Have you ever heard of Universal?

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Have you ever heard of Universal?

Mahmood Ghouleh and Omar Mansour had important decisions to make. That both of them ended up at Universal School in Bridgeview, a small and private Islamic institution governed by Muslim professionals and designed to turn Muslim children into well-rounded individuals, wasn't surprising.

Ghouleh, a 2004 graduate of Reavis High School in Burbank, was playing basketball at Morraine Valley Community College when he received a telephone call "out of the blue" from athletic director Bill Finn.

"I could go to New York to play basketball for a Division II college or I could coach basketball at Universal School," Ghouleh said. "I had no idea how he knew about Universal. I had never heard about Universal. But I'm Muslim. I don't like to be very far from home. So I took the job."

At 26, Ghouleh is in his fifth year as Universal's head basketball coach. After beating College Preparatory School of America, another Islamic school in Lombard, 92-48 last Friday, the Stars are 10-0. They'll play at Reavis on Tuesday and at Bremen on Dec. 28.

"I promised them that we would do nothing but win," Ghouleh said. "Previously, the program was new. They won only two or three games a season. But they've never been under .500 since I came.

"When I came in, I promised we would win conference titles and be a very good team. They looked at me as if I was crazy. They were missing structure and organization and fundamentals. To them, basketball was recreation previously.

"It was funny because I had never run across people who knew nothing about basketball before. They only knew how to throw the ball at the hoop. They had no technique. My reaction was: 'What have I got myself into? Maybe I made a mistake here.' I didn't know if I had made the right decision.

"But I couldn't go wrong because I was still around basketball. It's my life. When they started to believe in themselves, that's when I knew this would be a good club. They are very smart kids. It was a matter of teaching. I saw progress in the first half of the first year."

Meanwhile, while Ghouleh was sorting things out and trying to stamp his fingerprints on the program, Mansour was trying to make decision of his own: Should he stay home and enroll at Carl Sandburg in Orland Park? Or should he go to Universal?

After graduating from eighth grade, Mansour trained with Sandburg's basketball team during the summer prior to his freshman year. But his parents wanted their son to attend a private school. He talked to Ghouleh, friends who were attending Universal and teammates on an Indiana AAU team that also attended Universal.

"They convinced me that it was a great school," said Mansour, who is an Egyptian. "A good percent of my decision was based on academics and religion. I have no regrets. I'm enjoying my experience. I enjoy our team. It's like a family. I'm happy I made the decision I did."

Mansour, a 6-foot sophomore point guard, is the epitome of a student-athlete. He is averaging 22 points per game and carries a 3.6 graduate point average on a 4.0 scale. He had 31 points and eight assists in Universal's victory over CPSA.

"I'm trying to get a full-ride scholarship to a Division I school. That's my goal," Mansour said. "And we're trying to build a good team. Last year, we were pretty good (18-4, losing to St. Benedict in triple overtime for the regional title). But we have a really good team this year."

To date, Universal, a Class 1A school with an enrollment of 220 boys and girls, hasn't been tested. But upcoming games against larger Reavis and Bremen will give Ghouleh, Mansour and everyone else in the program a good idea of where they stand, if they are as good as they think they are.

Mansour is surrounded by 6-2 senior Hossan Sudek (20 ppg), 6-3 senior Ahmet Sakiri (10 ppg, 13 rpg), 5-11 senior Ahmad Ahmad (8 ppg) and 6-3 senior Suheib Boundai (12 ppg). Seniors Maher Hamadeh and Musa Musleh and junior Saphe Falaneh come off the bench. Against CPSA, Sakiri had 24 points and 16 rebounds.

"I love their dedication and hard work from the off-season," the coach said. "Their goal after last year was to hit the gym every day and add muscle and weight. They wanted to come back hard and try to make some noise. What I think this team will do if we stay focused is get to the sectional this year. I am there to push them. As far as I can push them is as far as we're going to go."

Mansour and his teammates love to be pushed. Last summer, he and his parents went overseas. Omar usually goes plays with an Egyptian team during the summer. But last summer, he chose to stay home.

