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."

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead