benefit that versatility greatly, as he's capable of playing on or off the ball.

In the frontcourt, the Bulls will need to replace Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, neither of whom provided much versatility. Robin Lopez is entrenched at center, which will give the Bulls' stretch forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis more room to roam the perimeter.

Wherever Valentine plays, and however Hoiberg uses him in Year 1, the Michigan State rookie said he's ready to do what's asked of him from a franchise known for winning.

"My job is to just come in, do what I can do best and just work on my game and try to lead as best as I can," he said on SportsTalk Live (in the video above). "I'm not coming in to step on anybody's toes but I'm going to do what I can to lead and be a good teammate and try to win some games."