Auburn seeks second trip to state finals

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Auburn seeks second trip to state finals

It took more than a year for high school basketball fans and the media to finally figure out how to spell Fred Van Vleet's last name. Van Vleet, not Van Fleet. In fact, some people still get it wrong. It must be a typo, right? It can't be Van Vleet. It must be Van Fleet, right?

Maybe if Rockford Auburn advances to the finals of the Class 4A tournament in Peoria -- for the second time in school history--everybody will get it right. Once and for all. Fred Van Vleet.

The 6-foot point guard, who is committed to Wichita State, scored 26 points to lead Rockford Auburn to a 66-46 rout of Machesney Park Harlem on Tuesday night in the regional semifinal.

To win the Dundee-Crown sectional and advance to the supersectional at DeKalb, coach Bryan Ott's team likely will have to eliminate Huntley and Elgin, then could face highly rated Warren to earn a spot in the Elite Eight, a daunting task indeed.

It hasn't been easy for Rockford Auburn to get out of its own regional in the past. Legendary coach Dolph Stanley produced the only state qualifier in 1963. His 28-3 team, which was ranked No. 2 in the state, lost in the state quarterfinals. And the school always had to contend with West Rockford and East Rockford and Rockford Boylan and Rockton Hononegah.

In his 13th year at Auburn, Ott has been building for this moment. Last year, his 26-5 team lost to Glenbard East in the supersectional. Three years ago, his 21-5 squad lost to St. Charles North in the sectional semifinal.

This year's team is 27-2 and has won 18 in a row. Its only losses were to Rockton Hononegah by three points in December and to unbeaten and second-ranked Proviso East 75-56 in the semifinals of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

"We're better than last year," Ott said. "We have one more year of experience with Van Vleet, who is a great player. We start five seniors, three of whom started last year. We pressure full-court and we get out I transition and finish."

Van Vleet is averaging 21 points, seven assists and seven rebounds per game. He is one of the most underrated players in the state and the undisputed leader of a team that most observers overlook in the rush to heap praise on Class 4A powers Simeon and Proviso East.

"He is a coach on the floor, a dynamic ball-handler," Ott said. "His floor vision is second to none. He is a great passer and he does a great job of quarterbacking our man-to-man full-court and half-court defense, which requires a lot of talk."

Van Vleet is backed up by 6-foot senior LaMark Foote (14 ppg), 6-foot-2 senior Jaylin Marshall (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and 5-foot-10 senior Elijah Smith (12 ppg).

Smith, who didn't play much as a junior, has come on strong to become another offensive threat in Auburn's four-guard offense. Marshall is the team's tallest starter and very athletic.

"Lack of size hasn't been a problem for us," Ott said. "We haven't faced any opponents with great size, teams with players who are 6-foot-6 or taller. If we face Warren (in the supersectional), they would be the tallest team we've faced."

Auburn averages 75 points per game but Ott is more concerned with his team's consistency on defense. "For us, we need to be consistent on defense. There are times when we are a shutdown team, then disappear for a quarter and give up silly shots. We aren't as consistent on defense as we were last year," the coach said.

As Auburn attempts to go deeper into the tournament, Ott also is calling upon Marshall and Smith to take more pressure off Van Vleet on offense.

"Marshall has to produce inside. He has to be a threat inside no matter who we are facing," Ott said. "And Smith has to average in double figures so opponents can't double up on Van Vleet and not respect anyone else."

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief’s work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. 

“There’s probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama’s) one of them,” Russell said. 

One of those three spots is “open,” Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. 

“I couldn’t text back,” Russell said. “It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say.”

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell’s been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. 

“Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile,” Russell said. “It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that’s the goal this year, is getting better.” 

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from Monday:

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Cubs meet President Obama in unforgettable, symbolic White House visit: ‘They said this day would never come’

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

President Obama, with Cubs at White House: 'Among Sox fans, I'm the Cubs' No. 1 fan'

At Cubs' White House visit, President Obama touts Michelle Obama's Cubs fandom, shouts out Jose Cardenal

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty