Farragut and Nelson hope for a Final Four appearance


Farragut and Nelson hope for a Final Four appearance

It was sometime early in the school year when a fellow teacher approached an unsuspecting William "Wolf" Nelson in the hallway at Farragut and said: "Wolf, you're 3A now."

Nelson couldn't have been more surprised--and overjoyed--if he had just learned that Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields had been granted another year of eligibility.

"I was totally in the dark," he said. "I had to check it out. He was right. I was shocked. We've always been a big (4A) school before. But now we are 14 students short of being Class 4A.

"I called all the coaches and players and said: 'We've been to the Elite Eight three times before. If everything falls into place, we may have a chance to get to the Final Four again.' I look at the teams in Class 3A and feel we have a good chance to win state."

Translated, that means Simeon is in Class 4A. So are Proviso East, Curie, Warren, Andrew, Plainfield East, Bogan, New Trier and most of the highly rated schools in the state this side of Peoria Manual, Peoria Central and Springfield Lanphier.

In 1995, Farragut was the pre-tournament favorite with Garnett, Fields and Michael Wright. But the Admirals lost to Thornton in the state quarterfinals and finished 28-2.

In 2004, Farragut finished 29-4 behind Ollie Bailey, again losing in the state quarterfinals.

Last year, D.J. Tolliver led the Admirals to a 24-5 record. But they lost to eventual state champion Simeon in the state quarterfinals.

Despite returning only one starter, Nelson believes this year's squad "can be as good or better than last year's team." In fact, he was so optimistic that he deliberately arranged for the most competitive schedule of his 21-year career to prepare his inexperienced players for the Public League Red-West and state tournament grind.

The Admirals are 12-7 but have won seven in a row after beating highly rated Seton 50-45 on Sunday at North Park. Going into the city playoff, Nelson is confident that his team has what it takes to seriously contend for the Class 3A title. Nobody can say they aren't battle-tested.

"I'm having a ball with my team this year, more fun than ever. When you do the unexpected, it makes it fun," Nelson said. "There have been a lot of teachable moments. I set up a tough schedule, the toughest I could. I decided these guys need to learn and understand what it takes to play at a high level of basketball.

"With only one starter back, no one expected much from this team. I didn't want to wait around. I wanted to step up the learning curve, let them learn lessons sooner than later. I didn't want to beat weak teams. I wanted them to play against the best right away, to know where they are right way. My plan is working."

Farragut's schedule reads like a "who's who" of the elite programs in the Chicago area--and even Indiana. It includes Simeon, De La Salle, St. Ignatius, Hillcrest, Harlan, Seton, La Lumiere, Bowman Prep and Red-West rivals Crane, Marshall, Orr and Whitney Young. What? He couldn't schedule Kentucky or the Chicago Bulls?

"This team has a lot of potential," Nelson said. "I had a good feel about this team early on. We lost to Simeon by seven. And we have lost to other big-time teams but not by much. This team can be as good as last year's team."

The strength of this team? The Admirals have one outstanding player in 6-foot-7 senior Rashaun Stimage, a lockdown inside defender in 6-foot-5 David Scott and the best three-point shooter that Nelson has ever coached in 5-foot-9 senior point guard Lavell Boyd.

"We also have quickness, toughness and senior leadership. All the pieces are together," the coach said.

Stimage, who averages 20 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game and recently recorded a triple-double in a game against Hillcrest, is described by Nelson as "the best senior in the state," better than Simeon's more celebrated Steve Taylor.

"He is more versatile than Taylor. He doesn't get as much recognition as he deserves. He is one of the best players I have coached," said Nelson, who ranks Stimage behind Garnett, Fields, Wright, Bailey and Tolliver on his All-Nelson team.

Scott (7 ppg, 13 rpg) defends the opponent's toughest big man. Boyd (14 ppg, 3 assists), who scored 27 points in a recent victory over Raby, is a superb three-point marksman.

"In posting a triple double (16 points, 12 rebounds, 13 blocks) against Hillcrest, Stimage once again proved why he is one of the top two unsigned prospects (along with Downers Grove South's Jerron Wilbut) in the class of 2012 in Illinois," said recruiting analysts Roy and Harv Schmidt of Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye.

