Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

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Can St. Benedict contend in Class 1A?

Lamon Dawkins used to play football. He was a running back and wide receiver on his father's youth team, the Little Eagles, who played at Hamlin Park. He still plays football from time to time. He wishes St. Benedict had a football program. If it did, he'd be suiting up in helmet and pads.

But it doesn't. Dawkins enrolled at St. Benedict to play basketball and get a good education. In his view, it was the "obvious choice."

"I like football but I like basketball more," Dawkins said. "I get more excited with basketball. I like running down the court, dunking on people and shooting. And it's even more fun this year because we're running all the time, run-and-gun."

Dawkins is a 6-foot-1 junior guard who is averaging 21.5 points per game for a St. Benedict team that is 17-5 and seeded No. 2 behind highly rated Hope Academy in the Class 1A sectional at Hope.

Last week, St. Benedict defeated Gordon Tech 59-53 as Dawkins scored 32 points and 6-foot-3 senior Henry Mireku contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The Bengals meet Roycemore on Wednesday and Providence-St. Mel on Friday. With an enrollment of 230 students, the school has slipped to Class 1A. St. Benedict hasn't won a regional title since 1992. But coach Tom Horn thinks his current squad is primed to make history.

"This is my best team," Horn said. "This team is averaging 80.5 points per game, most in school history. It is a high risk, high reward team. We play a 1-3-1 trap and 2-2-1 defense. If you score, we try to outscore you. Our goal is to get the ball up quickly and take the best shot."

Horn has known success at St. Benedict. A 1977 graduate, he was a sophomore on a 24-3 team that was ranked No. 8 in the Chicago area. Indiana coach Bob Knight came to scout two of Horn's teammates, Steve Scales (who went to TCU) and Bob Middleton (who went to Texas A&M).

Horn attended Wright Junior College for one year, then transferred to Northeastern Illinois and walked onto the basketball team. He has been teaching in the Chicago public schools for 29 years. After stops at Schurz, Lane Tech and Northside Prep, he landed at St. Benedict four years ago.

Last year's team was 17-8 and lost to Hope Academy in the regional. Afterward, he decided it was time to make a change in his philosophy.

"We have a lot of talented kids," Horn said. "Later in your career, after you reach a point where you have won 230 games...well, I talked to my staff and we felt we had to change to a run-and-gun offense because I wanted to see these kids go to college and I wanted them to put up big numbers.

"Early in your career, you think about your ego. But now it's all about the kids. They want to run. They run all summer with AAU. So I changed my philosophy. At Northside Prep, we won 23 games one year, beat Notre Dame and lost to Marshall in the city playoff. But this team has more talent."

But can they beat Hope Academy?

Three weeks ago, St. Benedict had a 10-point lead over Hope Academy in the third quarter but lost 75-70 for the conference championship.

"To beat Hope, we must guard them," Horn said. "They had too many easy baskets. We can score with anyone. We lost 92-87 in double overtime to Jones. We aren't afraid to match basket for basket. But we can't give up easy baskets. We can play with them."

Dawkins, who has a 36-inch vertical jump and is described as a Division I prospect by his coach, and Mireku, who averages 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per game, are the key contributors. Very athletic, Mireku plays in the paint for the Bengals but likely will be a two-guard in college.

Other starters are 5-foot-9 senior point guard Ray Busch (five points, nine assists per game), 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior Earl Briggs (eight points, five rebounds per game) and 6-foot-3 senior Leon Brown (seven points, five rebounds, four blocks and three assists per game).

"Briggs clears the boards. If the other team beats our press, he is back there to defend," Horn said. "Brown is long-armed and guards the best player on the other team."

Coming off the bench are 5-foot-2 freshman point guard Marshawn Williams and 6-foot senior guard Jacques Lewis.

Dawkins accepts his role as the go-to guy. "I'm supposed to lead the charge down the floor," he said.

He recalls St. Benedict's opening game against St. Gregory. The Bengals were trailing by two points in the second quarter when Horn decided it was time to start the track meet.

"In practice, (Horn) told us we would run and gun. He wanted to see us run with the ball. We were surprised. Sometimes we get tired but we were excited to run, run and gun," Dawkins said.

"Then against St. Gregory, in the second quarter, he said to run and gun and we took off. We ran away from them. We liked (running) more. What is run and gun? Every rebound we grab, we go, we attack the basket, we don't wait, the whole team goes to the basket."

Dawkins hopes to play basketball in college. His dream schools are Memphis and Butler. To earn a scholarship to one of those schools, he acknowledges that he must continue to improve, as he has since last season when he averaged 15 points per game.

"I worked hard all summer," he said, recalling trips to Illinois' camp and frequent sessions at the Carter Club at 2919 N. Leavitt. "I woke up every day and played basketball. I went one-on-one with family members all the time, people I didn't know, kids at the boys club, anyone. I just wanted to get better at everything I did."

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

Dennis Rasmussen looks to build off experience

The Blackhawks’ offseason moves have once again left holes, especially among the forward lines. Considering the experience Dennis Rasmussen gained last season, he could certainly grab the third- or fourth-line center spot.

But Rasmussen isn’t going to pencil in anything yet.