"I had my own personal trainer and my coach worked with me all summer," Mansour said. "We went one-on-one. I worked on my dribble, my shot and my vertical leap. I took 1,000 shots a day.

"(Ghouleh) won't let anything get in our way. He will do anything to help you to get better. We're trying to build our program. We want to set a tone so everyone knows who Universal is. We want to build a tradition, an identity, a reputation."

Until then, Ghouleh will continue to raise eyebrows. "I get it all the time. 'You're head coach of where?' I love to see the surprise on people's faces when they see what this program is all about," he said.

It took awhile to put the pieces all together. He still has a way to go. Only 14 kids showed up for his first practice. Only seven were there at the end of his first season. He could get the gym for only three days a week for practice. So he took his team to the Bridgeview Park District gym and the Oak Lawn Pavilion or outside courts.

"It's a religious and academic school first. Sports was the last thing on their minds," Ghouleh summed up. "But we've come a long way. Come watch us play to see who we are and how dedicated these kids are."

Dioner Navarro earns his day off, helps White Sox outlast Twins in 10 innings

Dioner Navarro earns his day off, helps White Sox outlast Twins in 10 innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Dioner Navarro has big plans for his first day off since July 17.

“Sleep -- a lot,” he said.

The catcher ended a stretch of 13 games in 13 days with a one-out RBI double to send the White Sox to a 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins in 10 innings in front of 27,914 at Target Field. Navarro, who has started 12 of 13 games and finished the July 22nd contest, doubled in Avisail Garcia with one out after the outfielder started the 10th inning with his second double in five trips. David Robertson pitched a perfect 10th to convert his 25th save and snap a three-game losing streak for the White Sox, who are 51-53.

“Dio has had a long run too of games in a row,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s nice to see him get after it. He knew he wasn’t going to be in there (Sunday), so I don’t know if that’s motivation or not. He earned it.”

The White Sox had to overcome a number of mistakes to win for the first time since Tuesday. They committed three errors over two plays in the third inning, blew to a two-run lead when Eduardo Escobar hit a three-run homer off Matt Albers in the eighth inning and survived rookie pitcher Michael Ynoa’s bases-loaded jam with two outs in the ninth.

Pitching for the first time since July 17, Ynoa induced a pop out off Brian Dozier’s bat to end the threat. He earned his first major league victory after Cabrera doubled to left off Fernando Abad. The White Sox tied it at 5 in the top of the ninth on Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single off Brandon Kintzler. Tim Anderson, who went 3-for-5, scored the tying run after he doubled with one out.

Justin Morneau doubled, homered and drove in two while Cabrera went 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Todd Frazier missed a second straight game with flu-like symptoms and Adam Eaton was held out of the starting lineup to rest several bumps and bruises. Eaton entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 10th inning.

“It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it,” Navarro said about Ynoa, although it could easily have been about the entire team. “He did a great job. He made pitches when he needed it. He got out of the inning, and he kept us in the game.”

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Same as he has all month, starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez put the White Sox in prime position to win.

Gonzalez finished an outstanding July by limiting Minnesota to two runs (one earned) and six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He had a 2.50 ERA in six July starts.

With the bullpen still in need of rest, Gonzalez pitched into the seventh inning. Byron Buxton’s RBI groundout made it a 4-2 game. But Gonzalez, who threw 114 pitches, struck out Robbie Grossman with a man on second to end the seventh.

White Sox starting pitchers have a 1.71 ER in the team’s last seven games.

The bullpen hasn’t had as much success.

A day after he took the loss, Dan Jennings, issued a leadoff walk to Joe Mauer in the eighth and recorded an out before he gave way to Albers. Albers walked Dozier before Kurt Suzuki lined out to center.

Escobar ripped the first pitch he saw from Albers, a 93-mph sinker, out to deep right to put the Twins ahead 5-4.

“We have a good squad, things haven’t been going our way but we have to keep grinding,” Gonzalez said. “Some things we can’t control. Our bullpen has been struggling, but it’s part of the game. Alberts made a really good pitch down and sometimes it doesn’t go our way and it’s tough to understand. But that is the way baseball is.”