"Not overlooking Stimage's performance, another player who is just as integral a part of what Farragut does is Lavell Boyd, who is your typical tough-minded floor leader from Chicago's West Side. Boyd plays his tail off from start to finish and is quite disruptive defensively. He doesn't do anything in spectacular fashion but he has shown that he can run an offense and score points in transition."

But Nelson wants to see more defense from his guards. "The guards aren't as tough on defense this year as last year. They have trouble shutting down the other team's best guards. We can shut down the bigs. But our guards have to step up for us to make this run," he said.

Other starters are 6-foot-5 senior Deonta Terrell (13 ppg), the great nephew of former world heavyweight boxing champion Ernie Terrell, and 5-foot-10 senior John Carter (8 ppg, 4 assists).

The bench is headed by 6-foot-3 sophomore Ashawn Jones (5 ppg), 6-foot-6 sophomore Sire Carroll (5 ppg), 5-foot-10 freshman Ernest Johnson (3 ppg) and 5-foot-9 freshman Joshua Adams (3 ppg).

Against Seton, Stimage had 19 points, six rebounds and six blocks, Boyd scored 12 points and Scott had nine points and 21 rebounds.

"We have to sacrifice in order to win," Nelson said. "The test for them is not to play for individual glory but they have to play for the team. Statistics don't mean anything at this point. They can't be selfish. If I see them playing together and doing what I tell them, we'll be successful."

Badgers defense puts Hawkeyes on lock down in win


Badgers defense puts Hawkeyes on lock down in win

In case you didn't know it already, this Wisconsin defense is very, very good.

Iowa doesn't have the most potent offense in the Big Ten, but that shouldn't cloud the impressiveness of another shut-down performance by the Badgers, who kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone in Saturday's 17-9 win in Iowa City.

Wisconsin allowed just 236 total yards, only 83 on the ground, and limited Iowa to 2-for-13 on third down in the victory, one that moved the Badgers ahead of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten West Division standings.

The Badgers' offensive production, at least when it came to everything besides points, was impressive, too. At halftime, Wisconsin had 246 total yards, 12 first downs, no penalties and nearly seven minutes more time of possession than Iowa. But the Badgers could only turn three red-zone trips into seven points, missing a field goal in the first quarter and giving away a goal-line fumble right before halftime. That lone touchdown was a pitch from backup quarterback Bart Houston to Troy Fumagalli.

After the Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal that made it 7-3, Alex Hornibrook hit Kyle Penniston for a huge 54-yard gain down to the Iowa five-yard line. But three plays later, Corey Clement leaped for the end zone and coughed up the ball, a fumble recovered by the Hawkeyes for a touchback. C.J. Beathard then took Iowa down the field, setting up a 47-yard field goal that made it just a one-point game at halftime.

The narrow halftime deficit was a huge victory for the Hawkeyes, who had to settle for that first field goal after a series of mistakes emblematic of their first half. On third and one, a false start erased a first down, and on the next play, a Beathard touchdown pass to Riley McCarron was negated when Kirk Ferentz called a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty.

Wisconsin finally rediscovered red-zone success midway through the third quarter, Clement punching in a touchdown from a yard out after a 57-yard Hornibrook throw to Quintez Cephus got the Badgers back down to the five-yard line.

But Wisconsin had another missed opportunity not long after, as Andrew Endicott missed his second field-goal try of the game, this one a more understandable miss from 52 yards away. After a battle of the punters for the majority of the second half, Iowa got down to the Wisconsin 21-yard line with about five and a half minutes left, but the Hawkeyes also missed a field-goal attempt, keeping it an eight-point game.

The Badgers marched down the field on a 62-yard drive, Clement's 34-yard dash the biggest play, and sealed the game with a field goal. Not even a massive kick return from Desmond King, which set up another Iowa field goal, could bail out the Hawkeyes.

Clement finished with 134 yards and a touchdown, with Hornibrook completing 11 passes for 197 yards.

Wisconsin's win sent it to 5-2 on the season, the first victory in a while after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. Next up is another colossal showdown against Nebraska.

Iowa's loss was its third of the season, dropping the Hawkeyes to 5-3. Next up is a game at Penn State.

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn't create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.

Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven't ruled anything in or out - and still need to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers one more time this weekend - but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.

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Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a devastating outfield collision during the first week of the regular season.

Schwarber flew from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he worked out at Dodger Stadium as the Cubs continued with what has been a classic NL Championship Series. Schwarber left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.