Egekeze is future star at Huntley

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Egekeze is future star at Huntley

Huntley coach Marty Manning projects Amanze Egekeze as a future star, another Scottie Pippen at the next level or beyond. The 6-6 sophomore already is attracting interest from several Big Ten schools.

In the wake of his 21-point performance in Huntley's 55-49 victory over previously unbeaten Crystal Lake Central in the championship game of the Jacobs Holiday Tournament, his popularity will continue to soar.

Manning is cautious, however. "I thought Derrick Rose would be a flop in the NBA because he couldn't shoot. I think college coaches will have a better understanding of where Amanze will fit in their programs," he said.

But Amanze isn't so sure that he will be the best player in his own family. His younger brother, Uchenna, a 9-year-old third grader, is ahead of Amanze's development and projects to be the best Egekeze of all.

"It's looking that way," Amanze said. "He already has been exposed to things and knows more about basketball than me and my older brother Kemdi (who also is on the Huntley varsity) knew at the same age. He is tall for his age and will keep growing. He has huge feet for his age.

"He already is one of the tallest kids in his age group. And he is playing as a guard right now. He could be a 6-6 or 6-7 point guard, which is what I am trying to develop into now. At 16, I've just been focusing on getting better every time I go on the court."

Manning, who was a point guard on a 27-4 Hoffman Estates team that lost a one-point decision to Westinghouse in the state quarterfinals in 1996, said he started "salivating" about Egekeze when he saw him as an eighth grader.

"I saw him in feeder tryouts, shooting right and left-handed hooks, finishing at the rim, making pull-up jumpers with great form, swishing every shot," Manning said. "When you see a kid that tall (he was 6-5 at the time), you know he is something special, that he has great potential.

"What is intriguing about him is he has a base of accumulative skills -- ball-handling, passing, shooting -- and he is a straight-A student. All those qualities make him a major Division I prospect. What is holding him back is he is only a sophomore and he isn't physically overwhelming. He has to get stronger in his legs."

Egekeze is aware of his shortcomings. He is working on his guard skills, his ball-handling and his perimeter defense. He plans to get involved in a weight training program. He is constantly reminded of some sage advice his father keeps drumming into his ear.

"My fathers says: 'Bring something different every year.' I should try to get better at some aspect of my game every year, like Derrick Rose improving as a shooter," he said.

Amanze's parents -- his father is a doctor, his mother is a nurse -- immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. Born in Chicago, the family settled in Huntley when Amanze was in third grade. His father was a soccer player but Amanze preferred basketball.

"I never understood soccer. I thought it was boring, too slow compared to basketball," he said. "When I watched basketball, I understood it. I knew the basics. I liked the idea of putting the ball in the basket."

Now he hopes to combine basketball and academics into a sound college education. Maybe engineering. But he admits it is too early to be thinking about college and recruiting, not when his high school team is 10-1 and preparing for a rematch with Crystal Lake Central on Wednesday at Huntley.

"The Big Ten is what we're looking into right now but I would look at other options," he said.

Egekeze averages 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks per game. Troy Miller, a 6-foot senior point guard, averages 13 points and three assists and is a 42 percent shooter from three-point range. Justin Frederick, a 6-3 senior, averages 10 points and five rebounds and is an outstanding offensive rebounder. Bryce Only, a 6-foot junior, averages eight points and is the team's best defensive player. Jake Brock, a 6-2 senior, also is a defensive stalwart. Ryan Craig, a 6-3 junior, and Ryan Lussow, a 6-3 senior, come off the bench.

Miller, who is attracting interest from such Division III schools as Augustana, St. Norbert and Lake Forest, was the most prolific three-point shooter in the northwest suburban area last season. Only is a hard-hitting third baseman who has major league potential and is attracting interest from Division I schools.

"This team has the potential to be the best team I've had," Manning said. "It is more dynamic. It has guards who can shoot and a post player who can score in the post. You have to have good guards to advance in the state tournament. Overall, this is the most talented team I have coached."

Manning, 34, is in his sixth year as Huntley's head coach. Armed with a degree in business administration and a masters in secondary education, he teaches computer programming, advanced placement computer science and introduction to business.

