Harlan recalls the Umbles tradition

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Harlan recalls the Umbles tradition

It would be too good to be true if Harlan basketball coach Ervin Bryant is related to Tim Bryant, who led Harlan to Public League championships in 1970 and 1971 and was the best player the late Harlan coach Lee Umbles ever produced. It would be. But he isn't.

"Just say he's my uncle," Ervin Bryant said.

But he knows who Tim Bryant was. And he knows all about the tradition that Lee Umbles built at the South Side school in the late 1960s and 1970s. Even though he is a Simeon graduate of 1984 who played football rather than basketball.

"I tried to play basketball in college," said Ervin Bryant, who attended a junior college in Texas and later enrolled at Arizona. "I knew I wanted to coach. But I wasn't sure if I wanted to coach football or basketball."

It turned out to be basketball. When he returned to Chicago, he joined the late Mac Irvin's AAU organization. "Mac has been a very impressionable person in my life," Bryant said. Irvin led him to Hales Franciscan, where he coached for four years. Then Bryant went to Louisiana-Lafayette, Mount Carmel and Providence-St. Mel before landing at Robeson.

He assisted Charles Redmond, whom he describes as "my mentor," then became head coach at Robeson for three years before being hired at Harlan. In his fifth year, Bryant is determined to restore the glory that Harlan enjoyed when Umbles coached the Falcons to three city titles in five years.

"I'm aware of coach Umbles and the tradition at Harlan," Bryant said. "The first thing I wanted to do when I got this job was to honor him. He came to so many high school games and I got to know him. He told me about the things he did. He was like Bob Hambric (at Simeon) and Landon Cox (at King) and I wanted to respect what he had done. I'd be happy if I did half of what he did."

Bryant is off to a good start. He helped to arrange for the ceremony in December that renamed the gym after Umbles and dedicated the new floor in his name. The uniforms have LU printed on them, for Lee Umbles. And he has persuaded alumni, including Tim Bryant and Henry Thomas, to come back and speak to the team and get involved in the program.

Thomas, a 1970 graduate, is a well-known sports agent who represents several prominent NBA players. His personal donation paid for the new playing surface in gym.

"The kids listen to Henry because he represents Dwyane Wade and they know who Wade is," Bryant said. "Some of these kids might not have a change to play in college but they can go to college to get an education that will prepare them for another job."

That's one reason why Bryant scheduled an appearance in the Boulder Creek High School Holiday Hoopfest in Phoenix, Arizona. Harlan defeated two Arizona teams -- Hamilton of Chandler 53-45, Kellis of Glendale 68-63 -- but lost to a third, Desert Mountain of Goodyear, 42-39 in overtime in the championship game.

The Falcons will carry a 9-2 record into Saturday's game against Leo in the Bob Hambric Shootout at Thornton Fractional North in Calumet City. They have a date with top-rated Simeon on Jan. 27 at Harlan.

Against Hamilton, Torian Pearson scored 14 points, Deonte Johnson 12, Andre Hogan 11 and Anthony Knight had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Against Kellis, Johnson had 20 points, 10 steals and five assists, Pearson scored 17 points, Knight had 15 points and 12 rebounds and Michael Bowdery had 11 rebounds. Against Desert Mountain, Johnson scored 18, Hogan 13. Both were named to the all-tournament team.

"It was a great trip, a great experience for the kids," Bryant said. "We paid for it by selling candy and with alumni donations. I think it opened their eyes. We had a chance to see some colleges. Some of them hadn't been off 95th Street in their lives or even been on an airplane."

Johnson has been on an airplane before. But he was looking forward to experiencing the warmer weather in Arizona. The 5-8 senior point guard is Harlan's floor leader. He averages 12.8 points, six assists and eight steals per game. Last year, he scored 31 points against Simeon.

"He is as good a player in the city that nobody knows about," Bryant said. "He is flying under the radar because he is so small, that's what I tell him. I call them the 'no-name kids.' They are getting Division II looks. John Calipari (Kentucky) or Rick Pitino (Louisville) or Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) aren't in the gym. But I tell them that if you play had, somebody will recognize your talent and recruit you."

That is Johnson's motivation and inspiration. He is one of three returning starters from last year's 18-14 team. Last year's team was taller and maybe more talented, he admits, but this year's squad is quicker and plays better defense.

"I like this team better," Johnson said. "We work together on and off the court. We're a running team. We learned a lesson in our loss to Neuqua Valley. We started off lazy, we missed two wide-open lay-ups, our defense wasn't hyped enough and we weren't motivated enough. Ever since, we realized we have to play hard all the time and can't take any team for granted."

