Austin drives Lanphier's title hopes

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Austin drives Lanphier's title hopes

The biggest day in the life of Larry Austin Jr.--up to now, that is--comes on Feb. 18. It will be his 16th birthday. It is only a coincidence that his Springfield Lanphier team, which is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, will meet second-rated Peoria Central on that date.

"That morning I get my driver's license," Austin said. "I'm looking forward to being able to drive. I don't want to depend on my parents all the time."

If he had a choice, Austin would choose a Ford Explorer or Mercury Mountaineer for his first vehicle, not a Ferrari or Sting Ray or Lamborghini.

That's because Austin, or LA to his friends, is all about being a utilitarian, nothing flashy. He prefers the grunt work, not the spotlight. Of all the many things he does on the basketball floor, he likes to make steals, not shots. He plays with enormous poise and maturity, rare for someone who enjoys watching cartoons.

Austin is a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard who averages 11 points, four assists and five steals for a 20-2 team that will meet highly rated Chatham Glenwood and Peyton Allen on Friday night for the Central State Eight Conference championship.

He already has received scholarship offers from Illinois, Bradley, DePaul and Memphis but most of the major programs, including Kentucky, Kansas and Ohio State, are showing interest. Longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com rates Austin among the top 50 players in the class of 2014.

Austin has built a national reputation despite his modest statistics. As a member of the 12-member USA men's developmental national team that won a gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 championship, he averaged only four points but accumulated seven assists and seven steals per game while playing with Simeon's Jabari Parker and Kendrick Nunn and Whitney Young's Jahlil Okafor.

"He has a great basketball IQ. He plays at a high level," Lanphier coach Chuck Shanklin said. "He does so many different things. His big statistic is the number of steals per game. His performance in the summer with Parker and USA Basketball brought him to everybody's attention. He will be a point guard in college."

That's what is attracting the major schools--Austin's point guard skills. Have you noticed how many teams in college and the NBA are desperately looking for leadership, someone to steer the ship and prevent it from sinking?

That's why former Thornridge and Indiana star Quinn Buckner, perhaps the most celebrated leader ever produced in Illinois, was the first player ever selected among the top 10 in the NBA draft who didn't average more than 10 points per game. Everybody coveted his point guard and leadership skills.

"The biggest thing that Austin has going for him are the positive intangibles that he brings to the table," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"He sports considerable toughness, is a strong man-to-man defender, has great leadership qualities and plays unselfishly. In addition, he has outstanding speed and quickness which combined with his strength allow him to consistently get to the basket.

"His perimeter shooting is still suspect and he is definitely not a scorer like Marian Catholic's Tyler Ulis, who is the other elite point guard in the class of 2014. Nevertheless, Austin possesses many of the attributes that warrant him drawing potential as a potential high major recruit."

Recruiting seems to be the last thing on his mind. With more than two years left to play at the high school level, he can expect many more offers, giving him endless options and opportunities to select the program of his choice, what is best for him. And there is no hurry to do it.

"I just want to stay focused and stay in the gym and do my schoolwork," he said.

At the moment, Austin doesn't play point guard on a team that is led by seniors Everett Clemons, T.J. Davis and Jaylen Briggity. But Austin will move to point guard as a junior. He knows that is his position for the future and he welcomes the challenge.

"A pure point guard is someone who controls the game very well and makes other players better," Austin said. "He has to have a pass-first attitude. His job is to get everyone involved in the game as soon as possible before he thinks about taking shots.

"Leadership is about communicating with other players, taking the game over when it is necessary, scoring when you have to, being in control of the game. When you see people arguing, you know they are in a bad position. It's your job to tell them what to do and when to do it."

Austin admires NBA stars Derrick Rose and Chris Paul and watches them whenever possible. He marvels at Rose's quickness and how Paul comes off pick-and-rolls. But he always talks about "playing my game" and not trying to copy someone else's.

At the USA Basketball camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he minded to his own business. "I learned how to compete every day. I realized that someone always is working when you aren't. It takes hard work every day if you want to be a great player, if you want to get better. We talked about little things that help you to win games...hustle plays, getting loose balls, breaking down defenses, drawing fouls, getting rebounds, how to make plays," he said.

It didn't take him long to realize that basketball was his future. He stopped playing baseball in second grade, after only one season as a first baseman. He said the game was too slow for him.

"Why basketball? I like intensity, the way we compete against other teams. The atmosphere is there," Austin said. "I like to make steals. If I get a steal and a breakaway and a dunk, it fires up my team and gets the crowd into the game. That's what makes it fun for me. I just go out and play and have fun."

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

For the Bears, defense can’t pick up all the pieces from broken offense

The current state of affairs for the 2016 Bears is seriously concerning when, after adding multiple starting players and investing high draft choices, the best that can be said about the Bears defense is that it isn’t as bad as the Bears offense.

A unit predicted to contend for a spot among the NFL’s top 10 this year was pushed around for 378 yards and 23 points in a 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. To push all of it off onto the fact that it was a preseason game won’t work, if only because the No. 1 defense allowed 239 of those yards and 20 of those points in the first half.