Adam Eaton: Players at fault if White Sox become sellers at trade deadline

Adam Eaton: Players at fault if White Sox become sellers at trade deadline

MINNEAPOLIS — If the White Sox trade away assets over the next two days, Adam Eaton said the blame is all on the players.

The right fielder, who was held out of Saturday’s game to rest bumps and bruises, said the White Sox have enough talent to be successful in spite of their injuries. Even with an improved roster, the White Sox entered Saturday with 50-53 mark as they’ve been inconsistent all season. While Eaton doesn’t want to see any of his teammates dealt before Monday’s 3 p.m. CST nonwaiver trade deadline, he could understand if they are.

“Oh yeah, and it’s our own fault,” Eaton said. “It’s the players’ fault. We play up to what we’re capable of playing, and it’s not even a discussion. Rick has gotta do what he’s gotta do to put us in the best position to be good now and later. Whatever he has to do, we’ve got to accept it as players because we put ourselves in this position.”

Eaton admitted he wasn’t in a very good mood before Saturday’s contest. He said the team’s losing ways haven’t been enjoyable — “losing sucks, man.” Disappointed with the team’s play since their 23-10 start, Eaton pointed at consistency as the club’s biggest issue. He didn’t cite injuries to a number of key players, including center fielder Austin Jackson and relievers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam.

“(Injuries are) part of the game,” Eaton said. “It’s no excuse on our end. When one guy goes down the next guy’s gotta pick it up, gotta fall in the line and find a way to get it done in some way, shape or form. I don’t think we lean on that at all as a crutch. We’ve got the talent here in to win, and at the end of the day it’s being consistent and finding a way to get it done day in and day out. Anybody can do it for a month. You’ve got to be consistent. You can’t be too high or be too low or the game will find you and show those inconsistencies.”

Sunday on CSN: Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

Sunday on CSN: Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

The Kennedy Igboananike trade shifted focus a bit towards next year for the Chicago Fire, but on Sunday the focus returns to the field.

The Fire host the New York Red Bulls and the game will be televised live on CSN. Coverage starts at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The game willl also be simulcast with a Spanish language broadcast on CSN+.

Since going 1-5 to start the season, the Red Bulls (9-9-4, 31 points) have looked like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and sit second in the standings. The team’s recent run has caught the attention Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

“We are looking at the next game against one of the best teams in the league, in my opinion,” Paunovic said. “I would say performance wise the best team because in the style they play, it’s fantastic. I think they have very, very good players.”

[SHOP: Get a hold of your own Fire home jersey here]

The Red Bulls are playing better of late, but have not succeeded much on the road. New York is 1-7-3 on the road and 8-2-1 at home.

The Fire (4-10-5, 17 points) remain in last in the conference, but have an eight-match unbeaten streak at Toyota Park.

“It’s important to stay strong at home and it’s important for our fans to see that we can compete against one of the best teams in the league here at our field with all our field,” Paunovic said.

Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis will miss his second straight match due to injury and Joey Calistri was still listed as questionable. With Igboananike gone, forward depth for the Fire is very thin, especially if Calistri is unavailable.

Brandon Vincent’s availability is also in question after playing in the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday. He only logged 33 minutes, but factoring in cross-country travel and just two days rest, Vincent may not play.

The Red Bulls have the same situation with Sacha Kljestan, who played 41 minutes in the All-Star Game. Kljestan leads the league with 12 assists and also has five goals. Bradley Wright-Phillips has also been hot of late. The English forward has 11 goals after not scoring in the first seven matches of the season.

“Sacha Kljestan is playing at an MVP-caliber level and Wright-Phillips has seemed to find the scoring touch again,” Fire defender Eric Gehrig said. “They had a great year last and they’re starting to turn it on now, but we’re at home. We know that if we bring our best game that we can compete with anyone at home. It’s an important three points, especially with our road form we know that we have to snatch these points up and we’re looking forward to it.”

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

When: 6 p.m. Sunday (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: Comcast SportsNet (simulcast in Spanish on CSN+)

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.