Basketball creating a buzz at TF South

600388.png

Basketball creating a buzz at TF South

Before every practice and every home game, Paul Pierce walks into the gym at Thornton Fractional South in Lansing and gazes at the plaque hanging on the wall, the one that celebrates the basketball team's victory in the 1963 regional championship, the only title in school history.

"Our goal is to accomplish what the 1963 team did," Pierce said. "Coach reminds us of that every day. We came close to Thornton two years ago, then lost to Plainfield South by one point in the first game of the regional last year. It is important for us to do something that hasn't been done before."

In his third season, TF South coach John O'Rourke is trying to turn hamburger into filet mignon. A TF South graduate of 1995, he played basketball for four years and served as former coach Marc Brewe's assistant for three years. When Brewe became athletic director, O'Rourke moved up.

He knows the drill. TF South has never won a conference title in basketball. It is a football and basketball school. Pierre Thomas and Curtis Granderson went there. Brewe had only one winning team in seven years. He went from 1-24 in 2007 to 22-5 in 2008. Last year, the Rebels were 11-16.

"It was a challenge that I wanted to take on," O'Rourke said. "I wanted to build off what coach Brewe had started in his later years. Now we have started to get more kids in the building who are dedicated to basketball.

"This year we have a good group of kids who work hard, listen and want to improve every day. To be successful, you need kids who are committed. I believe is what we are doing and the kids have bought in. We're seeing more success. The community and staff and parents are more excited about the product on the floor. There is a buzz in the school."

TF South is 6-3 after losing to Joliet West 62-59 and Argo 63-60 last week. But two fender-benders don't make a train wreck. And they certainly don't force a sudden closing to an otherwise promising season. The Rebels hope to regroup as they prepare to meet Lincoln-Way Central in the opening round of the Lincoln-Way East Holiday Tournament on Dec. 26.

Their shortcoming is a lack of size. They were burned by Joliet West's 6-foot-9 Marlon Johnson, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds.

"Our biggest fear is if we face a big team that can handle the ball and can make plays. That would be a problem for us," O'Rourke said. "The strength of our team is good shooting. We play very hard for four quarters. We pressure the ball and harass the ball-handlers. That's why we press and play full-court man-to-man and trap all over the floor. We have to create steals and get scoring opportunities."

Pierce, a 6-foot senior, is one of the best players ever produced at TF South. He averages 15 points and six rebounds per game. He is attracting interest from North Park, Roosevelt and Northern Kentucky. A good student (he has a 3.0 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale), he wants to play basketball in college.

O'Rourke ranks Pierce in a class with former TF South stars Brian Flaherty, son of Mount Carmel coach Mike Flaherty who played at St. Xavier, and Paris Carter, now at Illinois-Chicago, who is described as "our best player ever."

"Paul is coming off a down junior year. He averaged only five points per game and struggled a lot. He lost his confidence," O'Rourke said. "But he improved a lot over the summer. He got his shot and his skills back. He is the leader of our team on the floor."

Pierce starts along with 6-3 senior Ira Crawford (13 PPG, 7 RPG), 5-foot-9 junior Donald Hardaway (7 PPG), 5-foot-8 sophomore point guard Robert Ryan (11 PPG, 5 assistsgame) and 6-foot-2 senior Kaleb Garrett (6 RPG). Kenny Doss (10 PPG), a 6-foot-1 junior, and Mychelle Bullock (7 PPG), a 6-foot-2 senior, come off the bench.

Pierce admits he lost confidence last year and credits his brother for reminding him that "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." He never stopped working hard even though his shot wasn't falling and his scoring average dropped.

"Last year, I took a backseat because we had a lot of seniors on the team. It was their team, not my team," he said. "I was over-thinking, not just playing basketball. My shot was flat, not smooth. I was determined to turn things around."

Usually, Pierce goes to Starkville, Mississippi, in the summer to work out with his cousin, NBA player Travis Outlaw. Not last summer. Instead, he chose to stay in Lansing to play with the Illinois Wolverines, an AAU team featuring several players that Pierce had played with since sixth grade.

"I slept in the gym. I took 100 shots in the morning, then 300 the rest of the day. I got my confidence and my shot back," he said. "But the last two games told me that I have to take more control of the game, step up and take charge. I learned that when we face a big man that all of us have to crash the boards and play defense. We have to play as a team if we're going to accomplish our goal."

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets Thursday on CSN

Preview: John Lackey, Cubs open series with Mets Thursday on CSN

John Lackey and the Cubs open a four-game series with the Mets on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet at 6:10 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.

Starting pitching matchup: John Lackey (7-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Steven Matz (7-3, 3.29 ERA)

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

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Tamika Catchings scores 26 as Sky fall to Fever

Tamika Catchings scores 26 as Sky fall to Fever

ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) -- Tamika Catchings scored 26 points a day after the death of her former Tennessee coach, Pat Summitt, and the Indiana Fever beat the Chicago Sky 95-83 on Wednesday.

Catchings hit a 3-pointer with 7:33 left in the first quarter and immediately pointed toward the sky in a tribute to Summitt, who died Tuesday.

In the fourth quarter, Catchings found Tiffany Mitchell in the corner for an open 3-pointer to push Indiana's lead to 82-68. On the Fever's next possession, Catchings spun her defender and completed a 3-point play for a 17-point lead.

Erlana Larkins added 15 points and nine rebounds for Indiana (7-9), which is ranked No. 9 in the AP power poll. Catchings was 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 4 behind the arc, and hit all nine of her free throws.

She scored 14 points in the first half as Indiana held a 44-38 lead. Elena Delle Donne led the way for Chicago with 12 points at the half.

Delle Donne finished with 21 points for eighth-ranked Chicago (6-9).

Wrist injury has Melky Cabrera out of White Sox lineup

Wrist injury has Melky Cabrera out of White Sox lineup

The health bug struck the White Sox again on Wednesday as Melky Cabrera is out at least three-to-four days with a mild right wrist strain.

A team which has already had its depth tested faces another challenge as one of its best hitters needed an MRI after he left Tuesday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins early. Batting in the middle of the lineup all season to break up a glut of right-handed hitters, Cabrera is hitting .294/.344/.462 this season with eight home runs and 39 RBIs.

“You don't like anytime you don't have Melky in there,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He's a switch-hitter, middle of the lineup -- it hurts to not have him in there. We're going to have to figure out a way to make up for that.”

Switch-hitter Dioner Navarro is hitting fifth on Wednesday as the White Sox face the Twins in the second of a three-game set.

Cabrera initially injured on June 18 in Cleveland. Though he exited that game early, Cabrera returned to the lineup the next day. He hit three homers and has a 1.018 OPS in 39 plate appearances since even though he has experienced some soreness. He re-aggravated the wrist on a swing and miss Tuesday.

“It’s difficult because I want to play, but the doctors said the best for me right now is just to take a rest for a couple of days because I have inflammation there,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “But yeah, for me, I want to play. I don’t like to be on the bench. I want to play because the team needs me and I need the team.”

The White Sox are already without Austin Jackson, who is out at least several more weeks after he had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his knee. The club is also short three relievers as Zach Putnam is on the 15-day disabled list with neural uritis in his right elbow, Jake Petricka had potentially season-ending hip surgery and Dan Webb had reconstructive elbow surgery.

Ventura said the medical staff doesn’t believe a DL stint is warranted in Cabrera’s case.

“They're talking three or four days just to be able to get over the inflammation, things that are in there,” Ventura said. “It hurts him when he swings and misses, so it would help if he just didn't miss.”