One mitigating fact is that the Bears offense hit a new preseason low and was coming back off the field before most members of the defense had had time to look at photos and to hydrate. Five of the Bears’ first seven possessions lasted less than 1 minute 30 seconds. Defensive players usually had time to get water or get with their coaches; not both.

And the defense did stiffen in the red zone, forcing the Chiefs twice to settle for field goals with the ball inside the Chicago 10 and a third time at the 23. And players at least bristled at the suggestion that the Bears are soft. “I take that personally,” said safety Harold Jones-Quartey. "I have never heard that word… . The first time I’ve ever heard anybody call us ‘soft’ is [now].”

Coach John Fox found some good in “the way our defense improved. We got a couple turnovers down in the lower-red area.”

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But those were scant positives in a game that saw Kansas City put together drives of 50 yards or longer five of the first six times it had the football, and those were against the supposed front liners.

The Chiefs drove 53 and 62 yards on their first two possessions, which included conversions of third-and-5 and third-and-14, part of the Chiefs converting six of 10 third downs in the first half. (“Obviously our third-and-long defense wasn’t real sufficient,” Fox allowed.)

Kansas City piled up 106 yards in the first quarter and what defensive “stops” there were might just as easily be credited to Kansas City execution as Bears playmaking. The Chiefs arguably had their initial drive stopped as much by tailback Spencer Ware colliding with blocking back Darrin Reaves on a third-and-short (2) for no gain. A fourth long drive of the half ended only when the Chiefs had a Bears blitz blocked, only to have Smith miss wide open wideout Albert Wilson inside the Chicago 10.

Special teams did the defense few favors. Kansas City punt returns of 18 and 15 yards put the ball at the KC 36 and the 50. The Bears did well to leave those possessions giving up only 3 points.

The game, in which starters and first-alternates play the longest of the preseason, had its points of player evaluation. Rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, whose preseason has been marked by impact plays (not all of them good, of course), did generate another in the third quarter with an interception that thwarted a Kansas City scoring drive deep in the Chicago end. This was, however, after he had lost the ball and the receiver on a 58-yard completion the previous Chiefs possession.

And rookie defensive end Jonathan Bullard, after missing practice last week to attend to family matters, collected two quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for loss among his three solo stops, according to initial game stats.

But rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has missed practice time with three different health issues since the start of training camp, was limited in practice this week with a hamstring strain, and missed an important opportunity for much-needed work against unfamiliar competition.

“We got a chance to look at some young guys and make evaluations,” Fox said, “and that’s what preseason’s for.”

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

White Sox crush four homers to support Jose Quintana in win over Mariners

Fireworks Night started early for the White Sox on Saturday night.

The White Sox homered four times to support Jose Quintana in their 9-3 win over the Seattle Mariners at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 27,318 fans. Quintana, who set a career high in season wins last week, notched his 11th victory of the season.

"This year is special for me," Quintana said. "Now we have momentum. (We have to) try to keep (it) going to get more for my team. It’s really good. I’m trying to do my job."

Quintana was on point again right from the get-go. After allowing a double to the first batter of the game, the 27-year-old southpaw retired the next 11 batters.

Quintana pitched 7.2 innings with eight strikeouts and two runs on five hits and a walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.77 on the year.

"He's pretty consistent," said manager Robin Ventura. "I think that's the biggest thing for him. Mentality wise and just focus, just his attitude and everything that goes with him is pretty consistent. You're never going to really tell what's going on with him on the game.

"He's had so many games that were close or tied or even behind that he never changes. I think that's what endears him to a lot of guys. He's consistent."

While Quintana has been consistent all year, the offense hasn't been. But on Saturday, the team gave their starter a healthy dose of run support.

"What was really impressive was the offense tonight was really good for us and for me," Quintana said. "It’s fun when you’re throwing when a lot of runs are scored."

The Mariners opened up the scoring with a sac fly from Robinson Cano in the first. But the White Sox answered back right away.

Melky Cabrera drove in Tim Anderson, who tripled in the previous at-bat, with a sac fly. The next batter, Jose Abreu, crushed his 18th homer of the year to put the White Sox in front. Cabrera was the only White Sox who didn’t record a hit in the game.

The White Sox offense began to heat up in the fourth after a quiet second and third from both sides.

After the first two batters of the inning were retired, the next four White Sox got on. It cleared the path for Tyler Saladino’s RBI single, which put the Sox up 3-1. Saladino finished the night with one homer and three RBI.

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The White Sox added four more in the fifth inning.

The scoring started with an RBI triple from Justin Morneau — the team’s second three-bagger of the night.

Back-to-back homers from Avisail Garcia and Alex Avila made it 7-1. It was the fifth time the White Sox hit two consecutive homers this season.

"I think Q's probably the happiest guy of anybody. He was great," Ventura said. "Any time you swing the bat as well as we did tonight and you get some add ons with the homers, you like seeing that kind of offense and you like seeing balls over the fence.

"Guys had a good night of just being patient and being able to cash in."

The Mariners added a run in the sixth from an RBI single by Guillermo Heredia and a sac-fly Franklin Gutierrez in the ninth.

Avila went 1-for-3 with a solo homer and walk in his first game since July 5.

Garcia, who had five extra base hits in June and July, had three on Friday night.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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