“I don’t really think that way. I always think I have to play as good as possible to earn a spot, and that’s what I think this year, too,” said Rasmussen on Day 3 of Blackhawks training camp. “But it’s really up to me. I have to play well to earn my spot here. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

After trading Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell this offseason, the Blackhawks will be looking for several players to step up and fill voids. Center is one of those spots, and Rasmussen played 44 games there with the Blackhawks last season. Rasmussen spent the long offseason prepping for this campaign, focusing on one thing in particular.

“I always try to work on getting faster, that’s the part of my game I can really improve,” he said. “I can improve everything. But especially getting quicker, that’s what I’m trying to focus.”

Anything else Rasmussen has to do to take that next step?

“I think he’s got to be a little more proactive than reactive out on the ice,” Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “Kind of be a little bolder in different areas whether it’s in the offensive zone if you’re down between the hash marks, hey, try and take a guy on 1-on-1. But if you’re a neutral zone, you got to be a little more responsible. If you got to pick up the wide winger and come back and play good defensive hockey, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

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Rasmussen showed that when he made his NHL debut last season. The Blackhawks recalled him in early December, when they were looking to bolster their bottom six; any offense added was a bonus. He scored three of his four goals in his first seven games – his first came in his NHL debut vs. Nashville.

“He can make more things happen out there,” Kitchen said. “I think he understands that too because he wants to do whatever it takes to make the team.”

Rasmussen wants to be part of this group. He gained some great experience last year, and he hopes it serves him well in trying to get that roster spot this season.

“It was great for me. I got to play a lot, think I played in some important situations sometimes and I was really happy with last year. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of experience too,” Rasmussen said. “So hopefully I can bring that into this year.”

Let's speculate: Could Les Miles come back to the Big Ten?

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Let's speculate: Could Les Miles come back to the Big Ten?

Les Miles was fired Sunday after 12 seasons as the head coach at LSU.

Miles has an awesome resume: a 114-34 record with 62 SEC wins, plus a national championship in 2007 and another trip to the national title game in 2011. Seven of his 12 seasons ended with double-digit wins, and two of them ended in SEC championships.

So he's sure to be a hot commodity when teams look to fill not-yet-existent head-coaching vacancies this offseason.

As far as we're concerned here in Big Ten Country, though, will a Big Ten program be able to land the Mad Hatter as a high-profile splash?

Miles is a Big Ten product, remember. An Ohio native, he played for Bo Schembechler at Michigan and later coached under Schembechler and Gary Moeller as a Michigan assistant from 1987 to 1994. He has familiarity with the conference and the recruiting grounds.

It's all pure speculation right now, as it's quite possible there will be no openings in the conference when the regular season wraps in late November. But if we were to project which Big Ten programs might be looking for new coaches this offseason, could we find a spot for Miles?

The obvious team that might be parting ways with its current head coach is Purdue. Darrell Hazell has had almost no success running the Boilermakers, currently with a 8-31 record in three-plus seasons and a grotesque 2-22 mark in Big Ten play. That's usually enough for a tenure to come to an end, but is it too much losing to keep Purdue from being an attractive choice for the free agent Miles? Certainly we've seen high-profile coaches take jobs at less-than-power programs before, particularly after wearing out their welcome at their previous spot of employment. Lovie Smith just surprised by taking a job at Illinois after a long career as an NFL head coach. Perhaps Purdue can use similar tactics — new athletics director Mike Bobinski just started his tenure and would surely like to make a splash — and of course there's all that Big Ten TV money that should make competitive pay no problem at all.

But there will more than likely be other suitors from bigger programs and ones with more storied traditions. Could one of them be Penn State? James Franklin is only in Year 3 in Happy Valley, but the Valley isn't so happy at the moment, with the Nittany Lions getting crushed by Michigan on Saturday to show just how big the gap currently is between the top of the Big Ten East Division and Penn State. Bill O'Brien worked wonders in the immediate years after the Jerry Sandusky scandal had such a big effect on the program, but Franklin's continued reclamation effort isn't going too swimmingly in that ultra-competitive division with 7-6 records in each of his first two campaigns. There's certainly a case to be made for giving Franklin more time, but college football fans (and athletics departments) aren't famous for their patience. The tradition and profile of Penn State would have to be attractive to Miles, who dealt with a high-profile environment at LSU, and if the university is real serious about getting the Lions back to the top of college football's heap, bringing in Miles — and his track record of recruiting success — would do it, at the very least from a public-relations standpoint.

And then there's the obligatory mention of Michigan. Michigan? Jim Harbaugh is just in the second year of his tenure and seemingly has a lifelong title set up as the King of Ann Arbor. But should Harbaugh, who's had great success turning the Wolverines around in lightning-quick fashion, head back to the NFL, that would create an opening. Who better to fill that hypothetical vacancy than another Michigan Man in Miles? Miles has had his name linked to Michigan before, of course, with the obvious connection sparking speculation when the Wolverines needed to find replacements for Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. There's no indication Harbaugh's going anywhere, of course — we're in speculation land, remember? — but because it's Miles, the possibility has to be at least addressed.

It's all a guessing game at this point, and there are sure to be other high-profile openings around college football that will become speculative destinations for Miles, not to mention other job titles that aren't "head coach." But it'd be something to see him join the Big Ten's already-loaded roster of head coaches.