He worked his way up the basketball coaching ladder, from varsity girls assistant to sophomore boys coach, then the varsity. "Even if I decided to play basketball in college at Augustana or Ripon, I still wanted to coach basketball in high school," he said.

At one time, Huntley was a doormat for high school basketball. But the McHenry County is growing faster than malls can keep up with it and the high school enrollment has increased from 1,200 nine years ago to 2,400 today with a projection of 3,000 in four years.

The quality of basketball has improved, too. "When I first got here, there were talented kids but the school tended to play teams out west," Manning said. Now the school has moved from the Big Northern Conference to the Fox Valley's Valley Division and Class 4A. Manning beefed up his schedule and hired two top-notch assistants -- Tony Jones, a former All-Big Ten player at Purdue in the 1980s, and his former coach at Hoffman Estates, Bill Wandro.

"We tried to build a relationship with the junior high school and feeder programs. But we didn't have to do too much else," Manning said. "As we grew, parents came from the northwest suburbs and wanted to get their kids involved in athletics."

His first team went 23-6 and lost to Rock Falls in the sectional semifinal. In 2008, his team lost to Sterling in the sectional final. Last year's team was 25-5 and lost to Rockford Auburn in the sectional final. So this year's goal is obvious to one and all.

"Our goal is to go beyond the sectional for the first time in school history, to accomplish something that has never been done before," Manning said. "Amanze is the difference-maker. He won't dominate for us -- maybe as a junior and senior -- but he gives us what we didn't have last year, a post presence that opponents must respect. He makes us more dynamic."

As Huntley's tallest player, Egekeze plays in the post even though Manning admits the youngster probably will be a guard at the next level. But he'll do whatever is best for the team.

"As the team's tallest player, the coach says he needs me to be more aggressive on the boards and to score inside," Egekeze said. "It clashes a bit because I'm trying to develop my game for the next level. I'm trying to find ways to score in the post but also working on my guard skills."

The victory at the Jacobs tournament showed Egekeze and his teammates what their potential is and how well they can play against a good opponent in a big game when they are mentally prepared.

"I knew I had to have that type of game (21 points) for us to win," Egekeze said. "I am getting double and triple teammed a lot so I have to work on other ways to be effective on offense.

"But I really like this team. It is more fun playing with them this year. We've grown up playing basketball since the playgrounds in seventh grade. Last year was a lesson to prepare us for this year. Rockford Auburn was a good team, a fundamentally sound and athletic team, the kind of team we have to beat to go farther in the state tournament. It was our first taste of real competition.

"So losing that game taught us how much harder we have to work. We want to do something that the school has never done before. Our ultimate goal is to go Downstate. Based on how we played at the Jacobs tournament, we learned how committed we are defensively. We surprise a lot of teams with our man-to-man pressure defense. I think we're one of, if not the best, defensive team in our area."

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

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Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

The upheaval that has afflicted the 2016 Bears roster ratcheted up a notch late Tuesday when the Bears placed cornerback Kyle Fuller on injured reserve due to a knee injury and shuffled the depth chart elsewhere.

The Bears waived tight end Greg Scruggs, who was making the switch to offense from the defensive line, and linebacker Jonathan Anderson, while moving linebacker John Timu from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. To fortify the defensive line, where nose tackle Eddie Goldman is down indefinitely with an ankle injury, the Bears signed CJ Wilson, a 2010 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers who has played for the Packers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, starting 19 of 78 career games played.

Fuller, the 14th-overall pick of the 2014 draft and once identified as a building block of the Bears defense, underwent knee surgery Aug. 15 while the team went to New England for practices and a preseason game with the Patriots. He had been making significant strides in recovery as far as straight-ahead running but was still hampered with change-of-direction.

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Coach John Fox on Monday said simply that Fuller “has a sore knee. It has some medical things that kind of restrict you. When we get that healed up, he’ll go.”

The IR designation does not necessarily end Fuller’s season. Beginning in 2013, under an agreement between the NFL and Players Association, one player per team may be placed on injured reserve and later be brought back to the active roster. That player must sit out six weeks and cannot be activated for an additional two weeks.

With inside linebacker Danny Trevathan out following surgery on his thumb, Anderson had been expected to see additional playing time, possibly with the No. 1 unit. But rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started Sunday at Dallas in the base 3-4 and Christian Jones cycled in with sub packages.