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."

Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

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Preview: White Sox, Royals tangle Friday night on CSN

The White Sox take on the Royals on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. from Kansas City. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 4.57 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (0-0, 2.13 ERA)

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

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

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

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

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

Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs, Phillies start series Friday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Phillies on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 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.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA) vs. Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 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.

Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

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Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

The Bears’ decision to move on from Matt Forte, the No. 2 running back in franchise history behind only Walter Payton in yardage, was not necessarily an easy one. It was, however, unanimous at Halas Hall, sources told CSNChicago.com. And it was also part of a significant deeper change in the main operating principle underpinning the Bears’ rushing offense.

Depending upon what Forte does with the New York Jets — and for how long — the decision might be open to question. Few NFL decisions aren’t.

But the Bears’ offense under John Fox and new coordinator Dowell Loggains was clearly going away from what Forte was accustomed to — a true featured back with a relief-back in the form of a Chester Taylor/Marion Barber/Michael Bush — and moving onto a true use of two backs in the fashion that Fox’s Denver Broncos offenses used them.

The change will be more than just a few carries. Forte lost carries last season to Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. This is different.

Instead of Forte and an understudy, as the de facto rushing offense has been since Forte was drafted in 2008, the Bears this offseason made the decision to emphasize the run even more under Loggains, and that has meant something other than simply more carries for Forte’s understudy.

For perspective purposes: Last season Forte missed three full games due to a knee injury but still totaled 276 touches (carries plus targets) to 236 combined for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. When Forte returned from the three-game injury break, the offense had changed. Forte had four 20-carry games in the first six. He had one over the final six.

Forte did not appear publicly to genuinely embrace the job-sharing approach as Langford’s carries matched and in cases exceeded his own. Whether he would have been on board with ceding even more meaningful time to a co-back is another matter that would have been open to question, though any suspicions that direction are now moot.

(If Forte would have had problems with younger backs rising, he would not have been the first; Thomas Jones ultimately demanded a trade after the Lovie Smith Bears drafted Cedric Benson to broaden the run game.)

Regardless, the true multi-back system will be a change for the Bears, harking back perhaps to the Bears building their run game on two starter-grade backs in Benson and Jones. The Bears’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver suggests less a no-confidence vote in either Carey or Langford than a measure of the commitment to both competition and a depth chart with meaning past the top one or even two names. The Bears have used mid-round picks on running backs in three straight drafts (Carey, Langford, Jordan Howard this year), making the same point the Anderson interest did.

And that’s how Langford took the Howard selection to a position that where confidence in him was one of the reasons the organization was OK with parting with Forte.

“I really didn’t think too much of (the Howard pick),” Langford said. “I know it’s just competition. That’s what brings a lot of running backs, a lot of positions, to push themselves even more. Competition is always a good thing, and playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”

“Complacent” wasn’t a word anyone was likely to apply to Langford, and certainly to Carey, who played his way up from a roster bubble at the end of training camp last year. And Howard as a fifth-round rookie isn’t guaranteed anything for awhile in training camp except reps with the 2s or 3s, with Jacquizz Rodgers also re-signed after an injury shortened 2015.

Loggains has been dealt a hand without an ace like Forte but with what he and the organization think can be three or four kings, depending on roster decisions at the end of August.

“We like where Jeremy’s at,” Loggains said. “He needs to continue to develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, but we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted a back. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well.”