Johnson and his teammates have taken time to learn about Harlan's tradition. The other starters are the 6-4 senior Knight (12.2 ppg, 10 rpg), 5-11 senior guard Blaine Goodall, the 6-4 junior Pearson (12.4 ppg) and 6-6 senior Bowdery (4 ppg, 6 rpg).

The bench is headed by 5-10 sophomore guard Hogan (10 ppg) and 6-9 sophomore Lamous Brown, who is only 15 years old and weighs only 170 pounds but demonstrates great potential as a shot blocker and post player.

"We are very proud of what Henry Thomas did for us," Johnson said about the new floor. "I look at the trophies every day and want to win state and bring another trophy home. We want to do something that hasn't been done before at our school."

Johnson would like to accomplish something else that never has been done by a Harlan player -- earn a scholarship to Syracuse or Kentucky. "I feel I can fit in with their programs," he said. At the moment, he has attracted interest from Chicago State, Ferris State and Grand Valley State.

"When I see Syracuse and Kentucky play on TV, they run some offensive sets that we run. I feel I can be a point guard on those teams. Height doesn't mean anything; heart does. You have to look at how I play. I play hard, very aggressive, I do everything. I'm willing to do anything to play on a Division I team. If you have any doubts, come and look at how I play. I feel I am talented enough to play for those teams."

And what about Harlan? How far can the Falcons go in a conference that includes Simeon, Bogan, Morgan Park, Brooks and Vocational?

"We are good enough to compete with all of them because we are quicker than all of them," Johnson said. "Our quickness gives us an edge. Every time we use our feet, it pays off for us."

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

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USA TODAY

Northwestern holds off Ohio State for fifth Big Ten win, first win in Columbus in 40 years

It's not something that's been said often over the decades, but Northwestern is one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

That's the story the standings tell, and with another week of the 2016-17 season in the books, the Wildcats sit at 5-2 in conference play, good for the second-best mark in the league.

That fifth conference win came Sunday afternoon with a 74-72 defeat of Ohio State. It was the first time Northwestern won in Columbus since 1977.

This is the first 5-2 start to Big Ten play for the Cats since 1968. So is this the first time ever the Cats get an invite to the NCAA tournament?

Of course that remains to be seen, but Chris Collins' squad sure seems to be setting itself up for inclusion in the field of 68. Sunday's win was just the latest to come away from Evanston, and in seven conference games, four of the team's five wins have come in road games, including three straight at Nebraska, Rutgers and Ohio State.

Northwestern had to find a way to win Sunday. A couple surges in the first half took the Cats from modest deficits to a lead that grew as big as eight. The halftime advantage was five, but that slipped away quickly as Northwestern shot poorly after halftime. Ice cold is a better descriptor, the Cats struggling to get their field-goal percentage above 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. It got there eventually, the team finishing shooting 32.3 percent in the second half, but it was the work from the free-throw line that made the win possible. Over the final 20 minutes, Northwestern was 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, including going 11-for-12 over the final minute and a half.

The key stretch came when a Scottie Lindsey 3-ball broke a 56-all tie with four and a half minutes to play. Ohio State countered with a bucket, but freshman point guard Isiah Brown turned in back-to-back scores of his own, the second a breakaway layup off a steal. That made it a five-point lead, and though the gap shrunk over the game's final three minutes, Northwestern's free-throw shooting allowed the Cats to hold that lead the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot at the free-throw line. They were 12-for-23 on the game, and all but one of the attempts came in the second half, making for 10 missed free throws over the game's final 20 minutes. Northwestern committed a lot of fouls, but Ohio State couldn't capitalize, something that has to be quite painful for the Buckeyes, considering they had edges in other statistical categories. They shot 45.6 percent from the field compared to the Cats shooting 37.5 percent. Ohio State also had 16 second-chance points and 28 points in the paint. But Northwestern had 17 points off 13 Ohio State turnovers.

Lindsey finished with a game-high 21 points and has scored in double figures in every game this season. Bryant McIntosh had 17 points, and Vic Law had 10. Jae'Sean Tate scored 14 points for Ohio State, with JaQuan Lyle adding 13, Trevor Thompson scoring 11 and Cam Williams putting in 10.

The win was Northwestern's fourth straight and boosted its overall record to 16-4 to go along with the 5-2 mark in the conference. The Cats next play Nebraska on Thursday.

The loss snapped a modest two-game win streak for Ohio State and dropped the Buckeyes' record to 12-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten. They next play Minnesota on Wednesday.

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”